Apr 17

Good Prop Bad Prop

Escapeless in Seattle
Good Prop Bad Prop

An Escape Room cliche we can do without.

There is nothing worse than being in an Escape Room and dealing with a broken prop. You spend your time trying to solve a puzzle and you find out that you had the answer for 5 min but because the item or lock is broken you wasted time, gained frustration and just lost your Mojo. Now, as an owner of an escape room I will tell you that props can break, and its nobody’s fault. But when the same prop repeatedly breaks that is when the alarm bells should go off and a new prop needs to be created or procured , or the existing one reinforced.

So lets examine what makes a good prop first


  • Works properly and moving parts move easily
  • All electronics work if it has them
  • Fits the game theme
  • Fits the time period of the story
  • Looks aged by time not by the hands of thousands of players…Especially during cold and flu season.
  • Looks shiny and new if it is not an ancient artifact
    • gold bashould not feel like light plastic painted gold
  • It should look like what it is
    • The exception would be when the theme allows it. So a gold bar in a cartoon theme game could look like a cartoon gold bar and be lightweight
  •  Durability! It should be durable, it will get dropped, crushed and stepped on



Wax figure for Orlando Ripley museum

I know you’re wondering where I get my information and wondering who this Seth guy thinks he is to tell us about props. I began making props and creating masks for films in High School and worked in scenic shops, film, TV and theme parks in Orlando for almost 10 years. I even was a manager at a scenic supply shop part time. My first big gig was making wax figures and props for Ripley’s believe it or not Museums world wide.

I learned very fast how to make durable wax figures and props since they were within arms reach. Then spent about 7 years at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure repairing the ride scenes,animation skins and props all thru the parks.  I specialized in Kongfrontation and the MIB ride. I am even being featured in a new book on the Jaws ride.  We had to repair any damaged prop before morning in our department, so I learned about durability first hand.  After you repair the same rock 3 times in  a month for months you start to figure out how to reinforce things. Everything we made had to withstand thousands of guests a week touching, kicking, sitting and sneezing on it without breaking or it would become a safety hazard.

What makes a bad prop


  • Broken prop
    • This includes faded designs needed to solve the puzzle
  • Out of place in theme and time
    • Example: A giant digital clock in an ancient setting is as bad as a Sundial in a space ship
  • The material feels and weighs off from what the item should be made from
    • Example: A plastic light Gold bar instead of a weighted plastic gold bar
  • Worn surface from thousands of hands… Eww!
  • It does not look like the item should
  • Too home made looking for the game setting and story
    • We all made crayon drawings for mom, but it does not make us all artists
  • Not durable or loose parts that fall off
  • Missing parts



How to make a good prop? Its easy!


  • Hire an expert!
    • If you are not a prop maker then hire one. Its cheaper to hire an expert to build a prop that will last than to spend hours a month repairing a homemade prop.
      • The best skill you can have is to know your limits and be willing to hire an expert. I cant draw, so I hire a trained artist to draw anything I need. I also cant paint pictures, build websites, create decent ad content, break dance or publish a blog (That is why I have awesome people like Lindsay retyping this and publishing it on our website)
  • Build it to withstand a 500lb drunken gorilla wearing soccer cleats. (GO SOUNDERS!)
  • Always have two of every item if you can
    • Example:If one prop breaks, then you have a replacement. But then you must create or buy another one in case that one breaks
      • We have a shelf filled with replacement parts,props and the molds to make more overnight if needed
  • Once a week have your employees do a punch list of what needs repair and refreshing
    • taking a few hours a week to repaint an old prop will make your players happy
  • If it is loose, tighten it!
    • Example:  A weird thing happens when a prop has a loose part. People think it is supposed to move and will wiggle or pull at it till it breaks. Sometimes just as a nervous habit
  • If you repaint it, clean the surface first!
    • Clean off the finger prints and oil with a de-greaser like Simple Green before you paint something. Sometimes a light sanding helps
  • Clear coat everything that is  painted, this will help keep the surface intact. Some use Crystal Clear , but I actually love Mod Poge for when i can use it. A few thin layers built up and let to dry overnight makes a great coating
  • If it is electronic have extra parts on hand or the number of a great electronic prop builder. If it breaks, you’ll want to fix it ASAP.
    • I recommend having a plug and play replacement
  • Make molds : Having the ability to make a replacement in less than an hour in an emergency helps. Smooth-on has great products and tutorials. This picture below is a mold for one of our items. We can pour resin and have a replacement in under 30 minutes



So in closing:  Props will break…but we can be prepared to replace them between shows and be willing to make permanent repairs to avoid future damage.

Prop making supplies and resources
seth wolfson


About the Author: When he is not dressed like Charlie Brown hanging with E.T on Xmas and circa 1997 Seth Wolfson is the co-owner and creative director of Hourglass Escapes in Seattle. He has been in the film and theme park industry since 1989 and has worked for Universal Studios, Disney, Ripley’s Believe It or Not Wax Figure Shop, and more. His work can be seen at and you can hear him speak on art, make-up effects and escape rooms on the podcast Original Lines episode #5 or on an episode of “So you’re in Seattle” with Gregr and 107.7 The End. Or as a featured interview in an upcoming book about the Universal Studios Orlando Jaws Ride “Great White Fury” by Dustin McNeill . See Seth’s other blogs here.

To hire Seth to help build or consult on your next project contact him via [email protected]

Related Posts