Things I've learned about prop making

  1. #1

    Things I've learned about prop making

    Every board is litered with the same sorts of threads about people trying to buy stuff, people trying to make stuff, and the general disconnects that happen between buyers and sellers.

    I thought it might be helpful to open up a conversation where people can share thoughts / experiences / whatever to help educate each other.

    Maybe prop makers might learn something about their customers? Maybe customers might learn something about prop makers?

    Separating this out from any particular maker or any specific run might help keep things more objective on both sides of the house.

    I'll start off in a reply with some of the things I've learned about myself.

  2. #2

    Member Since
    Sep 2006
    From
    Spain
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    Re: Things I've learned about prop making

    First, sellers are not companies but persons. What does that mean? They are not here, for you, 24 hours a day, so if they do not answer the first two days "at least", don't send him another PM/email, you do not want to fil his PM inbox with the same message in one day.

  3. #3

    Re: Things I've learned about prop making

    I make stuff. The banner I fly under is WCA / Watch City Armory.

    Animated clone troopers, animated series Mandalorians (see current avatar), Boba Fett gauntlets and some other assorted stuff. I do resin casting, vacuum forming, sculpting, etc...

    When I finished my clone armor sculpts, I headed up a local garrison run of armor kits at material cost. 25 suits. At the time I was using a pretty inefficient system, so with 3 people working on it, it took 5-6 hours to make a suit. If you do the math there, you'll see that those of us working on it basically lost a few months of our lives making armor.

    That BLEEPED.

    I've done a few runs of Mando gauntlets. 10 - 15 pairs at a time. I would make all the gaunts in one day, then for reasons that I really couldn't pin down, it would take me 2-3 weeks to get around to shipping them.

    I discovered that I'm not good at shipping things either.

    In one of those runs I encountered several people who were not pleased with my laziness with shipping. That is perfectly fair. However, I was not going to change my behavior because of that. So, I refunded their money.

    From that, I learned that it's best to just cut the connection immediately if things seem awkward for either party. From there on out I have warned people up front that I am slow to ship, and if you aren't OK with that, don't order from me. If you do order from me and you nag, you'll get your money back in full and that's that.

    So, round two for armor: I built a better machine. I got the time down to about 1.5 hours per suit. Cut the number down to 15 kits. Paid someone else to ship the kits for me. I'd pull the armor and leave kits in my garage. He would come by, pick them up, and ship them out for me.

    Even with all that, by the end it still BLEEPED.

    At that point I discovered that I was not good at doing big runs of things. I like creating and I like making a few copies, but the monotony of mass production makes me want to cry.

    That brings us back to the runs. What do do there?

    If I'm doing it myself, I limit things to VERY small numbers. 5 units or so at most.

    I just don't do bigger runs at all.

    The 3rd run of clone armor I outsourced entirely. I rented out my workshop to a couple of friends. They were allowed to be there any time I wasn't, and they handled everything: Orders, production, supplies, shipping, communication. I just provided molds and space to work. VICTORY! I got a bit of cash to help fund the next project, they got a bit of cash for their efforts, and 15 more people got clone armor.

    The best run though was the "do it yourself" round. A bunch of people came from Pennsylvania to MA to make armor. They stayed at my place for the weekend and made 15 kits. I basically supervised and ate the food they bought me. It was glorious!

    All of my helmet production is 100% outsourced. I do the sculpt, make the molds, make my own helmets, then pass the molds off to another caster. From there, I'm completely out of the loop. I don't take any cut of the proceeds, though I do ask the casters to hook me up with some resin, silicone and cast helmets as needed. It works out great.

    So there's my niche. I do the creation, prototyping, initial few products, then I walk away to the next thing.

    The biggest things I've learned are:

    - don't get in over my head. even if i have 50 people that want something, i have to just say no. keep runs as small as practical. for resin stuff i can do 5 helmets at a time. for plastic it's got to be more because of volume pricing on plastic. it gets way cheaper when you buy it by the ton.

    - get help! find people to assist whenever possible. it spreads the load, gets it done faster, and turns slaving over a hot oven into a social activity

    - be honest about yourself and what you are willing to commit to. i tell people that i'm sort of a jerk and let them make the call whether or not to deal with me. if you feel strongly about customer service, great! if you want to just ship it and be done with the item and the buyer, great! just let them know what they are getting into.

    - be clear up front about refunds! for small stuff i'll always issue a refund without hesitation if i haven't shipped. if i have shipped, there are no returns. if i had to drop $3K on plastic, i'm not eating your share of that. at that point i work with the buyer to find someone to buy their slot. once someone else takes the slot, they get their money back.

    - consider partial payments. for big things (like the armor runs) we do 1/2 down, 1/2 upon completion. that way the buyer knows that they're not out as much money if we screw them, we know there's still motivation to finish, and then i'm not sitting on a ton of cash that isn't rightly mine.

    - be prepared for problems! there is the "armorer's curse" -- something inevitably goes wrong mid-run, halting production. this is real, i've had it happen.

    when i built the new vac table, i had someone else do all the welding for me. on the last kit of my first run of armor on the machine, i discovered the hard way that one of the welds wasn't solid. the carrier frame for the plastic broke, halting my production. i would have to break down the whole system, drive the parts out to the shop an hour plus from home where the work was done, and wait until the welder had a chance to fix it.

    this wasn't acceptable to me.

    it was a sunday afternoon at about 3pm. i drove out to home depot and bought a lincoln flux core arc welder, gloves and a mask. home depot is about the worst place possible to buy stuff like that... it cost about 2x what it would have elsewhere, but they were open. $700 later i went home, watched the "learn to weld" dvd, and then fixed it myself.

    that little excursion ate 100% of the profit from that entire armor run. but, i promised armor and i delivered. and now i have a welder, so that's cool in the end i guess

    my point with that story is that yes, real life does come first. but at the same time, when you go into a run, you need to be aware that your customers want their stuff, and you need to make all reasonable efforts to deliver as promised.

  4. #4
    Madmartigan's Avatar
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    Jun 2008
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    Norwalk, CT
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    Re: Things I've learned about prop making

    Brian's post FTW! lol

  5. #5

    Member Since
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    Spain
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    Re: Things I've learned about prop making

    stormtrooperguy said: View Post
    my point with that story is that yes, real life does come first. but at the same time, when you go into a run, you need to be aware that your customers want their stuff, and you need to make all reasonable efforts to deliver as promised.
    I agree at 100%

  6. #6

    Re: Things I've learned about prop making

    As a buyer here's my education.

    1. Research. This is priority. Learn who makes what, their turnaround time, their reputation, and price etc....
    2. Upon ordering be patient, bother the seller as little as possible, if they said a month turn around time, I usually contact at the half way mark just to see if it's on track, or if there was any RL situation that occured to delay shiping.
    3. If shipping date has passed I give it 2-3 weeks and if no package I contact again.

    Through this is communication with the seller is good, I am usually willing to wait it out, but again there's a limit. If a month or more passes and I keep getting different excuses as to why I don't have my product then we have an issue, but for the large part, I haven't had any horror stories here on TDH.

  7. #7

    Member Since
    Sep 2006
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    Re: Things I've learned about prop making

    I haven't had any horror stories here on TDH.
    But I do remember a few...

  8. #8
    clonecollector's Avatar
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    Re: Things I've learned about prop making

    mandosoldier said: View Post
    As a buyer here's my education.

    1. Research. This is priority. Learn who makes what, their turnaround time, their reputation, and price etc....
    I agree. Ask around... it can't hurt.

  9. #9

    Member Since
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    Re: Things I've learned about prop making

    clonecollector said: View Post
    I agree. Ask around... it can't hurt.
    Better using the search button

  10. #10
    clonecollector's Avatar
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    Re: Things I've learned about prop making

    KaanE said: View Post
    Better using the search button
    That too... first!

  11. #11

    Member Since
    Aug 2008
    From
    Middlesbrough UK
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    607

    Re: Things I've learned about prop making

    I am only a very small time maker and seller - none fett stuff, mostly clone and only in the UK. I learnt lots from my time as a buyer.

    as much as I like to make my stuff available - I know how quickly it can do wrong. To counter this often do VERY small runs (usually 5), and take no money till the item is in hand and ready to ship. I dont do potential list, or secondary lists or INT lists. I overcame the problem with my laziness to go to the post office by finding a fantastic delivary company who let me do everything online, and they collected from my house. Domestic or International.

    as a maker of very small and few things - I have truly come to appreciate how much time and effort it is to scratch build stuff. To equate the cost of the item in terms of the cost materials is unacceptable in my book.

    as fr mandosoldiers comment on research - I think most people know my stance on that already lol

    Nate

  12. #12

    Re: Things I've learned about prop making

    I simply meant research in any form, be it asking for feedback to using search tool. Had I known places like TDH and the 501st existed before I ordered my first Fett, I wouldn't have bought SFP. It was largely my own fault for not really searching around or doing any research and buying from the first site I saw that offered Fett, and I take ownership of that mistake, but I learned from it and I haven't been burned since.

  13. #13

    Member Since
    Aug 2008
    From
    Middlesbrough UK
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    607

    Re: Things I've learned about prop making

    yeah man, completely agree. wasnt a criticism.
    I spend weeks to months researching before I even send off the 1st pm; in fact researching has been made much simpler and accessible thanks to sites like these and 501st detachment forums.

  14. #14
    jimcricket's Avatar
    Member Since
    Nov 2010
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    Brisbane Australia
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    Re: Things I've learned about prop making

    i have been a member of the 501st for just under a year and i have never really had a problem with makers. i usaly get a quick reply with prices and est shipping. i always ask hows things on there side of the world (living in Australia every where is the other side of the world), and usaly i get a story on there personal life. it makes you remember that the ppl making these items are real, not some store trying to make money. they are fans and fanatics like yourself.

    earlier this year my state was hit with the biggest flood we have ever had. i had asome jango parts coming around that time so i let ppl know to put things on hold for me. they were more than happy to wait, they understood my situation and asked if myslef (and famliy) were ok.

    rescearch isnt hard. one thing i like and most makers do is, after you make an enquiry they send you a cut/paste PM on all there items and prices. i dont find this rude i am sure they get th same questions hundred of times. it makes working out the budget easy and maybe you didnt realize some items they had.

    in all i agree with previous post. the ppl you buy from have real lives to live, give them some time you will find most of them very easy to deal with. keep upthe good work boys.

  15. #15
    RobaFett's Avatar
    Member Since
    Jan 2011
    From
    Darwin River Northern Territory
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    Re: Things I've learned about prop making

    Hi all,
    Respect to the people who create these things, they make peoples dreams come true, I would be proud to have Boba or Clone etc standing in my lounge room, to do this is skill and knowledge, oh and time, mine is very slow and difficult aspecially cause it is diff to the model making I am used too, so I think we all agree some should have more patients its not a factory production line, its peoples own time and pride, they should be greatfull they dont have to scratch build and they can just buy it, Iam thinking of doing that if things dont work out for me, so good onya fellas!

  16. #16
    crazy4BobaFett's Avatar
    Member Since
    May 2005
    From
    Highland, California, United States
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    580

    Re: Things I've learned about prop making

    This is nice to see Brian, Honesty.
    In my opinion, as long as there is a open line of communication between seller and buyer and patience from both parties. Most of the time it all goes really smoothly.
    I do sew everyday and most of the time its about between 8-12 hrs a day. Drafting personal patterns and cutting fabric and all the prework to get to the sewing is laborious.
    I do not do any costume work on the weekends and generally do not get on line.
    I have kids, husband included. I love what I do and appreciate all those that can do the creative work they do. It really is quite amazing!! Some of you just blow me away on sheer talent!
    Most of the time I think what makes it all go screwy is when someone drops the ball and won't admit fault. No one likes to be wrong or admit to a mistake.
    Have respect and a greater appreciation for those who do what they do and realize that they do this for the sheer enjoyment of creating something. That is why I do it, and I think most will agree.
    As RobaFett said "they make peoples dreams come true" and for me that's really the best part. To see a final product and know you had a hand in making that happen is a pretty amazing feeling!
    We are all people with real lives, real family issues and its enough day to day to deal with life especially todays world.
    Things happen as they do, but be up front with the buyer, be reasonable and don't be unfair.
    To wait for months for something is ridiculous, don't bite off more than you can chew.
    Sometimes I have to say "no", I don't like to but it does happen. I absolutely will not take on more than I can manage.
    I had a web site for many years and had to finally take it down, I couldn't manage the influx of orders and it became a chore, less personal and I didn't like it one bit.
    I won't blast across the boards things for sale. Occasionally I will post something only because I get a few requests so I offer a run.
    Those that know me, know me and I appreciate that pace it suits me just fine.
    I'm a compassionate person and I will work with someone to the best of my ability. I just ask the same in return.
    Christi

  17. #17

    Re: Things I've learned about prop making

    As a seller i agree 100% with pretty much everything Brian posted. Heres how my story went down...

    If you are a legion member, you may know me as "DVH productions"..and you know i was doing runs of Vader helmets in fiberglass. More recently, Phase2 clones in rotocast, and a Fett helmet as well. After a few practice castings of the vader i sold on e-bay i felt confident enough to offer them to some members as they seemed interested when i posted about the helmet i made myself. I ended up selling it as i was offered a nice amount of cash and thought, i can make another for myself. I also wanted a fett suit very badly but my job pays **** money. I put 2 and 2 togther and decided to do a run of 10 Vader helmets, never having done a run of anything before.

    I figured the wait time to be 7 months and told the buyers that before they paid. I then had them start paying, as i needed some of that money to pay for supplies. Once i got most of the supplies i began my work, and the rest of the payments went directly to Fett makers for my fett parts. I learned this was not really the best way to do this. The run ended up taking almost a year to complete. I knew i could do a complete Vader in about a week, barring no issues. But when you have 10 to do, you tend to get burnt out and then the quality goes down as you start to rush stuff. Rather than do that, i would take small breaks every few weekends, hence why it took almost a year. Alas, i got no complaints as i kept the thread updated every weekend, if not more. I feel comunication is a very strong point a seller should have so noone feels your taking off with their money. That run wen toff without too many issues and everyone was happy.

    The following year i decided to do another run. (jan 10)I thought id do them in rotocast and sell them cheaper so people can get a vader helmet at a budget price. Well i learned the hard way that that was a BAD idea. I again gave the 7 month waiting time for 10 helmets. Being rotocast it took way less time to cast them. What i didnt factor in was that i needed to cast them thicker than i had anticipated for them to be sturdy..this in turn cost me more money in resin and actually exceeded the cost of the supplies that the fiberglass helmets had. But i figured live and learn and dont do that again. So 6 months in, im just about done with all 10 helmets..then the "armorers curse" set in. I had them in a closet in my workroom all lined up and ready for the final detailing and i realized...they all warped to the left. evry single one of them. I couldnt give these to customers, so all that money was lost, and now 6 months in, i am back at square 1, with hundreds of dollars of supplies wasted. So i posted this on the thread and gave everyone an upgrade to fiberglass. (this was June 2010). I had to do a run of Clone helmets in rotocast to raise the money to get the supplies to start the Vaders over! So doing that, i began redoing all the Vader helmets. The winter months really put a damper on this as sometimes the workroom in my apt would get so cold it was just impossible to work in there. So that caused delays as well. Plus now i was footing the bill for more supplies on my own, which also took more time. So i got them all cast Around January maybe febuary..its all become a blur to me now lol. I also have periods of time during work where we have "back to school rush" so 2 weeks in Sept and 2 weeks in january i work 12hr days 6 days a week, so pretty much no prop work gets done then! So i finally begin the final painting in id say...Marchish, some come out great, no problems, and get shipped but slowly as again, im footing the bill for that as well and get paid every 2 weeks with very little disposable income. So i can ship 1 helmet every 2 weeks. Then, the Armorers curs strikes AGAIN! some of the helmets, while in the clearcoat process...the paint wrinkles and spiderwebs all over the faceplate!!! This happened to a good 6 or 7 of the 10. i have no idea why. So i then had to strip those down, and repaint then, again spending more money on paint. I got it down to 5 helmets left and it happened again! So i offered a $100 refund to the remaining few buyers if they would take the helmets unpainted, luckily they agreed. So my stress level went down a bit. Through all of this my stress got so bad that i began having panic attacks and anxiety, which i still have now. I am finally, in late May 2011, just about done with the Vader helmets. yes..im STILL doing them! The final 2 are primed and ready to go, but they are going to Singapore..so shipping will kill me and it will likely take a month just to get them shipped. I also have another , the last of the painted ones, that i have already redone 2 times, and keep getting the spider-webbing...im hoping the 3rd times a charm. I have decided to retire from Vader helmets i have cast one for myself and that will be the final Vader i make. Needless to say, between buying paint multiple times and having to redo them all in fiberglass, i lost alot of money on this run, but people got their helmets none the less!

    I learned alot from doing these runs, and communication is a HUGE factor. Even though its taken me well over a year to get these Vader helmets out, people were understanding as i kept them informed every step of the way. Im hoping seeing this story allows a buyer to see that its not all fun in the sun and these runs can really run someone ragged. Also during all of this had no time for my fiance which im surprised is still here. Every weekend i was doing this stuff, and squeezing in troops, as well as trying to have some sort of time with her. Its been rough to say the least.

    Now i am sticking to smaller resin cast parts that i have been offering for some time now, and will have a small vac table in my kitchen for some basic stuff. The workroom in my apt...which is a 3 rm, 1 bedroom apt btw...will be converted BACK to a bedroom by next month and i will no longer do any fiberglass or painting work. Needless to say the finace is happy we will have a bedroom and hopefully my stress level will go down

    Will i still make stuff, of course, i love doing it. I also own a sewing machine and can make some basic softparts now, like cummerbunds and pouches for scouts, and have plans on TK/TC/Fett neckseals, and TD pauldrons...But from now on, i will make whatever it is FIRST and then offer it up. If its a larger item or something that needs to be custom fit, i will only take on 3-5 tops. Hopefully this will work out better for eveyone.


    As a buyer, i havent had any real problems, although my finace had a maker from the officers forum basically take her money and run. They sent her a suit that was totally too big, offered to fix it, she sent it back, and they disappeared. LAME to say the least.

  18. #18
    jmorrone's Avatar
    Member Since
    Aug 2010
    From
    Orlando, Florida, United States
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    148

    Re: Things I've learned about prop making

    Although I'm new in posting to the board, I ahve lurked here for quite a while, and I thought I would throw my two cents in here so you can see how a new member to this amazing hobby feels. I have made several purchases so far, and plan to make many, many more. This is what I expect from sellers and what I have encountered thus far in my purchases.

    First of all base my purchases on many things. Please be aware that everything here is being said with the utmost respect to the sellers.
    Please take what you will from my response, or you can just feel free to refer to me as Bantha Fodder.

    I base my purchases on 4 things, in order of importance to ME.
    (meaning I am speaking specifically for me)

    Not whatís important to you, your moms, your dads, or your sisterís cousinís former roommate...

    1.) Communication Ė Before the sale and after the sale. If there is great communication before the sale, such as pricing time frames etc.., but then after I make the purchase the seller ďdisappearsĒ then not someone I would not do business with again. That being said because of the nature of this business since the prop makers are not only the salesmen but the creators we have to give them a chance to respond. If I am dropping 1k on something and you expect me to trust you after the 45day PayPal dispute policy then I would expect communication especially when it exceeds the initial presented time.

    2.) Reviews Ė I will go out and read as many threads as possible on the item I want to purchase. I ask individuals what they think of such and such of product if it is obvious though posts that they own said product. Everyone here has been great in answering my questions.

    3.) How easy it is to work with the seller. The half down half just before ship I think puts many people at ease with larger transactions.

    4.) Shipping - I donít expect time to be a science but I would expect knowing when my package was sent and if there was a tracking number I would want that. I donít expect sellers to be weathermen. I donít expect sellers to be responsible for USPS, or UPS shipping problems. I do however expect my package to be insured if it is of some value that the seller does not want to replace because of shipping damage.

    Now I know I have read some threads from sellers saying I do this for you, or I'm not making money on this. Frankly I find the hard to believe. Is there a chance this itís true sure, however from my vast 37 years of knowledge very few people do things without some kind of profit. Does it have to be monetary? No. It could be notoriety or the joy of creating.

    I also read a couple threads about "the customer is not always right". This is why American is the way America is now a days. There is 0% customer service left in this world. Although this is a niche board eventually someone better comes along and customers will always spend their money with the one that treats them well weather in your eyes they were right or not.

    I would like to mention a few people that I have already ordered from though this site, and how I personally rate them. 5 Star being best.

    1.) Mojo-Fett
    Item Gauntlet darts
    Communication *****
    Reviews *****
    Easy to work with N/A (no additional conversations needed)
    Shipping *****

    Comments: Fast easy transaction. To the point. I could see when I purchased in a numbered thread and a response in the thread that my item shipped. Although I havenít received the item yet I am basing shipping five stars on the seller telling me the item was going out the next day.


    2.) Fettpride
    Item GMH (Helmet)
    Communication ****
    Reviews *****
    Easy to work with *****
    Shipping N/A as it hasnít yet shipped

    Comments: Amazing reviews on all his items. Even though there were some negative communications threads about this seller, I found him to respond to all my questions both before and after the sale. I plan on purchasing armor and gauntlets this week from him based on the GHM helmet purchase and I havenít even received it yet.

    3.) Ladysewsforus
    Item ALL SOFT PARTS
    Communication *****
    Reviews *****
    Easy to work with *****
    Shipping N/A as it hasnít shipped yet

    Comments: Phenomenal communication. Responded to me several times in one day with questions back and forth. Great reviews, everyone I have talked to says amazing things about her products. She has been an extremely easy seller to work with, and great person all around.

    4.) Man of War
    Item Jetpack
    Communication *****
    Reviews *****
    Easy to work with *****
    Shipping N/A as it hasnít shipped yet

    Comments: Purchased this jetpack though EBay, waiting on arrival now. GREAT COMMUNICATION. This guyís communication is flawless, responds both on boards, private messages and email all with lightning speed. I am extremely excited to receive my jetpack. When I read the reviews on his jetpack I knew this would be the person I would buy it from.

    These are my dealing so far. I may be getting lucky, or I just may be doing my research prior to the sale. Either way so far I am very happy with this community of sellers, and I am looking forward to completing my Fett in the near future.
    If you have read this far, thanks for listening to me ramble. I am ending my two cents here.

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