When I lent my services to a collegue who was working on a film about 12 years ago, I was introduced to the world of cnc. I remember watching this huge machining centre milling out a slab of mdf and turning it into a fantastic set of gears. I knew that it would have taken me hours to achieve the same thing with traditional power tools. I decided then that I would invest in a cnc router for my own business Oxenham Design. At that time I could turn on a computer, but even to check email seemed like a crazy set of operations. I persevered and learned every piece of relevant software I could get my hands on. I am now fortunate enough to be using Vectric's ASPIRE software, and Techno cnc routers, which has helped us to create some amazing projects, both in part, or in full. I thought that this blog would be a great place to share "behind the scenes" adventures with the software, materials and equipment we use, as well as the projects we build.

Monday 15 October 2012

Million Dollar Neighborhood!

We were quite busy last week getting a set piece finished for the show "Million Dollar Neighborhood"
The 2nd season was shooting about 40 min. from the shop. We had gotten a call for an art deco inspired piece that would disguise a rather large television set. The tv would be running a clock style counter for the final episode, counting up the total dollar value of the families involved, through various tasks and challenges. The production company delivered the tv to us on Thursday, so we could measure it up for it's new surround.
This thing is HUGE! Jody looks like an elf next to this thing. We got it out of the box (actually you kind of take the box off the tv)
The tv was a little smaller than the box, but not by much. In fact, it's hard to believe they can get an 80" television down to 3.5" thick. It's total weight was around 140lbs.
I had been busy last week sending drawings and renders back and forth with the set dec Kelly.
We finally got a design locked down, and then came the task of breaking out the parts for importing into Aspire.
The piece will be around 11 feet tall. The numbers only sit on the screen in one location, and the optimal viewing distance from the ground would be 7 feet 9 inches. We're masking off most of the screen behind the surround, with only the counter numbers visible.
The sides of the display will have stepped half round columns topped in "metal" trim.
We started with the 2 half round column pieces first, as I thought they might be the most fidgety to deal with. We used an 1/8" thick piece of mahogany plywood to skin the frame. Even for 1/8", it took a little muscle to wrap it around the 11" radius framework. 
 I decided I needed to kerf the 1/8"ply on the 2 stepped pieces at the top of the column. This probably took the same amount of time as not kerfing, and wrestling with the wood, but in the end, it was a lot easier.
While I worked on the next set of Aspire files for our Techno, Jody got the 2 columns stained up with a slightly red-y orange stain. They didn't want the final piece to be a dark hole in the set, so we went fairly light with the colour.
The whole piece breaks into smaller separate sections as the entry door to the location is 1 single large door, so we couldn't go very big on the parts. And as the tv comes in at 140lbs we had to go with 2X4 and 2X6 construction for the structure. The face was skinned in 3/8" mdf, then we clad that in the 1/8" mahogany to match the end towers.
Little Finley wasn't overly interested in helping with the staining, so Jody was forced to pick up the slack.

For the front of the unit, I designed some long sweeping curved pieces that we cut from 5/8" mdf. Having a Techno cnc makes fabricating components like this computer perfect, and VERY quick, compared with the early days of using bandsaws and jigsaws. The best part of cnc is that it doesn't limit our designs at all. If we didn't have our Techno, I wouldn't be so quick to add long, sweeping curves to a design.
All the trim strips on this piece were sprayed out with a Rustoleum bright silver, then we used a gold glaze, blotted on, kind of like sponge painting. This gave a beautiful mix of tone and subtle visual texture, all the while keeping the surface sheen a very consistent satin finish. Comparable to a satin nickel look. A little hard to read in the images, but it looks very good in person.
The curved trim pieces came together pretty quickly. I cut the curved ribs from 3/4" plywood. I clad the ribs with 1/8" pvc, and they got the same paint treatment. With the exception of the skinny strips top and bottom. These strips were also cut from 1/8" pvc, then glued on. These strips were basically to hide the brad nails we used to hold the piece together. We didn't add the gold glaze to the smaller strips, we just left them silver. The slight contrast worked amazing!
With the trim caps fastened on the stepped column tops, the look is really coming together now! I went with 3/4" plywood for the ribs, as this would allow us to brad nail the trim on from the inside, with a great deal of holding power.
With the column assembled and done, we put it aside to get the other side started.
The next piece of the puzzle were the 2 front panels that will be holding up the actual tv set. This is where the long sweeping curves live. Usually at this point in the game, I can't wait to see it together, but sadly, I will have to wait until we set up on location for that. But using computers to design and machine all the parts, pretty much ensures that the whole thing works out. It took a bit of planning to get all the parts to line up at the design stage. The numbers on the display are fixed at a certain point on the screen, so with the height from the floor they requested, mixed with the clearance for the screen, it was a little concerning, but I had faith!
With the 2 halves clamped together, I was able to get a handle on the size. A frequent statement at Oxenham Design seems to be : "It's a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be!"
The last piece to go was the header with the the shows MDN logo. This was 5/8" mdf that we rabbeted out the back. Production wanted the logo to have inset frosted acrylic that they could backlight for a cool effect. This got the same silver treatment as the rest of the trim did.

As production only had the location for the day of the shoot, we couldn't deliver the job the day before, we had to bring it on the shoot day. So we started loading up at 9 am, and arrived on set around 11:30. The install was pretty smooth. We assembled the whole structure lying face down, then carefully laid the tv into it's new home. We held the tv down with 2 padded back-braces. It took six of us to carefully hoist the whole structure up into position. I had made 3 jack stands for the back that held 6 cinder blocks to keep it rigid. This thing wasn't going to fall over, ever. 
With the piece all assemble and located, the screen and header lit, it looked great! The whole location was themed in the art deco style, and looked killer.
The last thing left to do was to head back at 9pm and tear it out and get it to the dumpster!
A short but glorious life for those sheets of plywood!


  1. People are using the TV image to Give away that tv if it isn't True it's terrible

    1. Thanks, I know. It's a scam Ive reported but it just jumps country to country without a lot I can do........

  2. HELLO. SOMEONE ON FB HAS MADE A FAKE POST USING YOUR GIANT TV PIC & SAYING ITS A FREE GIVEAWAY. https://www.facebook.com/Freebie-Zone-1671639663129569/?hc_ref=NEWSFEED&fref=nf

  3. They've changed the page to Freebiezoneofficial now. Just keep reporting the pages as they pop up and talk to your friends about like-farming scams.