How to make prop sword for sci-fi film?

HeySiri
HeySiri Posts: 386 Just Starting Out*

This is actually two questions in one:

One: I'm making a sci-fi film. There's supposed to be a sword fight. However, I'm unsure what exactly the swords should be. It's set in present-day Earth, but there are aliens involved so I thought, maybe conventional swords are a bit old-fashioned. I considered lightsaber-like laser swords, but since lightsabers are so famous it almost becomes cheesy in anything else, you know? The setting is, two shuttles (one with the protagonist and one with the antagonist) are shooting at each other, both hit each other, and they both crash on this field. The two then engage in a fight with melee weapons of some sort. I just can't decide what those weapons would be. If they are conventional swords, why would they both have them? Etc. Does anyone have any ideas?

Second: with a prop sword or whatever sort of melee weapon, how would I make one for cheap? Like a fake sword or something, depends on what the answer to the above question is.

Comments

  • Triem23
    Triem23 Posts: 20,294 Power User

    Here's the fun thing about swords. The sword has been pretty consistent for thousands of years. There are variations in length  curvature and size of hilt/handguard, but a sword is a sword and there's no reason to worry TOO much about the look. Any sword you have ever seen in sci-fi is immediately recognizable as a sword, because form follows function  No matter what, a sword is a long rod.

    Justify why your XTs have swords? Hey, maybe you crash on a planet, lose your ship and have limited resources. A sword/machete is part of the survival kit. Once batteries are dead a sword still works. For warriors and soldiers? Swords are quiet. Stealth missions. Your guys have multiple reasons to carry swords.

    How to build? Once again, I'd suggest YouTube. The main thing is your actors probably aren't trained. You want to build in plastic or very light wood, not a hardwood or metal. Better to break a prop than actor (trust me, I've been hit in the face with a metal sword. Hurt a lot and it was an inch from taking out an eye. I've seen an actor "scalped" from a sword fight gone wrong, and I've seen another actor stabbed in the throat because his fight partner was an idiot - fortunately the sword hit the broach. 

    Safety first, second and third. Especially with combat. 

    Consider shooting to speed up in post. For sake of argument  perhaps your final movie is 24fps. Shoot the fights at 30 fps and speed up the footage to 160% this specific ratio is like if you shot 15 fps for 24 fps playback (every source frame of the original becomes a full frame of the output). This will let your actors go at a safe fight speed and have it look fast and dangerous in the edit. 

  • triforcefx
    triforcefx United StatesPosts: 1,641 Moderator

    At least in a lot of sci-fi, some advanced aliens still have melee weapons for close quarters combat. 

    In Star Trek, I can think of at least 2 examples... The first one being the Klingon Bat'leth. While the fighting style is quite different from a typical sword, It would still match up nicely against, say, a Japanese katana.

    In the 2009 Star Trek film, there's a scene where Sulu uses his sword against a Romulan melee weapon that seems to be somewhere between a sword and an axe.

    It's also possible to have energy-based weapons that aren't lightsaber knockoffs. Look at Tron or the Guardians in Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

    You can also take inspiration from ancient human melee weapons. If you ever have the chance to watch Deadliest Warrior, there's a lot to be learned from that show, especially when it comes to warrior types you've probably never heard of. (unfortunately it doesn't look like you can stream it anywhere for free right now)

    Hopefully, you've been able to think a bit about the "design language" of your aliens. The best thing to do is to take a melee weapon concept that you like and redesign it the same way you've designed the rest of the things that are from your alien.

     

    As far as building the weapon though, that gets tricky... If we were talking some sort of gun, that's easy. Just go to any store that sells waterguns, find a design you like, and spray paint it. Done, you have an alien gun. (I mention this because building melee weapons can be difficult and expensive... If the melee weapon doesn't work out, then you might want to consider rewriting the scene as a gun fight... Chances are, it could still play out mostly the same, and it would probably be easier to pull off)

    The first thing I'd recommend is actually almost the same thing I mentioned for the gun. See if you can find a toy that has a look that you like and hopefully fits with the design of the alien. [Spray] paint it to get it looking real- metallic and satin or high gloss paint can really help sell it, depending on the look you're going for. This would most likely be the cheapest route. 

    For other methods, I'll let someone else chime in as I don't have much experience in building props.

  • HeySiri
    HeySiri Posts: 386 Just Starting Out*

    @triforcefx my original reasoning for the sword fight was becomes guns are almost too easy in a way. One shot and it’s done and it can be done from a distance. But in the scene they could start with shooting from a distance but as they move closer their guns get knocked away and they could enter a fistfight. 

  • Palacono
    Palacono Posts: 3,414 Enthusiast

    Or as they get closer their aim improves and they actually hit what they are aiming at? If you get close enough to let your gun get knocked out of your hand you deserve to be shot by the other person. If he simultaneously manages to lose his own gun, then he deserves to be stabbed with your sword. It's why so many fight scenes are hand to hand these days, or a few Pew!, Pew! shots are fired and people duck and run about. Flynning with a couple of swords looks boring unless your actors are as talented as Flynn and Rathbone, who constantly looked as if they were in danger of losing an eye at the very least. Last decent 'modern' sword fight I've seen was in The Princess Bride.

  • triforcefx
    triforcefx United StatesPosts: 1,641 Moderator

    @HeySiri

    The gun fight was merely a suggestion, in case your budget gets in the way (as I have often found it does).

    If you have the proper budget to do a good melee fight, then I would absolutely go for it!

  • WhiteCranePhoto
    WhiteCranePhoto Posts: 923 Enthusiast

    Doing a proper melee fight that doesn't come across as one of the silly, cheesy, and confusing as all get hokiness that pervades Hollybozo fight scenes requires a lot of practice and careful choreography... but it's worth it.

    Doing that with swords is harder, but as we can see from The Princess Bride, worth it. :)

     

  • HeySiri
    HeySiri Posts: 386 Just Starting Out*

    @WhiteCranePhoto and @triforcefx what sort of melee weapons would you recommend the characters use? Swords seem to just be out of place in the scene. What other weaponry options are there?

  • tddavis
    tddavis Posts: 5,224 Expert

    @HeySiri I'm a little late this thread but have considered staffs with the lightning of neon glow effect on them.  Maybe even some sort of sci fi looking end that emits lightning?

  • Triem23
    Triem23 Posts: 20,294 Power User

    Almost every melee weapon is basically a stick. The stick might have an edge, a point, or a head, but, ultimately most melee weapons are levers - they extend the reach of the user's arm and add more weight to increase kinetic energy. 

    A dagger is a short stick with edge and/or point. Swords are long sticks with and edge or point, a mace is a stick with a weight at the end (sometimes with spikes). An ax is a stick with a bladed weight at the end. Escrima sticks, batons, clubs, bats and staves are sticks. Spears and other pole arms are very long sticks with a point or blade.

    The other main class of melee weapons would be "entangling" flexibles. These are strings  wires and chains that might have weights at one or both ends. This also includes "stick and chain" weapons like flails and nunchucks. Whips fit in here as well.

    Final basic category is "hand weights," which includes brass knuckles, coshes and, oh we'll put spikes gloves here. 

    Hand weight weapons choreograph like fist fights  because the weapon doesn't extend reach.

    Stick weapons (and I'm including swords/axes/pole arms) have many different fighting styles that all come from the weight distribution of the weapon. 

    Entangling weapons should NOT be used unless the performer is trained. There's an additional danger factor involved here, because if you have an object moving at speed on a tether, you just can't stop it right away if a move goes wrong. 

  • HeySiri
    HeySiri Posts: 386 Just Starting Out*

    I'm thinking, maybe something like the magnaguard weapons in Star Wars. See picture:

    Image result for magnaguard

    The electricity on the ends would be cool, but would probably end up in being a lot of rotoscoping. I'm thinking, what if the staffs are broken early in the fight, resulting in them powering off? Or is that an obvious and cheesy way to stop doing rotoscoping?

  • triforcefx
    triforcefx United StatesPosts: 1,641 Moderator

    If you're thinking that swords won't work too well, perhaps you could do something super close range. Basically a powered up fist fight. Perhaps one fighter could have some sort of disk based  weapon (similar to Tron). The other could have a bladed short weapon (perhaps dual sided?). Maybe one could have some type of power glove (though it might be hard to communicate that it has special powers on screen).

    Once again, remember: safety is key... You don't want to end up paying someone's medical bills.

  • WhiteCranePhoto
    WhiteCranePhoto Posts: 923 Enthusiast

    You need to be very careful even with straight up sticks -- it's shockingly easy to break a finger by accident, or a rib... and it takes years of practice to develop the precision you need to wield a bo staff well -- there's nothing to protect your fingers, for one thing, other than the precision of your technique.

    So I'd advise against sticks; use something with hand guards, it gives you a much better margin for error, something like sai or main gauche. The Klingon weapon has that advantage also, and on a weekly series like Star Trek you don't have time to spend days rehearsing a fight scene like they did in the Bourne series. 

    For a power glove, you could convey that it has powers with a combination of LED lighting and sound design, plus some choreographed responses to getting hit that convey something more than just a bonk on the noggin.

     

  • tddavis
    tddavis Posts: 5,224 Expert

    @WhiteCranePhoto Plus with Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet out there in the world consciousness now that makes it quite topical.  Wish I had thought better of the staff idea.

  • WhiteCranePhoto
    WhiteCranePhoto Posts: 923 Enthusiast

    @tddavis I'd forgotten abut Thanos, probably because I found the movie to be so forgettable. :)

  • JBaymore
    JBaymore Posts: 391 Enthusiast

    WhiteCranePhoto  said:   "You need to be very careful even with straight up sticks -- it's shockingly easy to break a finger by accident, or a rib... and it takes years of practice to develop the precision you need to wield a bo staff well -- there's nothing to protect your fingers, for one thing, other than the precision of your technique."

    As one who has, when sparring, inadvertently nailed an opponent's finger with a slightly errant bokken hit, and also been on the receiving end of a similar "oops" hit.......... you really want to be more careful than you think you need to be when doing this stuff.  Even with years of sword training work, it is very easy to screw it up in an instant.

    best,

    ..............john

     

  • Triem23
    Triem23 Posts: 20,294 Power User

     Pointing out again "Safety first, second and third" and also pointing out again the suggestion you make any props out of plastic and foam, but also say again to consider planning on shooting to speed up in post. Shoot speed here depends on your edit frame rate and what frame rates your camera has. 

     

  • HeySiri
    HeySiri Posts: 386 Just Starting Out*
    edited March 2019

    @Triem23 I can shoot in any frame rate, I have Filmic Pro on my phone. But if I film in 60 that'd be plenty to slow it to 24 and have plenty to work with to cut out frames and stuff?

  • WhiteCranePhoto
    WhiteCranePhoto Posts: 923 Enthusiast

    @HeySiri that's going backward. Overcranking is for slow motion. 

     

  • Triem23
    Triem23 Posts: 20,294 Power User

    @HeySiri @WhiteCrane is correct. I didn't suggest shooting 60fps to slow to 24fps, I suggested shooting 30 fps to SPEED UP for 24 fps.

    Shooting faster to slow down is "Overcranking." shooting slower to speed up is "Undercranking," and the term dates back to when film cameras were literally hand-cranked by the operator.

    "Consider shooting to speed up in post. For sake of argument  perhaps your final movie is 24fps. Shoot the fights at 30 fps and speed up the footage to 160% this specific ratio is like if you shot 15 fps for 24 fps playback (every source frame of the original becomes a full frame of the output). This will let your actors go at a safe fight speed and have it look fast and dangerous in the edit. "