How to make alien crate for short film?

HeySiriHeySiri Website User Posts: 382 Just Starting Out

So... I'm making a short film... and it's about an alien invasion. Basically, I need to create a prop of a crate (that would theoretically contain weapons). I'm not too picky about the look, just that it has an extra-terrestrial feel to it. Size I'm not picky about either, but the larger the better. Also, would be best if it'd be able to open. Anyone have any ideas on how to build something like this? I was thinking of maybe outfitting a cardboard box or an old cooler or something. My budget for the crate is only $25 and I'm trying to figure out what I can do!

Any help appreciated!


  • triforcefxtriforcefx United StatesModerator, Website User Posts: 1,059 Moderator

    It partially depends on what type of aliens you have... In many films and shows, different aliens have different design philosophies. For instance, reptilian aliens tend to have triangular or other "sharp" shapes, whereas insectoids tend to use other geometric shapes (particularly hexagons). Mammalian humanoids tend to lean more towards smooth shapes and curves.

    Do your aliens have hands, tentacles, or something else? This could change how the crate operates if there are any special considerations.

    What is the purpose of the crate? Is it for supplies (a pretty standard crate) or does it hold a treasure (something more intricate)?

    There's a lot of directions it could go depending on the answers. If I knew a bit more about the situation, it would be easier to make suggestions.... Most particularly the type of alien and the the type (contents) of the crate. One thing I would suggest is trying to incorporate "alien" characters. You can build your own, or borrow from one of many fonts and characters on the internet.

  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 18,227 Ambassador

    Yeah, pretty much what @triforcefx says. Have you figured out the type of alien you're going for yet?

    Triforce, I do note HeySiri said it's a weapon's crate, so, that gives us a function and it does let us start to guess at a size range - depending on if it's pistol-type or rifle-type weapons.

    In general start with the old beg/borrow/steal. What boxes can you use as a starting point to re-dress?

    One thing to use for inspiration is the work methods of the set designers on the original Star Trek. Trek is in the odd position of "looking cheap" in hindsight, although it was the single most expensive show ever made at the time. In 1966 a single transporter effect cost about $8000 in opticals (that's over $60,000 in 2018 dollars). Of course, these days we'd do it in Hitfilm for nothing. Point is, those expensive opticals and sets didn't leave as much money as the designers would like. The prop and set teams for Trek were notorious for dumpster-diving the studio. They'd raid dumpsters for things like scrap wood that other shows were throwing away. So they'd take all the odd bits of leftover that had been tossed from a cut sheet of plywood, cut it into more interesting and odd shapes, nail it together, paint it and stick it on a wall. Instant alien art. (Also take a look at the cinematography. There was no money to repaint sets, so most walls were painted gray then colored gels would be thrown on the walls with lights. The difference between the corridor leading to engineering and the corridor leading to Kirk's quarters was swapping out the gels for a different color.)

    Point being, start looking for the "trash" your family and friends might toss that you can use for something. Say your next door neighbor buys a new TV. You want to get all the styrofoam spacers the TV came packed in. That styrofoam is going to have interesting beveled shapes. Maybe it's something you could cut down, and maybe it's something that would fit well around an existing cooler.... So you glue on the styrofoam and paint the whole thing. Check with local stores. Anything a "Best Buy" puts out as a display model? The packaging got trashed. That's junk boxes and styrofoam you can use. Grocery stores often throw out milk crates. Well those are all plastic lattices you can cut apart and stick on a wall or something.

    Just a few starting ideas for set dressing in general.

  • triforcefxtriforcefx United StatesModerator, Website User Posts: 1,059 Moderator

    You're right... I was half asleep when I was reading his post. Unless it's a particularly special weapon, it most likely won't have any designer box with it, but if it's military it may have special military patterns or colors (like how many Earth militaries use camo and Earth tones)

    You probably want something metal (or at least something that looks metalic). Spray paint is your friend. Look especially at metalic paints.

    I like your initial idea of an old cooler... Some modifications and a bit of spray paint could go a long way.

    BTW, you may need someone else to buy some spray paint for you. At least in the US, you usually have to be 18+ and some times 21+. I know it sucks, cuz I've been there before.

  • HeySiriHeySiri Website User Posts: 382 Just Starting Out

    @Triem23 and @Triforcefx Thank you for all the suggestions! Large cardboard boxes from moving are what I have most abundantly. I have a LOT of cardboard in my house. I could somehow attach two large, cube cardboard boxes together to have a long crate that would easily fit a larger gun. I have a lot of styrofoam from recent purchases at my mom's work and in my house, so I could use that.

    The aliens are humanoid and have an architecture somewhat similar to us Terrans. I don't really have an idea in mind for their architecture, and I am very open to different designs. The question is what to do with styrofoam and spray paint to make a cardboard box more than a cardboard box.

  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 18,227 Ambassador

    It's sometimes tough to make specific suggestions without seeing what you have. 

    That said, consider this.

    So this is just two pieces of end cap styrofoam stacked up. But, to me, if you just put a line of packing tape on one side to make a "hinge" and paint it, that looks like a futuristic box already. You could hollow out the inner surfaces with a butter knife, and maybe line the inside with cardboard?

    So it's kind of a matter of seeing what shapes you have and where they look cool. 

    Styrofoam is light, too. Shapes could be painted to match a wall and taped up to become a sci-fi corridor. Foam bits with "windows?" stick it on a desk, put a tablet under the window, glue something on for buttons and it might look like a control panel. 

    Notably, the 1990's sci-fi show Babylon 5 used a repainted Thigh master as the seat back for Drazi fighters.

    Like I said, there's a lot of just finding stuff with a cool shape and just deciding to make a thing.

    Don't forget YouTube. There's thousands of DIY tutorials. Like this 


  • HeySiriHeySiri Website User Posts: 382 Just Starting Out
    edited February 2019

    @Triem23 thanks for the tutorials! I did try to do some research but couldn't find any life-size crates just little models for like action figures. Maybe I'll attach styrofoam to the outside of a cardboard box and spray paint it.

    That last tutorial actually helped me think of how to make an alien grenade, too! Just two or even one oddly shaped water bottle(s) can do the trick!

  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 18,227 Ambassador

    Sure! In original Star Trek, McCoy's medical instruments are salt shakers. In the original Star Wars trilogy a coffee urn is used as set dressing a lot - and is IG-88's head. In Trek: Next-Gen Giordi's visor is a repainted hair clip. In Babylon 5 Vorlon ships are based off garlic and the Shadow Scout is based off a hair clip. Luke and Ben's lightsabers are parts of camera flashes with bits from flashlights and other random stuff attached. 

    Google "kitbashing." That's the source of a lot of old-school Sci-Fi building.

    The key here is to just look around for things/trash that has a cool shape, then glue/nail that stuff together and paint it. 

    If you want to get advanced you can get into craft foam and putty, but you can do a lot with practicals. 

    I forget the movie but one well known franchise movie built all the wall plating from plastic cafeteria trays. 

  • HeySiriHeySiri Website User Posts: 382 Just Starting Out

    @Triem23 One thing I love about JJ's star trek movies (despite many flaws) are the way they built the sets. Obviously, they had new tech and a budget with which to build some pretty amazing things but they maintained their Star Trek roots and went to Ikea to buy stuff for their sets. I saw in an interview the transporter room contains a ton of stuff from the kitchen section at Ikea (wall details and I think part of the ceiling above the transporter chamber)

  • HeySiriHeySiri Website User Posts: 382 Just Starting Out

    So, I honestly forgot to make this alien crate prop I need for my film, and now I'm considering just using a digital model and integrate it with the scenes. It'd probably look better than anything I could make, unless anyone has any really easy ideas to turn a cardboard box into a sci-fi alien crate?

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