By Sandra Gonzalez
Updated January 22, 2013 at 12:00 PM EST
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Liane Hentscher/Fox

Fringe

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From Gene the cow to the Transilience Thought-Unifier Model-11, props were a big part of the mythology of Fringe.

Property master Rob Smith — whose previous work includes The Outer Limits, Dark Angel and the 4400 — told EW where he found some of his most bizarre building materials, why the show’s version of 2036 didn’t include flying cars or the iPhone 25, and more details on creating Fringe‘s many memorable (and a few forgettable) sci-fi gadgets.

1. Even though he didn’t create it, the neurostimulator is one of Smith’s favorite Fringe props

Smith joined the show’s prop department for the show’s second season, which meant he had to get up to speed on all of the gadgets introduced in season 1. “I think it was about the 4th episode of season 2, and in the script they called for the neurostimulator, and I didn’t really know the episodes well enough to say, ‘Oh, ok, that’s exactly what it is.’ So I talked to the director, who had been on season 1, and he goes, ‘Oh, I don’t know, it’s just something that goes on the guy’s head,'” Smith remembered. “When I finally realized what it was, I [found out] it was actually a rental piece that they had returned. So I had to re-make it over a weekend, which was a little bit stressful.”

Why was the prop so important to the plot? “The neurostimulator defined the way that Walter works. He’s this mad scientist who takes conventional science and then puts his own twist on it, as it were. And then the thing that struck me about that one was that it made me uncomfortable to look at it,” Smith explains. “It’s one of those things that people love and hate about Fringe, it puts your out of your comfort zone. That’s sort of what I was trying to say about Walter… there’s kind of a bird’s nest of wires everywhere, and then they end up on the guy’s head, and from that he can tell what the guy’s thinking. It’s quite cool.”

Next: Time crunch

2. The props department had about a week to whip up new creations

“For everything that we [did], the most amount of time we got to make something was 8 working days, so we [had] to go from the concept phase to making [the props], to putting them on camera. There was not a lot of time for R&D, you just grab onto the concept and get it approved by the producers and director and then you go,” Smith explained. “You never really know which [prop] is gonna recur, so you really get one chance and you do your best with the time and money that you’ve got.”

Next: No do-overs

3. There are some props Smith wishes he could do over

Working under time and budget constraints meant that, inevitably, Smith wished he could go back in time to get a second chance at creating certain props. “[My] first episode we had to make the shape-shifter device, the thing that you put into your mouth and it transforms one person into another person. I was brand new here and I wasn’t happy with the way that turned out, and it came back in about 5 or 6 episodes. Every time it came back I was like, ‘Oh, I wish I could have that time over again to redo this one,'” Smith said. “A lot of the time, I [didn’t] actually see [the prop] on set, so I watched the episode to see how everything comes together.”

Next: eBay finds

4. eBay was Smith’s go-to source for spare parts

Smith and his team often tracked down obscure items online. “A lot of the stuff was analog, from the past, so we [did] a lot of hunting around on eBay. Last year, we got some vaccination guns from the 60s or 70s. They were military surplus, but I can’t remember what we turned them into. We got some surgical drills, lie detectors, all sorts of crazy things,” he said. The biggest obstacle between the team and their eBay finds? “We didn’t even pursue [an item] if we couldn’t contact the seller and make sure they could ship it to us overnight. It didn’t do us any good to win the auction and then get the thing in ten days.”

5. It’s harder than you’d think to imagine 25 years into the future

For the fifth and final season, Smith and his team had to design futuristic props for the world of 2036. “It’s not like we’re gonna get the iPhone version 25. Basically what [we saw] is that reality has changed, and we live in a computer-dominated society. It was an interesting extrapolation of what we did in the past,” Smith said. “There [weren’t] any real rules, we [tried[ to make it look as believable as we could, but nobody really knows what it’s gonna be like. And furthermore, the reality that we’re depicting probably won’t be what it’s like in 25 years… I hope.”

Read more:

Episode Recaps

Fringe

Joshua Jackson, Anna Torv, and John Noble star in J.J. Abrams’ sci-fi drama
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