Prospect, the film we worked on in 2017 building and finishing props and sets, is now out on Netflix in the US! Prospect is a sci-fi western full of practical effects starring Pedro Pascal in a helmet. It is also available on Blu-ray if you want a physical copy! This 8-part series of posts does not contain any spoilers so you can check them all out without fear of ruining anything if you haven’t seen the film yet!
One of the worst things about working on a movie is that sometimes, nobody gets to see your hard work – things get left on the cutting floor all the time. While this isn’t the only thing I worked on that didn’t make it on screen, this is the thing I was the most proud of that got cut, figuratively and literally – Zed’s Spear rifle. It’s the one hero prop I got to make, and the entire thing was hand made from scratch! Our weaponsmith designed most (maybe all) of the energy weapons for Prospect. He even made most of them himself, but I was lucky enough to be assigned this one. I was given this base 3D model/blueprint of the design, given a budget, and told to make it look cool and utilitarian – to match the character and look in world.
Step one was doing a test with some scrap wood to make sure I could do all of the bevels and metal inlays in a way I was confident in before cutting into the final wood. One thing we probably don’t talk about enough is how much we do mockups and prototypes before making the finished pieces you see us posting, but it’s almost always to your advantage to test and prototype, fail and learn, before you jump into your final piece. As you can see the weapon is made of 6 lengths of wood in a hexagonal shape with metal inlays down the length of the shaft. I did every bevel cut of the wood and aluminum strips with a table saw (that’s six longitudinal cuts per strip of wood).
With the budget I was given and a desire for an exotic look, I spent about 30 minutes drooling over the hard wood selection at Rockler before deciding (with approval from the Art Director) on purple heart wood. On the left is the wood in my car on the way back to the shop. On the right is all of the strips, cut, grooved, and ready for assembly.
For the blades, because this was a hero prop and not for cosplay, I could use real metal. For ease of cutting and finishing and to keep the weight down, I went with. I cut the base shapes out with a scroll saw and then sanded the curves down on a spindle sander to get the blade bases.
After using the belt sander to get the bevels on the blades, I glued the blades, pieces of wood, and aluminum strips together with a combination of wood glue and gorilla glue.
Once that was done I got to use a mill for the first time and carved down the flat and rounded parts of the shaft and spear head to match the design. Learning a new tool, especially one as powerful and versatile as this was eye opening!
And with that, the base spear was complete and matched the original design perfectly. As a spear, it was already a pretty formidable weapon. BUT, like most of the weapons in Prospect this was both an energy weapon AND a melee weapon. Figuring out the functionality of the energy weapon piece went to me. The only other design direction I got was that the base should have some mechanism that could charge the weapon via kinetic energy. The rest was up to me.
Part of the challenge here was that Zed is one armed and while the weapon needed to be usable one-handed, it needed to be designed for a two-handed person as well. I decided on a mid shaft trigger mechanism along with additional grips near the head and tail of the shaft. This would allow the spear to be used right or left handed, under arm, over arm, and as a thrusting melee weapon by quickly changing hand positions. It could also be charged and fired one-handed. Also, I wanted the hand grips to be natural and organic looking without just being the usual leather wraps on a shaft. Enter my first time using Worbla! I made the three grips and embedded the trigger and wires under the grips to hold them in place, then painted and weathered them.
I don’t have any great photos of the charging mechanism but here you can kind of see it, plus I love the look of wonder on my son’s face checking it out The base has a pad connected to the shaft with 5 large springs and a capacitor in the center. The idea being that the spear is pounded on the ground, generating energy that is stored there until the trigger is pushed and its released down the shaft and out the head.
Here is me on set during production on the day that the scenes with Zed and my spear were going to be shot. The director wasn’t sure if he liked the spear design anymore and felt it didn’t really fit into the aesthetic of the film. He asked me to go back to the van and add a few more greebles to try to make it a bit more tech/obviously an energy weapon.
Using what I could scrounge up from the truck, I put some more blatant electronics onto the spear, but it still wasn’t enough for him. The director had an idea – let’s just cut the spear head off and make it a pole rifle – rudimentary but still exotic. In an amazing gift of generosity (probably due to the look of sheer horror on my face at the suggestion), he said he would let me decide if we cut the spearhead off. I could leave the spear alone guaranteeing it would not be used (the scene didn’t REQUIRE Zed have any particular weapon), or I could chop it off and he would use it that day during filming.
Killing your darlings will always be the hardest thing you do. Trust me. This broke my heart, but at the end of the day, I wanted my hero weapon in the movie. The best tool I had available in the truck was a jigsaw, so with the spear under my foot on the truck gate, I took a deep breath and chopped the head off.
And this is final form of Zed’s weapon that actually got used and filmed that day. While it wasn’t totally cut from the movie, the scene that it is in is pretty dark and full of smoke so you don’t get to see it, but I know its there!
I got to take home the spearhead that day. Once it was removed and not used on screen, it was essentially just one more piece of garbage, but I was too proud of it to relegate it to the dust bin of history. It took up happy residence in our home. And then, several months after the movie was complete, I was gifted the rest of the spear. I can’t really explain how much it meant to me to have the spear. But I decided to restore the spear to its original completed form.
I removed all of the last minute greebles. I had to do some serious repair work to the base pad (actors, especially when there are stunts involved, can be rough on props – don’t expect things to survive!). I put a small metal core in the end of the cut off spear and then glued it together with the spearhead. I debated trying to patch and repair the cut aluminum and wood and trying to paint and blend it to look perfect. I’m confidant I could have made it look blemish free but then had the idea to tie a piece of fabric around the seam. I filled in the cut completely and even added a bit of extra reinforcement since it didn’t need to look perfect, and then weathered and distressed a piece of fabric I had that was close to the fabric of Zed’s costume and tied it around the weld.
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