February 3, 2014

Tutorial: How to Make Fake Guns Look Realistic for Less Than $10

Real Gun TutorialAt one point or another, one of your films is going to call for the use of at least one gun, and unless you've already got your own arsenal of real firearms, getting your hands on some is going to be a touchy and expensive undertaking. If you're more keen on the cheaper alternative, stockpiling plastic toy and airsoft guns, it's important to make sure that they look realistic on-screen. In this helpful tutorial, filmmaker Tom Antos shows you how to ensure that your shoot 'em up film doesn't lose its verisimilitude by applying a weathering technique that is not only used by professional prop makers, but is also less expensive than a couple of cups of coffee.

One of the biggest differences between a real gun and a fake gun, other than the fact that one could critically injure you (or kill you), is the materials used in fashioning them. Airsoft guns may be much more accessible than prop guns used specifically for filmmaking, and less expensive than real guns, but they're made of plastic (or rubber) -- and that difference really shows up on high-def screens.

To help make these firearms look more realistic, you can apply a "weathering" technique that many professional prop makers use. As he'll demonstrate in the video, Antos sprays metallic silver spray paint on a piece of paper, dabs the paint with a sponge, and rubs it over the edges of each gun to make it look like weathered metal. Take a look at his tutorial to see exactly how he does it:

Though making fake guns appear real on-screen is extremely important, don't forget that airsoft/toy guns are also significantly lighter than their real brethren. Working with your actors to ensure proper, realistic handling of fake firearms is a must if you want to completely sell the illusion. (And don't forget great sound effects!)

If you're interested in more tutorials focusing on the making of action films, be sure to check out Antos' full article. He takes us behind the scenes of his film NWO United We Stand and shows us how he filmed not only the action sequences, but the entire film as well.

Do you have any tips on making fake guns look real? Do you know of any online resources for purchasing different fake guns? Let us know in the comments!

Link: Movie Guns -- Tom Antos Films

[via wolfcrow]

Your Comment

48 Comments

They still look pretty fake.

It's not the lack of metal paint that makes them look unrealistic, it's the fact that the accessories, and fake digital flashes, recoil, shell ejection, and sound design makes them look totally unrealistic.

February 3, 2014

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Isaac

True; although if there was a simple cheap authentic option, there would be no market for prop guns :P

February 4, 2014

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Better learn to paint those air soft guns, because if lawmakers in California have their way, manufacturers will have to paint the entire gun a bright color.
http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/01/29/california-lawmakers-advance-...

February 3, 2014

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moebius22

That seems weird to me. Can't USAnians buy real guns at every corner store for about five bucks?

February 9, 2014

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Why worry about a fake looking gun when everything else about a gun fight is so fake. In real life, when someone gets shot in the chest, their chest does not explode outward like in the movies. And generally if there are 10 guys with machine guns 10 feet away from you, they probably won't all miss as you pick them off one by one with a pistol.

February 3, 2014

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Elliot Kramer

+1. Pink Mist. The only movie I've seen to date that is pretty accurate and close to what a fire fight or combat looks like is Lone Survivor. But those guys spent months training on real platforms and learning how to run them properly. Even the bad dudes land shots.

Good editing, sound effects and proper handling can solve most bad scenes. Now what do we do about the unlimited ammo revolvers and machine gun bad guys with bad aim?

February 3, 2014

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Jorge Cayon

You act like highly choreographed gunfights in action films are a problem.

February 3, 2014

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Coty

In some films they are and makes me lose the moment. Not all action gun fights are bad. But a good majority are.

February 4, 2014

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Jorge Cayon

Action scenes in films are NOT supposed to be realistic gun fights, they highly stylized action scenes. Comparing them to real fire fights is idiotic, as the large majority of viewers have never seen or been in one and the point of the action scene is NOT to "put you in a realistic shoot out" but to put you with the characters, even if it is not realistic.

I think its humorous that someone mentioned Lone Survivor.....ITS BASED ON A TRUE STORY (most of it), so they will try to re-create the story including the firefights as accurately as possible. However, those actions scenes would be boring should they appear in a typical Hollywood action flick like Face Off, The Raid, etc.

Films are to tell a story, not to show you an extremely realistic portrayal of a situation as if it were in real life. If a storyteller can get you so caught up in the story and characters that the an action sequence does rip you out of that moment (or even better, pulls you deeper), then it was successful.

February 6, 2014

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Excuse me, *doesnt rip you out of the scene. Those of you with training are a minority, and I'm sure it does bother you, but thats all the more reason that YOU can make your films realistic (and for the niche viewers that really do appreciate that attention to detail ).

February 6, 2014

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I stumbled onto memoirs of a WWII Austrian sniper recently (Austrians made up a number of the mountain divisions in the Wehrmacht). Obviously, the scope's magnification (usually 4x) gave him a better view of his "work". Anyhow, he wrote that, if you hit someone in the head from 300-400 meters and that person wasn't wearing a helmet - and many Soviet officers did not use theirs - then it was like hitting a watermelon.

February 3, 2014

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DLD

That depends on the muzzle velocity, and mass of the projectile.
I'm not positive but I'd guess that those snipers used Mauser K98k rifles with scopes. That is a pretty big round, 8x57mm. Lot of mass, decent muzzle velocity as well.
A smaller 9mm pistol has less gunpowder behind it and a m4/m16 type 223 rifle is designed with a smaller, lower mass bullet.
So I guess I am saying, to be realistic, the damage caused by various firearms will vary.
It's almost as bad as the infinite revolver, the small caliber handgun that blows up a car, or blows someones head clean off.

Though as a Peckinpah and (middle period)John Woo fan I have to agree that realism is not the only goal in cinema gunfights.

February 6, 2014

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Russ D

Violence in movies is not realistic. It doesn't have to be. Just look at the crime scenes on film and TV. Then get some books on the subject with actual crime scene photos. The human body looks like a puppet in real crime scenes, it ends up in the most unusual positions, hanging, against walls, on rails, etc. There is nothing impressive or cinematic about it. It's unbelievably sad. Anything in film is set for photography and nobody really goes for realism, even when when the photographer and effects person know enough to achieve it. Think of it as respect for the loss of life in the real world. Snuff is not hard to do, it's just unacceptable. Those who can do it, will not do it. Some films like Henry, the Portrait of a Serial Killer chose a middle path..

The same applies to trauma. Everyone knows what actual trauma looks like, there are tons of books on the subject, but two reasons keeps it away from the screen. Actual trauma does not look real to the audience, and the audience is distracted from the story because realistic trauma looks very strange.

The same with guns. The sound is not realistic, the visuals are not realistic, the physics are not realistic, but still, the audience expects guns to behave in that fashion in order to accept them. It's a tradition and a convention. Some of us have shot 7.62mm hand guns and even vintage heavy anti-aircraft machine guns in training and know what it looks and sounds like. Fake simply works better.

Saving Private Ryan is very cinematic while keeping a safe distance from the actual realistic graphic depiction.

February 4, 2014

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Little Mermaido

Here's a funny bit - I was a watching a YouTube review of the recent Russian blockbuster "Stalingrad" (well, a blockbuster by the Russian standards at a $50M local gross). The reviews were generally scathing. One pointed out that the German infantry wouldn't aim their handguns a la a 1990's American gang member in a "Boyz n the Hood" type of a flick (i.e., holding his pistol sideways instead of using the gun sights properly). But action flicks tend to do stuff like that.

February 4, 2014

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DLD

February 3, 2014

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I have found that the absolute best way to go is to spend a little more and get the GOOD Airsoft guns, which are not only made of metal, but also have Blowback, so the receiver slams back with each shot. Not only are these guns much closer to weight as their real counterparts, but the blowback makes them feel and look far more realistic than anything else. My actors feel more like they're using real guns, and it looks WAY better on-camera. Granted, you do have to spend more, as a good Airsoft pistol can cost around $80-200, but, to me, it's totally worth it. Metal Airsofts usually don't have seam lines, either. I once worked as a weapons handler on a small film, and they had crappy Airsofts and a lot of closeups of the guns, and I convinced them to spend the extra money, and it came out amazing. There are even Airsoft companies that keep the original trademarks. The hardest thing I've ever had to do is to remove the paint from one and polish the metal, which was easy to do with spray-on paint remover and a Dremel.

February 3, 2014

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Edmund

Note: In many states it is illegal to get rid of the orange tip. Here in Canada they are unlicensed firearms. you can do whatever you want with them except commit a crime.

February 3, 2014

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David J. Fulde

It is illegal to remove the orange tip in a way that cannot be reversed and even then only when the gun will be viewed in "public" under normal use. Filming is not normal use and airsoft or not, communication with local authorities is the key to avoiding legal issues.

February 3, 2014

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Gene Locke

at least in ohio, the only specific regulations regarding keeping the orange tip is when transporting of the airsoft pistol/rifle through postal mail. in which case the orange tip is required.

that being said, that's not to say that orange tip removal in general won't cause other indirect violations of laws; displaying something that incites panic/violence/etc would be an issue, as well as posing a threat to public safety due to appearing to be carrying an automatic weapon/pistol/whatever; that'd be a problem and definitely cause for arrest.

http://www.airsoftohio.com/forums/showthread.php?t=21414

February 4, 2014

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You can get all metal airsoft guns. They're more expensive than the plastic ones but still cheaper than real guns.

February 3, 2014

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Jake

I don't think that having guns on scripts is inevitable.

February 3, 2014

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maghoxfr

Sorry. Only movie worth watching is one with a gun in it.

(I'm speaking for the American movie-going masses.)

February 3, 2014

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An equivalent superpower will do:)

February 4, 2014

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Little Mermaido

after seeing some previous comments.......all I can say is......this site got nothing but haters on it.........WHO HATE ON A VIDEO OR TOPIC ON MAKING YOUR FAKE GUNS LOOK REAL.........how about we get a video or a topic on making FAKE commenters on this site look real.........

February 3, 2014

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Al

Yup! +1 Good post.

February 3, 2014

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Kraig

Another key part of making fake guns look real is the muzzle flares. Here's a tutorial that covers flares, environmental interaction, and recoil.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsViAvVYoMQ

February 3, 2014

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John Allegretti

Yea I def notice a general nasty streak in this thread... but people tend to let their bitter demons bleed out into web forums... Most of it stems from "peanut gallery" syndrome

February 3, 2014

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Mike

Yeah, I mean the general idea of a comment section on a site like this is to help create a sense of community but I wouldn't want to be apart of a community as hateful and hard to please as this one is sometimes.

February 3, 2014

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Coty

It would have been nice to see just a little something on Phil Hoffman today instead of how to make some realistic looking guns or some crowdfunding tips.

http://vimeo.com/85679776

February 3, 2014

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sbsk

Sorry if I contributed to the negative tenor of this thread. I was actually trying to be funny, not critical of the post, which I found informative.

February 3, 2014

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Elliot Kramer

You brought up a good point. Why worry about making a fake gun look real if everything else is going to be fake and totally not real? It's like the sword sounds when someone grabs one in a movie all of a sudden.

February 4, 2014

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Jorge Cayon

I'm going to catch flak for this, but I've avoided the fake look by using real guns in zero-budget projects.

Safety is paramount, and several rules are followed to keep everyone safe:
1. There is one, and only one, armorer. He or she is responsible for all weapons. He or she is legally able to possess the tools.
2. The armorer ensures there is no ammunition anywhere on the set, in vehicles, or anywhere nearby.
3. The armorer holds a safety talk before every (film) shoot, sometimes multiples in a day, where everyone on-set attends and can ask questions.
4. The talent go through all rehearsals with either 'finger pointing' guns or with fakes.
5. The armorer only hands out the real weapons just before the shot, and collects them when cut is called, even between takes, when resetting.
6. When not in immediate use on-set, all weapons are redundantly secured (e.g. trigger locks and in a locked storage container) under the control of the armorer.

Oh - it also helps if you're using revolvers, as you don't have to worry about simulating the slide action of a semi-automatic. For that, I second the comments of those who suggested the higher-quality metal Airsoft option. There are good rental options out there for this, too.

This option won't work for everyone - you have to be on private property and somewhere the tools can be possessed legally.

This is how we did the gun scenes in 'Stairs.'
Stairs from Darren Van Dyke on Vimeo.

February 4, 2014

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Sorry, but besides catching "flak" this is stupid, illegal in many areas, and just plain unsafe, NO MATTER what precautions you take. No one should EVER use real guns on any "indie" set, period, end of discussion. GLad yo didnt have any issues, but you can literally get someone killed over a shot. Be smart, be sneaky, but PLEASE PLEASE dont be stupid and use real firearms, empty or not.

February 6, 2014

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Thanks for this. I'm obsessed with realistic depictions of on screen weaponry for many reasons. One being that I believe that inaccurate portrayals of weapons leads to a general miseducation about them and that can become dangerous. The other is because i'm a 9 year military vet.

On a less 'societal' note: I also feel it is more important to train your actors how to properly handle one so as to make it appear real (heavy, dangerous) and also if they're someone who is supposed to know the basics of armed movement and use. I'd be less worried with people saying, 'that gun is fake!' since most people have never seen a gun in real life close enough or long enough to give them a discerning mind on the matter. Then again most people don't know what a group of armed men moving tactically is supposed to look like either.

But if your players aren't letting their heavy semi-automatic carbines swing wildly from their shoulder sling and giving away how light they are as they just bounce off themselves or the environment. if your gunfights don't look like Commando and they aren't blessed with infinite ammo then you're already a step ahead of the competition.

One of the few films i've ever seen to achieve this that are not also military films, i believe, is Way of the Gun. Which is also just a fantastic film in general, but the gunfights are brilliant.

February 5, 2014

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Juan Lindo

+1 On Way of The Gun. Great action scenes that bordered on realism and hollywood. Thanks for your service. I was Cavalry for 6 years.

February 6, 2014

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Jorge Cayon

Yo yo yo my homieeeeez!! I know of a website where you can buy good prop weapons... just in case anyone was wunderin'... TEEHEE!!

Here it is: http://www.replicaairguns.com/

Love me, love me for who I am and the things that I share

February 7, 2014

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JimBobJoeyJugs

I can think of no better use of a Canadian tax forms booklet then spraying paint on it. Made my day.

February 7, 2014

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funkydmunky

For me, this tutorial is very helpful and I know that many film makers in Africa/Nigeria will appreciate it too. Thanks to the writer and NFS crew.

February 8, 2014

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Vining Ogu

Finally a good use for a income tax form :-)

February 8, 2014

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Greg Nuspel

You can go to evike/airsoft megastore or really any legit airsoft dealer that deals half decent brands and get 1:1 scale full metal, fully functioning scale replicas. My M-16A4 looked and felt just like the one I was assigned in basic. As far as the bright orange flash hiders go, you can order silencers, flash hiders, compensators, etc. and replace it with those. Any person who has actually played airsoft can tell you: You can make your gun look as realistic as you want with little to no effort.
case and point: http://www.evike.com/products/32091/ <- Full metal bodied/laminated wood AK-47
http://www.evike.com/products/31937/ <- Flash hider/silencer combo for said AK

February 16, 2014

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vOF

Heya! I'm at work browsing your blog from my new iphone 3gs!
Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to all your posts!

Keep up the outstanding work!

June 16, 2014

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they aready do here in the uk :(

July 30, 2014

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mike

Another reason to shoot in a red right to work state. Be it Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, and so on. If you're in California, simply drive over to Nevada and shoot.

July 30, 2014

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yah

Youtube/FPDesignFab shows some good approaches to modifying the look and design of nerf and airsoft guns using only basic hand tools and micro budgets.

July 30, 2014

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The thing about unrealistic action sequences, is they pull me out of the moment. Now I'm not imlying I don't enjoy a nice sequence that most would consider "unbelievable" It's the ones that cross that threshold and enter into the realm of absurdity. I find Elliot's comment spot on. I don't care who you are, if 10 people are throwing a hundred plus bullets at you in a small area in less than a minute, you're getting hit. It's absurd that our hero takes all these guys out with a single ricochet from his slingshot. Sequences such as these I'm often finding myself waiting for the next scene to begin.

But I prefer drama over action, so who am I to talk.

July 30, 2014

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Sawyer

Next time I'm going to need a decoy gun for a shoot, I'm going to find a way to 3D print it !
Then you will need to paint and weather it... But I'm pretty sure it's going to be an increasingly useful way to make props...

July 30, 2014

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Way of the Gun.

July 30, 2014

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Juan

Mike, stop being a left wing prick!!..if we want to moan bout shit, we will, it's the internet after all, FREEDOM OF SPEECH in all, good and bad!.

July 30, 2014

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Gregg.