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How realistic fake foods are made for TV and movies

Movies and TV shows tend to use real food when they can, but there are a number of times when they need something fake. We spoke with two fake food artists who specialize in making custom, inedible treats for restaurants, trade shows, and Hollywood. Here’s how fake food props are made to look so delicious. Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Is this food making you hungry? Well, don’t try to take a bite because these delicious looking foods are actually fake. TV shows and movies will try to use real foods on screen when possible, but there a number of reasons why food props might be used instead. For example, if ice cream is used, they don’t want it to melt between takes, or if you need a lot of food in the background of a shot.

Companies like Independent Studio Services and Display Fake Foods offer pre-made food props that can be ordered in bulk. But often times, movies need items specially made. That’s when they seek out a fake food artist, like Lisa Friedman.

Lisa Friedman: For people who need something specific, that’s why they reach out to me. I’m an artist. I went to school for art and I also love to cook and bake. There’s not a lot of us out there that do this.

Narrator: Brenda Chapman also makes fake foods in Oklahoma.

Brenda Chapman: I just kind of figure it out. I’ve had no formal training, didn’t go to college. I started this just so I could be a stay-at-home mum with my kids.

Narrator: Both women work out of studios in their homes. They can recreate pretty much anything. Much of their day-to-day business is in restaurant displays and food shows. But prop masters will contact them if they need food items for movies.

Brenda Chapman: In the last 20 years, I’ve done almost 3 million dollars worth of fake food business.

Narrator: Brenda has had her work featured in a number of productions. For Glee, she made some ice cream for this diner scene.

Brenda Chapman: In their diner scene, they wanted milkshakes and hot fudge sundaes and banana splits that were new, half-eaten, quarter-eaten so that they could switch them out during the takes.

Narrator: She says you don’t always know where your food will end up. Like when some of her items popped up in the Muppets. – When Miss Piggy eats my doughnuts, I didn’t realise they had bought my doughnuts. – Pardon moi, Mademoiselle Cochonne? – Can’t you see I’m busy! – [Receptionist] Of course.

Narrator: And sometimes your food doesn’t even make the final cut.

Brenda Chapman: Thor, the movie, actually bought like $US500 worth of doughnuts, and they had a building that said Doughnut Shop or Doughnut Land, they never went inside, so I didn’t get to see my doughnuts. I was very sad.

Narrator: Here’s a creamsicle Lisa Friedman made that was featured in a scene from Kevin Saves the World.

“The coldest thing they have.” “Oh, thank you.”

Lisa Friedman: I guess, his eye was swollen, he got hit in it.

Narrator: While the details may vary based on the artist, the creation process is pretty standard. We stopped by Lisa Friedman’s home in New York to see how she makes her fake foods. After the order is submitted, typically the customer will send her a real version of they want duplicated. Then she will produce a mould out of the item to get the exact size and shape.

Lisa Friedman: We try to mould it close to the colour, so that we’re not starting with a blank white canvas.

Narrator: Typically fake foods are made with rubber or foam. She pours the material into the mould and lets it set. Foam rises like actual dough, so she needs to prevent it from spilling out.

Lisa Friedman: It’s like I’m baking a cake, right? I’m baking my bread.

Narrator: Then she sands the excess pieces down. Once the item is dry, it’s painted and detailed to look like real food.

Lisa Friedman: With my background in painting, I can colour it to be as realistic as it is.

Brenda Chapman: You just kind of have to look at things a little differently, um, and think, ok, it’s not made for this but it does look like this. We use a lot of Styrofoams, a lot of stuff from the local hardware store, you know, caulking, and drywall patching, and sheetrock mud.

Narrator: To replicate granola and ground beef, Lisa uses crushed cork board.

Lisa Friedman: Cork is kind of breaks up like granola, so we took some cork boards and we started breaking it down.

Narrator: Sometimes real food is used. Like covering actual popcorn, cereal, or candy in resin to preserve it. It’s often hard to tell the finished product from the original.

Lisa Friedman: I don’t do this for the money. It’s more for the accolades, when my customers write, oh, I love it, it came out great.

Narrator: And while these items might make your mouth water, they’re only a feast for your eyes.

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