Teccles Cake Prop Design
Teccles Cake is an online technology review show, for which I was in charge of the art direction, building and sourcing of the set. The premise is that a couple of geeky friends talk informally about gadgets in one of their granny’s basement. The overall set design can be found here. The aesthetic called for a mixture of old furniture, bought by the fictional grandmother, and novelty furniture items filled with movie and game references. A specific scenario needed to be created for the arrival of a cake at the end of each episode. The idea that the grandmother made cake for the son and his friends all the time needed to have a tradition/ritual attached to it. We decided to build a moving shelf into the coffee table to achieve this, as there wasn’t much room or capability to bring something off screen easily. This became one of the more elaborate items in the set.
(right – initial table concept, based on a CD-Rom drive to reflect the characters obsession with technology)
I explored a series of mechanisms to make a moving shelf within the table; from pneumatics to motors. When it boiled down to concept (and conveniently: budget) it was clear that the prop needed to A) look like a reused object and B) use technology that the characters could’ve potentially put together in their childhood: pulleys and gears. There needed to be a reasonable amount of depth to conceal the shelf, the proportions of which would never look like a regular coffee table. So the table became an “old” wooden box/crate that the character had built in a secret compartment and covered in graffiti over the years. The added bonus of this is giving another surface to give the audience a few more hidden movie references.
The crank system gives the characters something to interact with and gives more a ritualised feeling to the process, which is ultimately something the director wanted. There were several ways to achieve this, but on such a limited budget it was a challenge. I laser cut a cog out of MDF to create a ratchet for the crank, ensuring the shelf didn’t fall back down once the lever had been released. To create the pulley system and shelf tracks I applied some scavenged parts from a draw-string curtain rail. Many nuts are used to hold the laser cut spools in place and the handle is simply a painted piece of garden hose on a bolt. A simple wooden panel slides over the cake-hole for when it is not being used.
The director wanted something in the background that could change episode to episode, hinting to the audience. I decided that a stylised blackboard was the most appropriate object for the job. After struggling to source an unusual piece within our budget, I decided that I could create one myself that could satisfy aesthetics, money restraints and function (we decided a magnetic chalkboard would give flexibility for future gags). I went through a few design ideas that included reusing computer monitors or picture frames; ultimately I decided upon a retro TV style as it referenced technology and the dichotomy of the antique/sci-fi environment we created. Writing TV and film quotes on a TV itself seemed quite fitting as well. I simply carved the relief on spare plywood from the table, stained it and used it to sandwich a piece of steel coated in chalkboard paint (allowing it to be magnetic).
I found someone’s designs for Star Wars themed fishbowls and thought that they would be a fantastic addition to the set’s bookcase. Unfortunately the seller was quite pricey, so I pieced one together myself. I gathered some strange looks hunting around the park with a fishbowl and a pair of ewoks but I think it was worth it in the end.