At the start of production, "Looper" prop master James Kroning was given a simple task. Producer Ram Bergman and line producer David Pomier told him, "We have about $20 million. We want this to look like a $100 million film."
With that in mind, Kroning and his team went about crafting the objects that would populate director Rian Johnson's futuristic vision for "Looper." Through meticulous attention to detail, creativity, and in some cases, exhaustive research, the prop team on the film created a realistic world and the look of a futuristic tale without a bloated budget.
In the lead-up to the release of "Looper," Kroning shared with MTV News the secrets behind some of the film's most important props.
When Joseph Gordon-Levitt's hit man character, Joe, takes out a target from the future, he gets paid in silver bars strapped to his victim's back. To create the bars, Kroning took an approach he learned from his experience making Joe's gun, the blunderbuss.
"With the silver bars, I knew that we probably needed to have 300 of these things," Kroning said. "At the prop house, I had samples of silver bars, and I showed them to Rian. I said, 'Do you want something polished or aged?' By this time, I knew that he wanted something with more of a coarse texture to it."
To achieve that texture, Kroning avoided the usual style of prop silver and instead used a mold that had been sculpted specifically for "Looper." The bars were made of a hollowed resin and filled with either lead or steel to give them a realistic weight. Painters colored each piece of silver by hand to achieve a realistic look. "You'd be hard-pressed to say this wasn't a piece of silver," Kroning said. The special gold bars in the film, however, were actually plated with the real deal.
The cars seen driving on the streets in "Looper," like the other props in the film, don't look like your typical futuristic vehicles. They're mostly modern day cars with additional equipment attached to the back and on top.
Created from an idea by production designer Ed Verreaux, the concept of the vehicles in "Looper" was that nobody in the future bought new cars. They simply bought used, gasoline-powered ones and added a solar power upgrade kit.
A large part of the lavish life lived by the Loopers involves taking drugs via eye droppers. Since Gordon-Levitt wore contact lenses to change his eye color to match Bruce Willis', he had to use saline provided by a specialty makeup team.
But for the droppers, Kroning did not want them looking ordinary. "There's a lot of hand-blown glass that's really cool-looking. It picks up this iridescent metal look," he said. "I wound up going to a glass blowing shop that makes smoking accessories and having them build us a variety of dropper-type elements that we could use as futuristic droppers."
Finding the perfect pocket watch for Joe was something of a personal pleasure for Kroning, who collects time pieces and has amassed nearly two thousand. The search involved heavy research and many different looks and styles, and the final watch ended up in the film because of its unusual look.
"The watch that I found ... was given to Turkish military officers, so all of the numbering is Turkish Arabic ciphers. They were so ornate, and that's what I loved about them," Kroning said. "But some of them were too ornate because they started getting too floral with a lot of colors. After we got a few samples and showed Rian, the one that I settled on was only had the gold filigree look, so it's pretty stark, but it has the dynamic look to it."
But finding the right watch was only the beginning. As with all key props in a film, doubles must be found, but when the watch is from 1840, that's no easy feat. Kroning ended up finding nearly identical matches from eBay vendors in Bulgaria. A few were even working, but the delicate nature of the watches made them difficult to deal with.
"They're porcelain dials. I couldn't even get watchmakers— and I'm talking about 80-year-old watchmakers in downtown Los Angeles— to even open it to try to adjust the time," Kroning said. "They said it's so old that if they took the crystal out, the whole dial might shatter into a million pieces and you'd never have it back together again."
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