Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Inuit Drum Props

A drum and five drum sticks
A week and a half ago, I had an unexpected request for five large, and relatively inexpensive Inuit style reproduction drums to be use as props for filming in Iqaluit. The client needed them very quickly.  I generally require 6 weeks of turn around time between an order coming in and delivery of the completed reproductions.  There is usually a fair bit of time required to source materials and then trial and error time as I construct the pieces and antique them to the clients requirements.  There are often days of drying time, which can turn into weeks in the damp St. John's springtime.  But this job needed to be done in 7-10 days.

Five prop drums.  You can't really fake this kind of drum, so they are made more-or-less traditionally, but with oversized dimensions and using some non-traditional materials.

I thought I might be able to
get a four foot diameter with
 an extra large fringe on the
 canvas.  But it added too
much weight and didn't look
 right, so I trimmed off the
excess fringe.
The original request was for very large 4 foot diameter drums that would show up in long distance shots.  We eventually settled on something more manageable, but still quite large.  In the end, the drum frames are about 32" across.  Measured across the fringe of the canvas drum skin they are 40" across, which is well over 3 feet in diameter.  Inuit drums are played by striking the frame and the drum is rolled back and forth as they are played.  The large size of the drums and the style of play puts a lot of strain on the frame and especially on the lashed and glued joint where the handle is attached.  I added a couple wood screws under the lashing to help secure the handle in place.  They are intended to be props which will be visible from a long distance rather than close up, but I still want them to be able to be functional and sturdy enough to survive the rigours of playing and filming.

The laminate hoop, before
cutting the individual frames.
Aside from the large diameter, the other modification that I made to the traditional drum construction was to build the hoop out of laminated layers of oak veneer, rather than bend a single piece of solid wood for each frame.  The main reason for that decision was to avoid steam or heat bending wood, because I always run into problems with that and I don't have the space or materials to bend and clamp five individual hoops at one time.  I would have had to bend them one at a time and I was worried that would eat up too many hours and days from the brief construction window.  Instead I made one large cylinder out of sheets of veneer glued together and then cut out five large rings when that had dried.  In essence, the hoops are made out of slices of a plywood tube.

Laying out the canvas to cut
 the drum skins.
This method of manufacture came with its own problems.  It was hard to get a perfect tight bond between all the layers of veneer, so there was lots of touch up work with glue and sawdust filler to create a solid hoop.  The veneer sheets and glue were a little more expensive than equivalent strips of solid wood, and I don't know what to expect their lifespan to be on such large drums, especially if they are played vigorously    However, the laminating technique did serve its purpose of removing the need to bend wood and at the end of the day they I think they turned out to fine looking prop drums.

They don't look too bad up close,
 either, I guess
The handles and drum sticks are simple dowels. Again, they don't require a lot of exact detail to look right on film.  The only modifications were lashing grooves cut into the drum handles and canvas and hemp cord wraps on the drumsticks.  It feels a little strange to make reproductions with so many material substitutions, but I had to keep reminding myself that these were functional props that needed to look good from a distance.  They aren't the usual sort of reproductions that I make that are held in someone's hand and need to  look authentic from a few inches away.

The five drums needed to match each other as well.  As I understand it, designs will be painted on to them as part of the filming.

They're in Canada Post's hands now.
I tested them all, and when the canvas is damp they have a rich deep "boooom, boooom" sound.  They should serve their purpose and are en route to Iqaluit by way of Ottawa.  It was an interesting job to be part of and if I get any set photos or more information from the filming I'll post some updates.  I'm anxious to hear how they hold up.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails