Welcome back for the third part of our interview with Mikel Sauve of the Vulcania Volunteers.
The first part can be read here.
The second part can be read here.
AA: It’s certainly great that you’re working on all these things now and you’re very, very busy. And looking at your own work, you’ve got an extensive history creating props and models—what was your first model and how did that project come about for you?
MS: I was between junior high and high school, and a local community theater asked for assistance with some props. It wasn’t a full production—just a reading, a one-night only kind of thing, but they needed an old fashion roller skate. The kind that you strap on to a shoe, the old, all metal ones, with the little belts and the key so you could lengthen or shorten it. One-size skate that fits any shoe. The mother in the scene holds up the skate and says, “I told you to put this away. You want me to kill myself?” The poor actress was relegated to holding up part of a telephone because they didn’t have a skate to use. So, I went home, found a drawing of one and I made it out of wood. The little belts I bought at a second hand store. It looked great on stage.
AA: And it was probably lighter than the real thing too.
MS: Yes, & because it was made out of wood, painted with gray paint & drawn on details – it was fast & inexpensive. It served its purpose. It was on stage for a full, I don’t know, maybe a half a minute.
That makes me think about other TV and movie props that, on screen, may look great and fantastic and real, and they’ve got heft to them, and when you actually see pictures of the real prop, – it looks like a painted block of wood.
That is exactly what I saw when I went to Desilu studios and held one of the Star Trek communicators in my hand. It was made from a block of wood. I could see the wood-grain and I was crest-fallen. Finally getting to hold this prop in my hand, one that I had seen every week, & it was made of wood.
There were better made ones that the main actors would carry, but a lot of the ones that went on the hips and belts of the crew, those were just quick painted blocks of wood, painted and paper details added on. They didn’t have the flip-up lids—I think there were only two or three hero communicators that were made better. But the bulk of them, that I saw on a table with about twenty on it, were all made of wood.
AA: And for distance, they’ll be on camera, and …
MS: Exactly—on someone’s belt, walking down a hallway, you’re not going to notice a thing. And that’s what the skate did. It’s not going to require a child to put on and go skating—it’s for the mother to hold up and just get the impression of the idea of a skate. That’s the one thing about props that I really love: it wasn’t what it seemed, it wasn’t a real skate and I love that aspect. It’s like dressing up—you’re creating an illusion, a state of mind. It’s all just smoke and mirrors.
AA: And then with that, in creating props that are meant to be held and be close-up to people, to fans – it can’t be just a block of wood where we see the grain—it has to look like the sleek plastic, metal of the twenty-third century, or for steampunk things that look like metal. That appearance just pulls it off, so the quality becomes much better than the originals.
MS: Yes, you’ve seen my Nautilus underwater rifle. A lot of people comment about the metallic look of it and the feel of it. And that’s why I’m so proud of my models—the fact that I know that these are meant to be appreciated & marveled at. They’re not made for the quick shot on the screen – the actual underwater rifles seen in the movie have less than a minute of screen time. My props are meant to be held in the hand, admired and enjoyed & to take pictures or to hang on their wall and stare at for hours on end, if you’re so inclined. And one of the things I pride myself in are the paint finishes, people ask if it’s hammered copper and what kind of metal did you make it in. I say, “No, that’s all paint.” If you do the paint-finish right, it looks exactly like it’s supposed to. And I want my props to bear up to close scrutiny. I want to catch the eye
AA: And really capture the imagination in doing that. The impression that “this is real.”
MS: Exactly. There are time when I hand my rifle to somebody and they’re admiring it and we get into conversation. They actually get quite comfortable holding it and I have to say, “Excuse me, can I get my rifle back?”, because when it becomes a part of them —I love to watch that. People fall in love with these things I make and they want it to be a part of their lives, …that’s when I get my reward.
AA: That’s very impressive. So with that, like the rifle and the other things, what are some of the other items that you’ve created over the years? Top ten.
MS: Well, that’s a long list because I’ve made props for movies, TV, private collectors and museums, so I really don’t even know where to begin – or end.
I’ve taught friends who have gone on to work in the film industry. One of my apprentices worked on Avatar recently, he also made one of the elevators in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. So what I’ve done and the projects I’ve worked on, it’s still going on in the people that I’ve taught how to do this stuff. That’s why it’s tough for me to answer, even a ‘top ten’, because it’s an ongoing thing and, truth told, I also don’t want to name drop. And there are so many people who I worked with, who did more than I, and some that worked less I did, who claimed they did more, so it gets to be a sticky thing to answer and get into particulars about some of that stuff. Case in point: the other day—I mentioned a Prop master who just recently won Emmy’s for working on The Pacific, …I just mentioned his name and this fella I was talking to says, “Well I never heard of him.” And I replied, “That’s ok, he’s never heard of you either.”
So I’ll just say – I’ve made models of just about everything under the sun and I hope to keep doing it.
AA: If one of our readers wanted to start down that same path and learn how to build models and props, what sort of research goes into a project, and what sort of skills did you have to develop over time to make these?
MS: My models come out looking good because I do my homework—homework being – going out and collecting & archiving as much photographic and technical information that I can. Then creating a good plans. You get out what you put in – the rest of it is simple follow through. But good plans, I think, are the most important thing—about seventy percent of the actual work. After that, I would say a nice, good selection of tools & supply of building materials. The right tool for the right job, that’s really important. Lastly, the patience to do it and the dedication to complete the task.
AA: Looking to current day, you’re working on another amazing project that’s coming together really well and you’ve been documenting on Facebook. Could you share some details about that, and current status, and what’s next for it?
MS: My other wonderful passion – Boilerplate. I first saw the book a couple years back and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s interesting’, but somehow I got sidetracked, set the book down and I didn’t come across again it for another two years.
Now I’m currently building a 1/1 scale life-size replica of BP & I’m lucky to be living in the same town as its creators, Paul Guinan and his lovely wife, Anina. It’s a wonderful build-subject that I can get completely immersed in because of the simplicity, but the design & details are also pretty challenging – to get perfect. I’ve photographed and studied the original Boilerplate maquette that was used to make the book & from that I’m working-out an amalgam of Boilerplate’s dimensions. The Revisioneers have since created a set of plan/drawings and using them – I’m building a life-size replica that will be six and a half feet tall when complete.
I’ve since launched a ‘Boilerplate Build’ site on Facebook, if anyone wants to come over and join and watch. I’m doing a step by step of the build – covering different aspects of the project.
AA: That’s great and certainly address the DIY aspect of steampunk to first create this yourself, but then be able to turn around and share with other people, and essentially teach them how it’s done.
MS: And I love that part of it too. It’s a lot of fun, and teaching is something I’ve always wanted to do. And even though I didn’t design or create this icon initially, I’m enjoy working with a true artist like Paul Guinan. And I really enjoy getting back to my roots, doing some really down-home old school model making. It’s great!
AA: That’s very cool. What’s next in the build—or how soon will it be done and people can start seeing it at conventions or events? What kind of plans?
MS: Well as far as the finish date, the build has started to evolve into something more than intended. Originally, it started out with me wanting to make a life-size maquette for Paul & Anina to use at conventions and other events but now, there are some are BIG things happening in the Boilerplate Universe.
J. J. Abrams just bought the rights to the book and he’s going to be making a feature-length motion picture based on it. That has, in turn, upped my game. Initially, I was building this in my spare time and all along, I had planned a humble gesture of giving it to the guy who created and inspired me to build it in the first place. But now that the film is coming out and all eyes are on Boilerplate, it’s now motivated me to take this build to the nine’s. I’d like to give him some posable & movable parts & I think it would be interesting if BP was able to talk. I’d also like his eyes to incorporate functional irises that’ll operate via remote control & be lighted to give him an animated, soulful appearance.
The short answer – I don’t know when he’ll be done, but I want my replica to look like it just walked out of Archie Campion’s shop & maybe, just maybe, – onto the silver screen.
AA: It sounds like a great project, a lot of fun.
MS: It’s the perfect project for when I just want to get the Nautilus out of my hair for a minute & a day. I can wander into the Boilerplate universe—and it’s right there in the steampunk neighborhood, a wonderful distraction—just what I need.
We’ll pause here in our conversation with Mikel and next time as we continue, we’ll talk about conventions, reactions, and model making.