Monday, April 7, 2008

The Vampire continued

Here are a few pics of the Vampire stage that I have tracked in my last few entries. In the top right corner is one of the frame for the second story deck half way completed. (sorry uploaded in the wrong order) The 2x8 beam in front is backed up by a 2x4 between the columns which provides a sort of tray for the platforms to nest into. Top left is the second story deck complete from the front, bottom right is from the rear
(notice there are only three columns in the front rank allowing some playing space underneath the platform) bottom left is a view of the top of the deck taken from above in the up right corner of the stage. Note that the metal roll-around stairs seen here will provide a more conventional means of entry and escape from the second story, while the Vampire will use the trap door in the DR column (the hole is visible in the top view) there is a pipe and frame ladder that allows him to "appear" among guests in the lower playing area without using the fire escape.
The deck on top is made up of 6 4x8 wagon platforms (stock in most theatres) the outside beam is bolted to the columns and the platforms and the platforms are bolted together underneath. The structure is completely stable and will hold well over a thousand pounds without any danger.
For theatre companies who are interested a complete set of drawings is available. The columns can be collapsed after disassembly allowing this entire structure to be stored in a very small amount of space. The total cost of construction (starting from scratch including platforms) is under $2000 for materials, including the back wall of flats not shown here.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Easy as three, four, five!

In working on the Vampire set I run across a handy little tip in my bag o’ tricks that I hadn’t used in a while. If you’ve read the last couple of posts you may remember that I building a rather large installed platform for the center piece of a set for a university production of The Vampire, an originally german opera transported into eighties London in the heart of the Punk scene.

The platform in question is the base of a building. It stands eight feet high, with an 8x24’ footprint. This morning I went out and helped complete the assembly of the columns that support the platform. Saturday afternoon we will assemble the frame and place the platforms on it.

In the process of completing the platforms the question came up about how to lay out the lines for assembly of the frame. Since each of the columns is going to be anchored to the stage, how do we determine the placement in order to ensure square corners? The answer is simple, the rule of three, four, five.

The front line of our rectangle was easy to establish. We simply measured the needed distance from the curtain line and snapped a chalkline to establish the front edge. Then using one of my favorite tools, a four foot drywall square, we marked the stage left edge. Since we could only make a four foot line accurately we then proceeded to snap a chalk line following the four foot mark made using the square, follow me so far? Now, here’s where it gets tricky.

With any size right angle (90 deg corner) you can use this simple formula to determine just how “right” your angle is. Measure one leg of the angle from the corner to a point that is a multiple of three (three feet, three, yards, three meters, doesn’t matter) using the same multiplier mark a spot on your perpendicular leg times four from your corner. (if you marked your first one at six feet, you must measure your second leg to eight feet, the multiplier being two) Now measure diagonally between the two points. If your angle is truly square it will equal five times the multiplier, no matter what size the angle. ( in my example it would equal 10)

Once you have established right angles in your first two corners, perpendicular to your baseline it is easy to measure off of your front two corners to determine where the back line goes. (on the set I am working on it is eight feet from the front.)

To further insure that your space is indeed square measure diagonally across the rectangle (or square as the case may be) The two measurements should be equal!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

More Vampire Pics

Here are a couple of views of the partially constructed columns from the Vampire opera set I have been working on showing some of the details. One is a center support column, the other is the DSL corner which contains a ladder which allows the Vampire to appear from his upstairs flat into the open loft space below, out of view of the audience.

The columns are constructed of 5/8 plywood with 1x4 framing. The ladder is 1" galvanized pipe supported by 2x4 rails. We inserted the pipe into holes bored halfway through the 2x4 using a paddle bit and cordless drill. Simply mark your holes at the appropriate spacing between steps in the center of the 2x4. To insure the depth of your boring you can wrap a piece of tape around your paddle bit at 3/4" (half the thickness of our 2x4)to mark how deep you need to cut. From here you simply attach cross members at top and bottom to keep the rails evenly spaced.

Stay tuned for more photos of this project coming after Spring Break.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Der Vampyr, design and construction.

When Dr. Ken Adams from Oklahoma Christian University calls I always know its going to be an interesting conversation. From directing a small cast musical to rescuing a set I always know I'm in for an adventure. This time around was no different. It seems that an interesting little opera entitled Das Vampyre, that's right, The Vampire had attracted his attention and he had been trying to get it on his schedule for years. Along with director Vince Laceney I met him at Wendy's on a wednesday night to discuss the details.

We decided on a mix of industrial/historical architectural elements to suggest a London Row house with two exposed floors, the upper level an apartment that our vampire may have inhabited for centuries, the bottom a sort of open artsy loft space/flophouse/sometime art gallery. Here are the drawings I came up with.

Follow this thread for a complete description of the construction and engineering process, including the mistakes, for your learning pleasure.

Monday, March 12, 2007

No Fly Floor? No Problem! Rolling Backdrop!

No fly floor? Tired of single backdrop sets, or worse yet a plain blue cyc for everything? Try this simple and inexpensive solution!

When we renovated our store front space into a 140 seat proscenium theatre I realized right away that any hope of a fly floor was a dream. With only twelve feet over head it was necessary to come up with an alternative. I had heard about a tiny theatre built by local university professor Daryl Alexander at Memorial Road Church of Christ. He had used rolling backdrops to make it possible to use conventional dramatic techniques in a Sunday school setting.

So I went to take a look. I found that he had used a roller (the bottom piece that the cloth rolls onto) made of 6" PVC pipe. He then had used 3 single roller pulleys, one on stage left and two stage right to achieve an effect similar to what you see in the diagram above.

Armed with this information and an old backdrop to use as my base off I went to the home center in search of material. I found PVC pipe in ten foot lengths, which meant I would need 2 to reach most of the way across my 24" stage, but how to join them stiffly enough? I eventually discovered that a 2x4 trimmed down slightly on the table saw (you could use a circular saw with a rip fence) would fit snugly inside that pipe. A six foot section of 2x4 firmly tapped into place with a rubber mallet made a nice stiff joint. I then used 3" drywall screws, slightly countersunk into the PVC to attach the 2x4 permanently.

Using this as my bottom roller I drilled 1/2" holes approx. 12" in from each end to hold the end of my rope, pulled it through and knotted it to keep it tight. My ceiling overhead was wooden beams. This provided me with an excellent mounting surface for eye hooks for my pulleys. At the top of the back drop we used two pieces of chainlink toprail pipe ,this has fittings at the end designed to attach them together which we reinforced with gaffer's tape.

My original backdrops were pieces cut from a larger retired backdrop we purchased from a university theatre department at a garage sale they held. Since then we have used light weight muslin for the rest. We have access to a flag company that will sew our backdrops for us which makes it more cost effective than ordering custom made backdrops. However, a standard sewing machine can handle the task of a medium grade muslin.

The top of the backdrop was lined with a three inch strip of webbing. This webbing was grommeted every ten inches to provide a secure method of attaching string ties. The ties in turn are tied in a bow around the top pipe, which is suspended on chains hung from bolts in our ceiling beams.

The end of the drop with the two pulleys (or double pulley as per diagram) is your control end. You will need to place this near a wall or construct something sturdy enough to support tying off these ropes when the drop is up. I used boat tie down cleats, which can be found at any hardware store, anchored to my brick wall using tapcon concrete anchors.

The bottom edge of the backdrop was secured to the pipe with gaffers tape which made it strong enough to hold for an extended period of time but still removable for changing out backdrop designs. Grommets can be done by hand but if you can find a flag or banner company with an automated grommeter, do. Not only will it save time, but I lost a thumbnail to grommeting our first set of backdrops. There are companies online that sell stage fabrics cut to order and webbing and grommets can be had for an extra fee.

Once your backdrops are built and hung it's time to paint. This can be done one of two ways: hanging as it will appear when used, or lying flat on the floor. Whichever method you prefer here is a tip on paint. If you can afford it buy Rosco scenic paint. The flexibility of the binder and the brilliance of the color are superb, however, a great alternative is regular flat latex house paint. It can be had in any color and usually for about a third of the cost.

For my money Walmart is the best. They have an excellent return policy, most are open 24 hours and the consistency of their bargain brand requires little thinning. You will need to thin your paint, but not to worry, this can be done with tap water since it is a water based latex. Mix it about half and half for fabrics. This will keep enough color to give good coverage while not making the fabric any stiffer than necessary.

We have three of these rolling backdrops that we have used for over three years with no major problems. One improvement to my design that I would suggest is some type of end cap to assist with keeping the rolled rope from rolling off of the end of the pipe. If you find yourself with one of these that seems unwilling to roll up 90% of the time this unrolling of the rope is the problem. Simply let it back down to the stage and reroll the rope.

On a small stage like ours with no wings these backdrops have been a life saver in adding flexibility to our space. I highly recommend it. Be sure that you find a way to suspend the weight evenly about every two feet in order to keep from overburdening your support bolts. Make sure that any hardware you use is rated for AT LEAST the weight you are suspending from it and double check, test and retest everything before assuming it will function properly.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Scene design software

Check out a great program for 3d design and a couple of other things I know you'll love! HERE

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Styrofoam, scene designer's friend!

Among the many different types of building material I work with in scenic design one of my favorites would have to be styrofoam. It can be used for a host of applications. Its light weight, ease of cutting and ability to hold paint make it versatile. It is inexpensive , scrap is often sold as cheap as 20cents a pound, and easy to get.
We just recently used styrofoam on a very cool project pictured above called big magic book. The trees shown here were carved of foam as well as the cobblestone structure seen in the lower right!
If you live in a metropolitan area their is probably at least one foam fabricator near you. Everything from fake rocks to crown molding can be made from styrofoam and with a good coating it can hold up to a lot of abuse. Here are a few tips on how to work with styrofoam.

1. Use almost anything to cut it with. For simple sheet projects such as rock for walls I use a box knife. I much prefer the new lockback models for weight and ease of use. (try it, I know sounds crazy, but you will LOVE it) For bigger carving jobs I have an electric chain saw. Dremel tools, power saws and routers can also be used to shape and add detail.

2. Water based adhesives such as craft glue or even elmers work best, but take time to dry, liquid nails can be used for a quick bond but will eat some types of styrofoam

3. Water based paint such as latex will work weel for adding color and detail to your foam creations. Spray paint will eat the foam, but can be used over latex or as a unique special effect.

4. You can make your own protective coating using cheesecloth and a mixture of elmer's , or just plain white, glue and latex paint (add about 1 part glue to 3 parts paint) Cut your cheesecloth into manageable squares, paint your surface well with the glue/paint mixture and apply cheese cloth on top using a paint brush to work it into the details and smooth it out.