You may or may not have heard the term "greebles" or "kit-bashing" before, but if not, they may sound like nonsense. Particularly 'greebles', which sounds more like the name of a small, gremlin-like creature. However, I assure you that they are very important in prop-making, and if you can master them both, you'll be able to make intricate, great-looking props in hardly any time!
The term "kit-bashing" comes from literally bashing apart models or model kits in order to cannibalize the parts for something other than the intended use. You can read more about it on Wikipedia if you'd like, but kit-bashing is used in Hollywood all the time by professional prop-makers for films.
I'll demonstrate below, by kit-bashing some greebles!
The word "greebles" has its roots in Industrial Light and Magic, the company that was founded to create props for Star Wars. Greebles are small things that make a larger thing look more complex and realistic. Again, Wikipedia has a good article on it, but, essentially, using found objects to make Steampunk props is often a form of greebling. Greebling being the participle form of the root 'greeble'.
Now, let's see how to put these two tools together to great effect! Remember this article about painting Nerf guns? We're going to apply these lessons to the gun from that article, which is pictured below:
Often in the film industry, prop-makers will kit-bash model vehicles for prototypes and such. They'll break models apart and combine them with other models to create a new effect. In this case, I just want cool-looking parts for Steampunk stuff, so I found two model kits that I thought were likely to have neat parts in them:
As you can see in the picture above, I chose a battleship model, and a train model. They're both Revell brand, because they tend to be on the cheaper side. The best way to do this is to buy bulk model parts on eBay, but I kept losing auctions for model parts, so I just bought some kits! I ended up paying more, but I just didn't have the patience for it.
The battleship kit ended up having some parts that I'll use for another project, but for this project, the train kit had some perfect parts.
Feel free to click on these pictures for more detail... They're all huge.
Once I decided what parts I wanted to use, I pulled them out and cleaned them up a bit with a sander. I cleaned off any odd plastic bits and whatnot, but otherwise left them alone. The next step was to paint them!
I chose silver because I thought it would stand out against the brass-and-black background of the gun, and it would also match the trigger.
With my parts painted and ready to go, it's time to move on to greebling!
So, all there is to greebling is just putting parts onto something to make it look more complicated. In this case, I used super glue as the method of adhesion. Usually I prefer to use sturdier stuff like epoxy (or screws, preferably) but, given how visible these parts were, I had to go for a less-visible adhesive.
There's definitely an art form to determining which parts to use, and where to put them. I don't know that I'm the best person to explain such things, as I still very much consider myself an amateur in this regard. My best advice is just to look at lots of props on the internet, and try to get a feel for how things look, and what makes them look good versus bad. When you look at a prop you like, ask yourself what you like about it, and vice versa.
In the picture below, I've attached a few of the greebles and you can get a good detail shot of how they turned out:
I felt like it was a little naked toward the front, still, so I added another one. Here's the finished product:
Not the most amazing thing you've ever seen, I'm sure, but the time expenditure on this project was, counting the drying time for the paint, something like an hour. And it looks a lot more interesting than just the plain Nerf gun did.
Here's a side-by-side comparison of the before and after pictures, so that you can see them together (click on the images to enlarge):
See, a small amount of effort can really make a difference! And it certainly looks better than haphazardly-glued gears.
Now go forth and greeble!