I promised I would post some blogs about the prop-making odyssey I undertook for my ‘Of Mice And Men’ submission to this year’s Crash The Superbowl contest. I sat down at the computer and quickly realized that covering all of the props used on the spot, wasn’t something that could be done with a single post. Consequently, I will post a series of more manageable posts detailing individual/certain props per post. In this post I will be showcasing the mousetraps (the large human size ones, and the mini regular sized ones). I’ll share the modifications of the small over-the-counter retail versions and the larger human-size trap(s) that the actors used/wore during the shoot. I’ve posted a thumbnail link to the commercial here at the beginning of the post and also one at the bottom of the post for ease in referencing the video as you read the body of the article. Click the thumbnail below to view ‘Of Mice And Men‘, on the Doritos, Crash The Superbowl website.
You can find them at any dollar store. I liked them because they had structural attributes that would be easier to duplicate in the ‘human-size’ mock-up than some of the more sophisticated trap models. Remember: The large human-size traps had to be identical in detail to the small ones. Using pliers, I carefully removed all of the hardware that could come off easily and reassemble just as easily later on. I left the loop studs on, because I didn’t want to loosen them up and create a larger problem later on. I sanded off the red mouse logo. This would eliminate the need for using primer. I chose this particular paint because it had a nice wood-like appearance.
I used masking tape to tape off the metal loop posts (loop studs) that remained on the wooden base and painted away.
While the paint was drying, I came into the office and created my “Death to humans” sticker using a readily available generic word program. I printed out the small ‘sticker’ using Avery brand transparent mail labels, and applied it to the newly painted mousetrap(s).
Avery labels are inexpensive and can be printed on any ink-jet and look fantastic. I have used these in dozens of situations for dozens of commercials.
IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER: Props don’t have to live forever…..they only need a ‘shoot’ shelf-life. As long as they look good for the duration of the shoot, (a couple hours /a few days), you are golden. When you are making props, never think ‘Permanent’…think instead…’Looks authentic’ and is durable enough to last the shoot. Most importantly though, do whatever you need to do, to make them look authentic. After applying the sticker, I sprayed the trap with a clear coat finish. This woulod provide one continuous finished surface. This is necessary, since the Avery label has a distinctly different surface texture/appearance than that of the painted mousetrap. I used this ‘lustre’ finish spray coat.
Now, one of the modifications I was going to have to make, was to construct a mechanism that would hold the Dorito chip(s), since the existing one was not meant to support something as brittle as, or shaped like, a Dorito. I found this metal sheeting/flashing at Home Depot that worked just great.
It is flashing material for protecting fixtures on the roofs of homes. I liked this particular piece because it had the little rounded shapes already pre-cut, and a flat area from which I could cut out a matching ‘larger’ piece (for it’s ‘human’ size trap counterpart). I cut out the small piece of metal and then cut lines in the flat edged side so I could bend it and make it a usable replacement piece for the old ‘cheese holder’. Using a hacksaw, I then cut slits on either side of it in which I could later slide the Doritos.
After this was done, I reassembled all of the hardware onto the trap.
NOTE: I cut the springs at the base so that there is no longer any way to ‘set’ the trap. I then superglued everything in place to simulate a ‘set’ trap. In this way, these can never ‘go off’ and snap anyones fingers.
When I am hard at work, creating. Nothing gets my neurons firing more than good food. One of my favorite snacks is sun-dried tomatoes in a special dressing marinate. The Sun Dried Tomatoes I get at Costco (A membership wharehouse food/clothing/durables supermarket common to Southern California). The brand I prefer is Bella Sun Luci. The tomatoes come in 100% pure olive oil with the brands secret recipe of herbs. I add salt and pepper, lemon juice, vinegar and feta cheese. It is a wonderful bite of heaven in between supergluing pieces of trap together.
OK, NOW ON TO THE LARGER HUMAN TRAPS (wiping chin clean of dripping olive oil)
Before I started, I knew there were a number of issues to consider when building the human trap(s).
1. It had to be durable, since one of the traps would be thrown repetitively for multiple takes during one of the scenes.
2. It had to be very light weight, because it would be thrown in the direction of a child actor and might actually hit him.
3. An adult actor would have to wear this contraption and get up from a laying down position to a standing position, all the while articulating his body and acting like a captured mouse.
4. It needed to be able to be strapped on to an actor and removed in a reasonably short period of time, so as not to slow down work flo on the shoot day. Once strapped on (or thrown), they needed to stay put, hold together and look authentic.
I started out with a piece of 1″ thick gatorfoam. Gatorfoam is like foam-core but utilizes a pressed laminate veneer on both sides that makes it about 100 times stronger than regular foam core. I would need this strength. I didn’t shoot a picture of the piece of gator-foam before I cut it, but here is the scrap I purchased after I cut my two pieces from it.
Word of Caution: This stuff is very expensive at this thickness (1″). Your best bet is always to go to a ‘Sign maker’ business. They will have scraps of stuff laying around. You will find strange, odd, uniques things that you will NEVER find at an ‘Aaron Brothers Art Mart’. This piece of gatorfoam cost me $20. Beleive me, that is cheap. I know, because I used stuff like this and other surfaces to mount portraits during my two decade long career as a wedding photographer. I used to have to buy gator-foam in 4’X8′ sheets. (EXPENSIVE!!!!)
IMPORTANT: Every measurement, cut, drill hole, paint, etc. of the gator-foam should mirror the pre-existing dimensions of it’s miniature counterpart. So if the mini mousetrap measured 2″x4″, than the human trap would have to be 15″x30″, or 20″X40″ or 17″ x 34″, etc. etc.. The ratios must be consistent to make the viewer a believer.
After cutting out my two 15″x30″ pieces of core, I used 1″ white gaffer tape and taped around the entire edge of the gator foam.
This is important, because although the top and bottom surfaces of the core are super strong, the inside is still relatively soft foam. The gaffer tape will keep the foam from shedding and messing up the set. The gaffer tape is also paintable. After taping the gator foam, I spray painted the entire exterior. I applied the exact same paint used on the mini-traps. While the paint was drying I went back to the office and printed out larger ‘death to humans’ stickers using 8&1/2 X 11″ Avery labels.
They were applied to the freshly painted/dried gator foam. Then once again, identical to the mini traps I used the clear coat to provide for a single finished surface appearance.
FYI, an important spray paint technique to use, is to spray a full coat on your surface with even strokes top to bottom, and then turn the surface 90° for the next coat. This provides for maximum ‘evenness’.
Ahead lay the task of creating metal wiring for the the human traps that would resemble the metal/steel parts of the mini trap. But it had to be light-weight and durable considering the action/use it would be involved in. I went to Home Depot and found this 3/8″ white plastic conduit. Using a propane torch, I bent the corners and angles into the desired shapes shape to recreate the varied characteristics of the mini-trap metal. Once cooled in water, the angles would stay in their molded position.
Once I had matched/fabricated all of the metal parts, I painted them with a metallic spray paint finish.
After spray painting all of the tubing, they were assembled on to the gator-foam base. The Dorito bait-tray for the large human trap was made in the same way as the mini trap and out of the same flashing material purchased at Home Depot. The remaining piece of the large trap still needing to be fabricated was the ‘springs’. This was done by coiling heavy duty extension chords around the tubing, and drilling holes into the gator foam into which the electrical extension cords could be inserted and glued with Gorilla brand glue.
All of the tubing, extension chords and construction was assembled by using either superglue, gorilla Glue or good old fashioned screws. Remember, these props were going to take a lot of abuse. The trap which would be used to ‘chase’ the son would also need to have a stick glued to it. Here are pics of the various fastening points of that stick. Notice the stick is the color black in these photos.
FUNNY NOTE: An interesting thing happened on the day of the shoot. Since the door of the house is black in color, and since the SON’s action is directly in front of the black door, we kept losing sight of the black stick against the door, so we had to take a ten minute break and wrap the black sticks in white gaffer tape so they would be visible. I’m not sure who’s idea it was to use gaffer tape, but it was brilliant. Originally I was going to break to re-paint them. Someone on the ser suggested we use white gaffer tape. The gaffer tape was a quicker fix than painting would have been, and provided much needed strength to the light weight dowel material of the stick that would end up being the weakest link of the prop and would eventually snap in half after just 6 takes, (even after being wrapped with gaffer tape).
The trap used during the SON’s action could be completely glued together as one solid piece except for the one tube that hung loose for effect. The trap used for DAD’s action, on the other hand, had to be functional….in that it had to open and close and wrapped around the actor, fastened to him under his clothes. This fastening must also not be detectable by the viewer.
This was accomplished using a number of techniques. Holes were cut in the gator foam that would accept belts. The holes in the gatorfoam were reinforced with gaffer tape. (Thank heaven for gaffer tape.) These belts would wrap around the trap, through the holes in the trap, then through more holes in the front side of the black shirt of the actor, around the actor’s back and neck underneath his shirt, not visible to the viewer. The metal clamp (tubing) would be fastened to the actor’s back by using shoelaces threaded through the sides of the tubing and again, through holes in the shirt and inside and around the actor’s chest.
Upon my asking him later, Joel Berry (DAD) confided in me that this prop provided a rather distinct claustrophobic sensation. I could only imagine. I don’t think I’d ever want to be caught in a mouse trap.
In the end, we were able to build large human traps equal visually to their mini counterparts, and serviceable enough to portray the action in the script.
NOTE: The human trap was photographed about a week after the shoot. The corners are dog-eared as a result of multiple takes (impacting with the marble granite tile).
Well, his Highness hopes the reader/filmmaker enjoyed this insight into one of the prop-making tasks for this Doritos Crash The Superbowl spec. commercial. We had a bunch of other prop challenges on this particular commercial project. I think my next prop post will detail what went into making the 15″ wide Doritos. Good luck to everyone in this year’s CRASH. It will be exciting to see how it plays out.
And remember, if you want a review/critique of your commercial, feel free to leave a comment and the link to your spot in the comments section.