Every summer, 150 young actors from all over the world come to the Scott Theatre in Fort Worth, TX, to write and perform an original musical. A recent effort, Choices, dealt with homelessness, gang violence, and terrorism. LD Chad R. Jung says scenic designer John Aaron Bell wanted to recreate a specific realistic location using a scenic projection that would evoke the mood of the scenes and move from day to night.
The Scott wouldn't be an easy venue for that, Jung knew. Designed by Donald Oenslager with a white plaster wraparound cyc, it offers “a fantastic surface for color but can cause some problems with projection.” Jung wondered how he would create a 25'×50' projection of the NYC skyline there. “The set is tall and is placed 10' downstage of the cyc,” too close to the projection surface, he says. Dimming was important, too. “The skyline images not only had to be able to shift from day to night seamlessly, but they also had to shift based on the mood of the piece. Some scenes were darker in the daytime — shadows and alleys of the city — while others were very bright, day-in-the-park-type scenes. There was no possibility for rear projection and no direct front projection.”
While the skyline would be a projection, a bridge would extend out from the cyc to add depth. The designers also wanted a ground row of buildings and a fence to mask the merger of the projected skyline and the stage floor. “That forced me to shoot the image at a steep angle past the unit,” he says.
Projection wouldn't only create technical problems. “It can send the budget through the roof," notes Jung. This time, Jung had to work on a budget of $650 in a theatre with no stock projection equipment. Moving $350 from the set budget would make a small a dent. “My normal response to one of these projection dreams is, ‘Do you think the scenic designer could be talked into painting a drop?’ But I was convinced that projection was the way to go and that there had to be a way to achieve it within the modest production.”
How would he create large-scale effects on a small-scale budget?
“Bell and I tossed around a number of projection solutions, from 35mm slide projectors with bright light modules and dissolve units to Finelight projectors to video,” says Jung. But the size and style of the projection made these options too expensive. “I then began to explore custom glass gobos. This seemed to be a promising solution.”
As it turned out, it was still over-budget, and once created, the image couldn't be keystone corrected on site. It “was a bit scary to think that there was no margin for error.”
What to do? While considering options, Jung ran into Scott Church of Selecon Lighting. “While our conversation centered around a Lighting Dimensions article on PC Spots, I picked up the newest catalog and went on my way. As I browsed through the catalog, I came upon the Selecon Pacific Series ERS.”
“If you have taken a walk around the show floor at USITT or LDI, you've probably noticed the unusual bent ellipsoidals created by Selecon,” he adds, saying he felt they offered remarkable beam control with a variety of possibilities. “The most innovative feature of the Pacific relates to its heat technology. The temperature on the Pacific 575 ERS is low enough to project images which are printed on plastic transparency material off your computer and used in the exact same fashion as a color glass gobo.”
Jung says they had to raise the Pacific units 35' off the deck and project down at a 60° angle because of the scenic objects in front. “To make the shot, we used ten Selecon Pacific 20°-50° Zoom instruments, five for the day projection and five for night. These came from Angstrom Stage Lighting in Hollywood.” Then, they printed onto plastic transparency film and tried to use them as full color gobos to create a seamless projection landscape.
“Due to this steep angle and the curve of the cyc, we did many tests,” Jung says. After each test, he corrected in Adobe Photoshop® “to adjust for the keystone that took place from left to right and top to bottom.” In the end, he was able to use the gobos he had printed in place of standard glass gobos and to bring the show in for under $1,000: $400 for ten Selecon ERS units, $230 to ship them from California, $66 for printing and transparency, $183 for gel and templates, and $75 for hazer rental.
“These homemade gobos proved to be the perfect solution,” he reports.