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INTERVIEW: Braunton prop maker Nic Saunders has worked on Skyfall, Les Misérables and Sherlock Holmes

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: April 03, 2014

  • BOND SCENE: The train on Skyfall pre crash. Picture: Nic Saunders

  • STUNT: The train in Skyfall after its crash. Picture: Nic Saunders

  • FURRY: Nic Saunders' wolf cloak. Mike Southon. BNMS20140320C-009_C

  • IN THE STUDIO: Nic Saunders with examples of her work. Picture: Mike Southon. Ref: BNMS20140320C-011_C

  • AT WORK: Nic Saunders rota casting a back plate. Picture: Mike Southon. Ref: BNMS20140320C-001_C

  • ARMOUR: Nic Saunders sculpting a pauldron (shoulder piece for armour) Picture: Mike Southon.Ref: BNMS20140320C-006_C

  • DRESSED UP: Nic Saunders wearing a costume she made for Norseman Sagas, a living history event. Picture: Mike Southon. Ref: BNMS20140320C-013_C

  • SUIT: Cleopatra armour by Nic Saunders. Picture: Mike Southon. Ref: BNMS20140320C-008_C

  • FAIRYTALE: Jack climbing the beanstalk with one of Nic's leaves clearly in shot.

  • HERO: Nic helped create Russell Crowe's armour and all the helmets for Ridley Scott's Robin Hood.

  • HEAD WEAR: A helmet made by Nic for Ridley Scott's Robin Hood. Picture: Mike Southon. Ref: BNMS20140320C-012_C

  • ADVENTURE: Part of the beanstalk from Jack The Giant Slayer.

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Simon Lockyer interviews Nic Saunders about rubbing shoulders with Hollywood royalty, coming home to Braunton and her new workshop in Filleigh.

SHE'S played cricket with Hugh Jackman, shared a smoothie with Michelle Fairley and been caught drooling over Chris Hemsworth's bulging biceps, but the odds are you wouldn't recognise her if she passed you in the street.

Nic Saunders, 25, was raised in Wrafton, Braunton, before leaving for pastures new in 2010. After achieving a first class degree in model design and model effects at Hertfordshire University, Hollywood came calling and since then she has been working on blockbusters such as Skyfall, Les Misérables and Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows.

But such success didn't fall into Nic's lap.

A self-confessed workaholic, Nic used her university years to mould the attitude that she now prides herself on.

"Trying to produce the best work you can and learn as many new skills as possible" is an attitude she believes every student should strive for. "Do not presume that just doing a degree will launch your career," she said.

"It took me seven years from realising what I wanted out of my career to landing my first job in the industry. I'm still in pursuit of the balance I require out of life, but I wouldn't change anything for the world. I'm proud of what I've done and I'm excited about the future. But it has taken a hard slog to get here. Do not ever be discouraged or let anyone tell you what you should be doing in life, unless they're telling you to chase your dream. You have to chase it and persevere."

And persevere she did.

After leaving university, Nic's persistence in contacting countless movie studios eventually paid off and, after two months, she dialled the "magic phone number" that led to a job working as a model-maker on the Captain America movie set.

Since then she has worked as a special-effects technician on Skyfall, a stunt armour designer on Ridley Scott's Robin Hood and a weather-effects technician on Anna Karenina and Les Misérables.

Her role on Skyfall was incredibly noteworthy. "I was part of the props team that made the train that crashes through the ceiling in the underground," she said. "That's right folks, that was a real full-sized shot done on the James Bond stage at Pinewood Studios; a one take wonder. Full pyrotechnics and an evacuated stage, set off with remote controls and a friend of mine doing a runner once he'd hit the switch. Not CGI!"

Not only has she influenced the movie world, but she has also worked with Norton Armouries, designing lavish and extravagant costumes for the award-winning TV series, Game Of Thrones.

"Everything I've ever worked on with Norton Armouries has an exquisite finish; durable and beautiful," said Nic.

"The design and craftsmanship that goes into that show is over and above a lot of other productions, though they are famous for it."

In fact, it was Jon Peck, founder and manager of Norton Armouries, who lectured Nic through her university years, teaching her everything there was to know about the art and craft of armour design.

"I owe him a lot," said Nic, who has recently worked on movies with Pirates Of The Caribbean star Johnny Depp and The Da Vinci Code director Ron Howard, as well as designing military pieces for the Tom Cruise film The Edge Of Tomorrow that was part-filmed in Saunton.

By her own admission, she has "lots of fingers in lots of pies" and has undoubtedly made her mark on Hollywood.

For now though, the self-confessed workaholic has come home to Wrafton and is based at the 360° Trust's studios in Filleigh where she works on her latest projects.

"I needed a change," said Nic, who returned to North Devon at the beginning of 2013. "I decided that moving back here and looking for a workshop of my own was what I needed. I still go away to work in the movies, but at the same time I run my own workshop. The workload hasn't necessarily changed but now I'm my own boss."

In April, Nic is set to run a weekend of workshops at the 360° Trust's Studios where groups will be taught how to mould an iconic movie prop, casting out enough for everyone to take home a copy.

"The format of the course will run much like a day in the life of a moulding workshop in the film industry," Nic explained. "Day one: make the moulds. Day two: cast out the necessary number needed. It's going to be a lot of fun and very enlightening."

The course runs on Saturday, April 12 and Sunday, April 13 at a cost of £180 for two days tuition and experience. The cost includes all the health and safety equipment, all the materials and snacks.

Every student will return home with an iconic movie prop made by their very own hand. No previous experience is required and the running time of the workshops is expected to be between the hours of 11am and 3pm, a time Nic says is flexible depending on "the students' availability and the amount of fun we're having."

Details: visit www.nic mods.com, phone 360° Trust's studios on 01598 760568 or email: jon@360trust.org, or you can email Nic at nicmods@gmail.com.

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