July 04, 2013 7:00am PT by Aaron Couch
Inside the 'Man at Arms' Workshop: Forges, Steel and Epic Weapons
Though Hollywood blacksmith Tony Swatton’s weapons have been wreaking havoc in blockbusters for decades, the veteran props creator admits he doesn’t watch a lot of movies.
Video games aren't his thing either. There's something a little old school about the master swordsmith, who prefers being out in his workshop to sitting behind a computer.
“Computers don’t really respond well to a hammer,” he joked during a recent afternoon in his shop, The Sword and Stone, in Burbank.
As the star of Break Media's Man at Arms on youtube.com/aweme, Swatton has made real-life versions of famous movie and video game weapons from scratch. Unlike the props he’s created for films, these are as deadly as they look.
“We’ve got a lot of cool processes were showing this season,” Swatton says of his show, now in its second season. “We’re showing the plasma cutting, which is basically harnessing the power of the sun for cutting open some of the pieces. That’s 45,000 degrees Fahrenheit. ”
Man at Arms has made Swatton an Internet celebrity, with the YouTube channel featuring his show amassing 385,000 subscribers and racking up more than 11.5 million views since the posting of his first episode in February. (That episode saw him create Jaime Lannister’s sword from HBO’s Game of Thrones.)
“They keep telling me the next time I go to Comic-Con they’re going to have to assign a security detail because of the fans,” Swatton says.
So far this season, he’s tackled the Sword of Omens from The Thundercats and the Orcish Battleaxe from the video game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. In previous seasons, Swatton has made weapons such as Captain America’s shield, Batman’s batarangs and Gimli’s bearded axe from The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Swatton started cutting gemstones when he was 7 and went to work for someone else at 13. By 15, he had enough business to open his own shop out of his mom’s garage in Burbank, and In 1989 he opened a shop in North Hollywood.
He created some props for the '90s films Arachnophobia and Back to the Future Part III, but his big break came when he was hired to create many of the weapons for Steven Spielberg’s Hook. “I had a couple of people helping me on Hook, but it was insane. I was working 72-hour shifts,” he says. He slept four hours every 24 to get the massive job done.
Since then he’s been in demand, with his most busy year coming in 2003 when he made over 1,200 aluminum swords for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Master and Commander and The Last Samurai.
While his shop with all of its props is something of a wonderland for movie fans, it can occasionally be hazardous for those who don't practice proper shop etiquette. Swatton says once a well-heeled movie producer came into the workshop to inspect some of his work. “He picks up a knife and goes, ‘Is this sharp?’ and runs it across the ball of his thumb and cuts it to the bone,’” Swatton says.
After Swatton bandaged up the man’s thumb, the producer came back into the shop and picked up a piece of hot metal Swatton had been working on before he had to leave it to tend to the man’s wound.
“It’s 1,000 degrees. It fuses to the palm of his hand," Swatton says. "He shakes it off [and screams] and he sticks it into what he thought was a vat of water. It wasn’t. It was a vat of acid.”
Luckily for the producer, the acid ended up cauterizing the wound. (No hospital visit was required.)
For the latest (and totally safe) look at Swatton’s shop, watch the video below.