Tony Swatton is a pretty sharp guy. And he’s got the swords to prove it.
The formidable propmaster has created all manner of weapons for over 200 feature films, in the process becoming Hollywood’s go-to guy for battle-centric movies. In addition to his day job, though, Swatton has lately stepped out from behind the camera and into his own web series. Man at Arms challenges the swordsmith each week with a famous movie prop he must replicate. It’s a rare glimpse into the surprising world of prop-creation, which mirrors the making of actual weapons—something else the artist knows about.
Swatton got his start while working as a machinist right next door to a prop shop. Eventually, the latter saw the former’s armor and weapons and decided to take him on. The first job they commissioned Swatton for involved making sculptures for an installation at Disney World in Orlando. Naturally, the same client ended up referring Swatton to the people from the movie Hook, at which point his prop-making work began to take on a life of its own and led to high-profile projects like Pirates of the Caribbean and The Hunger Games.
"I have more than 3,000 books pertaining to edge weapons and swords in my personal library for reference," Swatton says. "When I’m hired for a job, the art director or production designer will send in a design and I will work as closely as possible to that design, or sometimes I will give them my take on the design. I take a look at their source material and whatever additional information they supply, I do Internet searches and make sketches, and then I get the design signed off." He adds, "Frequently I nail it the first time, but I do as many as three to four revisions depending on what the client wants and what they need."
In the web series, Man at Arms, Swatton uses tools like a plasma cutter ("It’s like harnessing the power of the sun") to make functional replicas of both contemporary and classic movie weapons. Below, watch an episode in which Tony forges Jaime Lannister’s sword from Game of Thrones, and the most recent episode, where he re-creates Odd Job’s hat from Goldfinger. Also look through the slide show above for details on how some of his best known props were created.