Los Angeles InDesign User Group
Using Photoshop to Make Props for Period Films (and Field Trip)
Thursday, November 17, 2016
by Alvin Takamori
Before all the holiday madness, the Los Angeles InDesign User Group went on a field trip to North Hollywood to visit the facilities of History For Hire. They are a family business that started out as a military costume company and grew into a warehouse filled with props for rent. Their props have been used extensively in the movie and television industry. However, if you can afford it, they also rent to the public for parties, or events or whatever your need is for a prop from the past.
At the meeting, Richard Adkins the art director at History For Hire did a demonstration of how he uses Photoshop to recreate historic printed materials like magazines and packages. In the space where the presentation took place there were some shelves filled with food packaging from cereal to soup cans that recall the 20th century. Some of it sparked memories of childhood.
It is remarkable, the attention to detail that goes into recreating period props. Not only to recreate the graphics, but to accurately capture the colors and materials of the time period. Extensive research is done to determine the exact time that products were in use. The employees have areas of expertise on the history of certain props. Having a product in the background of a period movie that doesn't belong there can draw the ire of a viewer who is a history buff.
The unique joy of having a meeting at History For Hire was the ability to tour the warehouse and take a walk through memory lane. One of the first things I noticed was a collection of rotary telephones. There are probably a lot of young people who've never seen one before. Interestingly, something as simple as the trays from frozen dinners have become a valuable prop, because everyone threw them away.
Among the earliest sets of props the company gathered was electric guitars and amplifiers. It began like most collections, as something the owner Jim Elyea was interested in. Now there is an entire aisle of musical instruments.
One of the earliest successes for the business was the rental of military gear for the movie"Platoon." So you can find lots of military uniforms and weapons, including lots of swords. But, one of the most impressive parts of History For Hire's collection of props is the accumulation of movie-making and broadcasting equipment. Video cameras from every era going back to silent movies can be found here. Also, they have an impressive array of microphones from the type Elvis used to the ones in front of Martin Luther King Jr. during his speeches. There are also cases filled with cameras of every brand spanning a century of technology development. They have the huge old wooden box cameras that you slid light sensitive plates in and out of. Do you remember film? They have the film boxes too.
They don't just accumulate props. There is also an area used as a workshop to build and repair props. Of more relevance to our group, we saw the graphics room where a variety of printed props from old periodicals to packaging for cigarette boxes and fast food are recreated. There is a library that includes old department store catalogs, where designers can do research to check the accuracy of the props they make.
At History For Hire, the process of using software like Photoshop to generate graphics is not unique. What is unique is the need to be part historian to go along with the graphic skills.
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