XL Video and cinematographer/projection designer Jon Driscoll are again working together, this time on the new David Pugh UK touring production of Rebecca, for which XL is supplying all video equipment.
The Frank McGuinness stage adaptation is based on Daphne Du Maurier’s classic thriller and is directed by Patrick Mason, designed by Robert Jones, with lighting design by Howard Harrison. Paul Wood is project managing the 18-week tour for XL, who believes that the show is "another great success for the XL/Driscoll team, and some beautiful effects are achieved by Jon and Howard’s understanding of the balance between lighting and video."
Set in Cornwall, the stage set is comprised of a scenic beach cove, complete with pebbles, which curves up into a 30’ grey gauze material that represents the sea, horizon, and sky. Onto this material, the designers wanted to apply some important, animated, atmospheric elements of Rebecca, including the Cornish coastline and waves, and the famous fire sequence at the denouement of the drama.
According to Driscoll, the designers were careful not to overdo the use of video–wanting it specifically at the start and finish of the play–leaving the bulk of the action to traditional theatrical delivery. However, there is also a second wave sequence halfway through the play.
Rebecca opens with a huge animated wall of rolling surf and breakers, which immediately sets the mood and location for the audience, drawing them into the mysterious world of the Manderley estate.
Driscoll created all video material, first pre-visualizing the effects by creating animated waves on a set model. When the creative team was satisfied with his pre-viz design, Driscoll traveled to the Cornish coast armed with a Super 16mm ARRI SRII high-speed camera and Zeiss 35 mm lenses supplied by Simon Minett at Filmspace.
Driscoll chose the filming location carefully to correspond to the height and perspective of the set. Waiting for the right waves was challenging, says Driscoll, as he had to take into account tides, the weather, and also avoiding the occassional surfer. The wait was worth it, however, and Driscoll collected 13 wave clips–all shot at 150 frames per second to allow maximum flexibility of playback speed.
The Super 16 negative was transferred and color graded by Pepper Post Production’s Pete Harrow using a Spirit Datacine and Da Vinci 2K software. The grading gives the wave footage the "bleached by pass" harsh silvery-grey texturing that works so well for projection. Perspective correction to match the waves exactly to the height and width of the set cove was also completed in software before the footage was stored.
The burning sequence was created from previously shot slow-motion special effects footage.
The edited material is stored on a Digital Video System Blade II video server supplied by XL Video. An industrial projector remote controller was specially designed for the show, and it instructs the projector to power ‘on’ and ‘off’ and opens and douses its mechanical shutter. The projector is a Barco G5. It’s hung on the number 1 LX bar near the front of stage at each venue, complete with a 0.8 to1 wide-angle lens.
Rebecca continues XL’s collaboration with Driscoll, which has also included Up For Grabs, When Harry Met Sally, Whistling Psyche and Our House.
"Getting projection and [projection] designers into theatre has gradually become a far more realistic proposition. With the support of the XL team, I’ve been able to get projection into all scales of theatre productions," says Driscoll. XL’s patience and persistence in striving to get the technology integrated into this challenging theatre environment has been brilliant."