Q: How much does a finished piece cost?
A: The eternal question! While a rifle or helmet at a toy store may run $50-75, these are not prices I can compete with nor emulate even remotely. An issue arises in the comparison of the two items however; both seem to be little more than painted pieces of plastic and metal.
When emailing to request a commission quote, please be aware that some of my most intricate work is the result of hundreds of hours of build time combined with an equal investment in material expenses. A few examples: Chroming a Daft Punk helmet runs $250 without shipping costs. The raw aluminum parts for the Fallout Terrible Shotgun cost over $100. One gallon of mold making silicone can run anywhere from $90 to $300. There is nearly $1,000 in electronics alone in one Daft Punk helmet. It costs about $60 just to make a shipping crate for a finished prop, and the shipping cost itself to deliver props to my clients breaks $150 routinely.
On some projects, I have over 200 hours of labor invested in their creation. That represents about a month’s work of time, a pretty standard amount of work for something like a rifle or helmet sculpt and mold. Back when I worked at Best Buy installing car stereos, my hourly wage peaked at around $16/hr. Propmaking is far more complex work (and I charge less to do it) but these numbers might start to give you a vague idea of the time and cost involved in some of these replicas.
When I provide a quote, you can rest assured that it represents the fairest price I can provide for the absolute best work I am capable of. I will continue to make the most accurate replicas I can possibly produce, and there are dozens of examples of my current work for you to look at in my portfolio. I do not ‘kit bash’ or modify existing things into facsimiles; every piece is scratch made and sculpted to be as exact as possible to the source design. If you choose to go forward and commission a piece, you will love it. I have yet to deliver a replica to anyone who hasn’t.
Q: Will you make me ______?
A: Short version: maybe. Long version: Building a prop will depend on several factors including budget, deadline, my current commission schedule, shop capabilities, and what you want created. If you’re interested in getting a quote or inquiring about availability, click here to be taken to the custom commissions form.
Q: Will you make me a DJ helmet?
A: No. Much like a completed Daft Punk helmet, that would be prohibitively expensive to make and finish.
Q: Are the finished props I see on your portfolio for sale? If not, can you make _____ again for me?
A: No. Almost everything I build is constructed on a commission basis and has been paid for and claimed months in advance. Most of the items in the gallery have been out of my possession for a long time. Duplicating a past project is unlikely, since repeats are mostly about going through the motions of a previous project. I have made multiples of some pieces in the past, but unless I can significantly improve on my first attempt (as was the case with my AER-9 rifles) I’ll usually close the book on a prop once it’s finished and look for different things to try and learn from.
Q: Will you make something for my charity?
A: I do participate in charity events, and make it a point to block out time in my schedule and finances in order to make at least one thing for a charitable event per year. The unfortunate side of that is during the time I am producing that piece, my income is essentially halted. This isn’t a “no” outright, but at the end of the day I do have to make sure my income is secured and I can pay my bills first!
Q: If I pay extra, will you finish one of the raw resin kits in your store for me and sell it as a completed prop?
A: Sorry, but no. The raw cast parts and kits offered in the store are offered as kits only. The finishing side of things can take weeks or even months (in the case of a Daft Punk style helmet) and there isn’t a way to integrate orders like that into my commission schedule. If you’re interested in a kit, be aware that it will require a fair bit of time and work before it is a finished prop.
Q: If I have an original design, will you make it for me?
A: Possibly. A large amount of my work comes from replicas because these already have large existing fanbases. While I can build one-off or original designed props, that isn’t my typical fare. Ultimately, it will be contingent on the same factors as making anything else – budget, time, and capabilities.
Q: Will you design a helmet/gun/sword/trophy/etc for me?
A: I am not a designer, and if I’m being brutally honest, I suck pretty bad when it comes to conceptual design. Fortunately, I have a couple of great designers I routinely work with. If you need design work, I highly recommend Nicholas Fair.
Q: Where did you learn to do all of this?
A: I took some classes in Furniture Design in school, but most of the prop stuff was self taught through my own research.
Before I started doing the builds I do, I signed up with a lot of costuming and propmaking forums. The best of these are the following:
- http://www.therpf.com/ – Replica Props Forum – pretty much anything you can think of
- http://cosplay.com/ – generic, and a younger audience devoted to cosplay.
- http://www.smooth–on.com/ – place where I get all my moldmaking supplies. They have great video tutorials associated with all of the materials they sell.
- http://arduino.cc/en/ – where I learned a lot about programming and how to work with an Arduino
- http://www.sparkfun.com/ – great tutorials and project for anyone looking to get into electronics, simple or complex.
- Additionally, one of the best resources for moldmaking and general prop work is a book called “The Prop Builder’s Molding & Casting Handbook” by Thurston James (or on Kindle here). That will detail the more tricky aspects of molding and vacuumforming.
Q: Will you teach me how to make props? How can I make _______ specifically?
A: While I do provide my write-ups as a way of instruction through example, I don’t write “tutorials” complete with measurements, product numbers, and specific quantities to purchase. The write-ups alone take hours of time to compile, and a tutorial write-up can take days. Unfortunately, that level of documentation is beyond the scope of what I have the time to do.
I can’t really offer instructions or suggestions on items I haven’t personally built. Mostly because I wouldn’t really know for certain if a technique I would recommend would be correct, but also because I get a lot of requests like this and answering them all would take a significant amount of time that, these days, I can’t afford.
Q: Do you take on apprentices/interns?
A: Generally, no. The last time I had an intern, I found that the training was actually impeding my work flow and putting me behind on a few projects.
If I am ever looking for intern positions I will be posting about it first on my facebook page, so keep an eye there if you’re interested.
Q: How long have you been making props?
A: Since late 2007 officially, though I’ve been cobbling things together my whole life.
Q: Why haven’t you made a ______?
A: My work is almost entirely commission based. While I do have some say in what props I choose to make or what commissions I choose to accept, the simplest answer is that someone hasn’t asked me to build it yet.
Q: I’d like a full costume or a full set of armor. Can you build that for me?
A: I don’t take commissions for full suits of armor/armor pieces/full costumes. Due to the complexity of the pieces and the necessity to do constant fit checks during construction, that isn’t really a service I can offer online, nor am I familiar enough with it to feel comfortable making pieces for other people, even if they are local.
Additionally, I can’t sew and I have no time to learn anytime soon, so anything involving cloth is right out!
Q: How many people work at Volpin Props?
A: Currently there is one main artist (me, Harrison Krix) and my part-time assistant Adam (PixelBash Props) operating in the Atlanta studio. We are currently hiring for another in-house artist or two! You can find that application here. For larger projects we will partner with other studios, and those artists are credited in the individual portfolio pages on which they contributed.
Q: Why don’t you make five hundred _______ and sell them? You could be a millionaire!
A: Firstly, licensing – I would need to have permission from license holders in order to produce items at that volume. Secondly, there’s only one artist/builder here, and making any more than five of one thing at a time is an incredibly stressful experience. Lastly, as the only artist building finished replicas, I prefer each project to be a new challenge and learning experience. Making multiples might generate some money (not millions!) but I’d prefer the positive feeling of a new project over straight up cash anyday.
Q: Are your blueprints for sale?
A: Yep! You can check them out in the store.