Roger Murray is kind of like "Scotty" in the old STAR TREK series. When I met him, he was reading a technical manual about a new machine. He's an engineer's engineer, who can make pretty much anything given enough plastic, metal, wire, and time. Even when he's short on the last commodity, he manages to be creative. He and his crew have pioneered their own techniques in the prop-making business, created their own machines to do it, and in November 2000, he shared more about this fascinating process below.
Prop Design (01-04)
The Art of Prop Design (05-08)
Prop 101 (09-14)
The Unusual Props (15-16)
CLEOPATRA 2525 and JACK OF ALL TRADES (17-20)
The Tough Jobs (21-24)
Roger Murray, surrounded by his work at his shop.
 BRET RYAN RUDNICK:
How long have you been in charge of props design for Pacific Renaissance?
Need that hard-to-find pointed stick with a skull on it? Here's a barrel full!
 ROGER MURRAY:
Four years now. I started with a forge and doing swords for HERCULES early on. I did some other programs and came in right at the beginning of XENA. I did some work for CLEOPATRA 2525, helping with the initial setup and making models. I was props designer for JACK OF ALL TRADES, and I did some work for AMAZON HIGH as well.
How did you get started in this business in the first place?
I left art school. I set up a workshop and did fine arts work on some local shows, New Zealand shows including SHORTLAND STREET (TV NZ, 1992- ), doing props making and set design
The Art of Prop Design
You're an artist in your own right then, from your background, education, and experience.
Props are often made for a particular scene, but are also kept around to build an ''inventory'' of items to select from as needed.
Yes, but it didn't pay very much. (laughs) I did make some original artwork that tended to be quite large and complex, but I got a little frustrated with it. I just sort of fell into making props. It started with a few small things and went from there.
Do you find a sufficient outlet for your creative side doing what you're doing now?
In a sense. Nowadays a big part of the job is administrative and the design element. Initially, props making was hugely artistic. I was able to use materials I've never heard about, and that was great. I learned more in the first three years here than I did doing my arts degree.
What sort of materials do you use?
It depends. An original model will be custom-molded. We'll do a form and use silicone. We'll reproduce with resins, urethanes, aluminum casts, steel if it's required. It's quite broad.
You form all the molds here as well?
Yes. We'll also make larger pieces like wall panels. We do the whole thing, really.
How much notice do you get when you have to make something?
More swords than you can shake a... sword... at.
(laughs) Well, the turnaround is usually about eight days. Script meetings take two or three days to sort everything out, so a lot of times it comes down to about five days. When everything is set up properly, a props make can turn something out in about two days. A big challenge has been volume. We've accumulated a huge amount of stuff over the years. That can really help us out. A big wedge can be taken up by stuff we already have. We have a huge library of molds as well, so we can turn things out pretty quickly. We can mix and match, too. For swords, we can use the hilt of one, the blade of another. These last years, because we've accumulated so much stuff, it's allowed our quality to go up dramatically.
The Unusual Props
What's the most unusual thing you've had to make?
For the ONE FOWL DAY puppet, molds were cast and matched to footage of a ''normal'' chicken running around models.
(laughs) There've been so many! We made a giant chicken head for the HERCULES episode ONE FOWL DAY (H76/417). That was incredibly funny. You don't see too much of the puppet, just snippets because of the way it was edited, but that was pretty unusual, pretty funny.
CLEOPATRA 2525 and JACK OF ALL TRADES
CLEO and JACK must have been pretty challenging because you had nothing to start with there.
Emily was always inventing things on JACK OF ALL TRADES, and Jack usually got to try them out.
You have to find the voice, really. One of the first things you have to do on any show is come up with stylistic elements that are crucial to the show. JACK OF ALL TRADES was easier because we had historical references to draw on. People have an awareness of 18th century items. It was a great show to do. It's been my favorite, actually, because I was able to do prop making, models, and it had this crazy sort of "Jules Verne" element to it. We had to do that very quickly as well. At one time, we had 22 props people in here for that show, which is a lot of people to wrangle.
I noticed quite a lot of things lit up in CLEO.
Lots of things, from props to sets, lit up on CLEO.
(laughs) Yes, that was quite a lighting project. We often had to take that into account when making forms for props and set pieces.
The Tough Jobs
Did you ever get a job that you thought you just weren't going to be able to achieve?
It's more a question of quality than anything else. We can make almost anything that can be thought of, but speed can take a toll on quality.
What's the current crisis today?
We're ahead of the game today. We're well onto it. I've gone from managing about 24 people down to a group of six people. They're our core props makers. It's a good feeling to be ahead of things. I say that very tentatively. (both laugh)
What would you say is your proudest accomplishment?
Well, to be doing what I'm doing now, really. I never thought I'd be in charge of a large number of people or doing the administration for a large shop. I started out as just an individual artist, so I'm quite proud of that. I couldn't really single out a particular prop or anything like that. We just turn out so much, and we're so saturated. Whatever we're doing at the moment commands all the attention. I like them all!
What haven't you built yet that you'd like to build?
Xena stands next to some of Roger's handiwork -- a catapult.
 MURRAY: I'd definitely like to build another Trojan Horse. We did one years ago that was a lot of fun, but I'd really like to build another one. Can't see that happening, though. (both laugh) I'd also like to build a real catapult. That would be quite an engineering challenge. We've made a couple of them, and they look good even if they don't quite work, but I've read about them and there are a couple I'd really like to make. I've made enough swords. I'd like to build more models, too.
BiographyBret Ryan Rudnick
IAXS Executive Committee
"You can never have too much money or too many Amazons"
When he's not working for a big Science/Engineering company that (amongst other things) designs, builds, launches, and operates exploratory spacecraft, Bret writes fantasy novels and short stories. Bret is a man of many skills, having also previously been an Olympic-qualified archer, a drummer in the Butch Grinder Band, a news reader for Public Television Station KVCR, and a Deputy Sheriff for the County of San Bernardino, California. He also collects Japanese swords, armor, and art. He and his dog hunt down stray Bacchae in New England.
Favorite episode: HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110), WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206), and THE QUEST (37/213)
Favorite line: Xena: "What's this?" Gabrielle: "I'm... an amazon princess?" Xena (rolls eyes): "Great." HOOVES AND HARLOTS, 10/110; Xena after being goosed by Joxer: "Are you suicidal?" WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206); Joxer: "Ha. Ha." A COMEDY OF EROS (46/222); Autolycus: "I'm not just leering at scantily clad women, you know, I'm working!" THE QUEST (37/213)
First episode seen: CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104)
Least favorite episode: IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL (72/404)