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Lighting Through Soft Flats

Discussion in 'Scenery, Props, and Rigging' started by Joseph Barnwell, Feb 12, 2017.

  1. Joseph Barnwell

    Joseph Barnwell Member

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    I am currently designing a set for "The Drowsy Chaperone." Using fabric flats, and LED Pars from behind i would like to create the effect of having painted walls turn in to colored windows.

    My Idea is to custom build soft flats using medium wight Muslin, then on the backside make french window style cut outs from 1/4" ply that attach to the back of the flats, acting as an external GOBO (not sure if that is a term but i think it gets my point across). Also, the set will end up being fairly confined, meaning i do not have the option to put these far upstage so they can be avoided by front light, while i will of course have general area control over the front light system there will be times when it must be all the way up, meaning i do not believe this is a problem that can be solved by using scrim material, i could be wrong of course. The paint job will be relatively simple, fairly light color most likely with wall paper style stenciling.


    So my big questions are :

    Has anybody had any experience doing this before?

    Is my choice in material correct (important because i do not have a supply house anywhere near me and it usually takes several weeks to get fabric here)?

    Will the light travel through this material and the paint and still look decent?

    Will these special flats blend well with the other flats so that no one is the wiser until the effect is activated?



    Thank you for any help,

    Joe Barnwell
     
  2. RickR

    RickR Well-Known Member

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    My first thought is that a test is required. There are so many variable...

    I have seen painted fabric lit from behind show paint strokes.
     
  3. RonHebbard

    RonHebbard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Unseen shadow masking cutouts on the rear side, no problem lighting through most any fabrics. Trying to back light through paint, not dyes but paint. Sounds worrisome and I'd want to see test samples too.
    Toodleoo!
    Ron Hebbard.
     
  4. bobgaggle

    bobgaggle Active Member

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    Ive done some backlighting through muslin, but not on the scale you're talking about. We had to make some columns for a very Mediterranean looking set. At the base, we cut out this peacock feather design, wrapped the column in muslin and parked a Fresnel in the column. The effect looked great, but the light needed to be at at least 80% to compete with the front lighting. Paint treatment was a sandy beige, so not far off from the natural color or muslin. For a big flat i'd think you need lots of light to get your window to read through paint...
     
  5. DGotlieb

    DGotlieb Member

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    If you can thin your paint to more like water color or Dye this can work pretty well.
    but if it has to be thick for your paint treatment the paint will block most of the light
    Like others have suggested if you have any scraps of muslin make a small test frame and try out your painting and see if light can come through
    Also the less front light you put on the flats when they switch to windows the better it will look.
     
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  6. kicknargel

    kicknargel Well-Known Member

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    Agreeing with above, this can work well and is a fairly standard old-school technique. But it does take some care. First, when you attach the muslin to the flat frames, size the fabric with starch rather than paint. You can find techniques for this in Stock Scenery Construction Handbook by Bill Raoul among other places. I've also had luck sizing muslin with watered-down Rosco Flexbond. This will fill the pores of the fabric and hide the source of the backlight a bit better. Then, as suggested, paint with thin paints or better-yet, dyes. Definitely test first.
     
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  7. drewseth

    drewseth Member

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    'Suppose I should have posted in the New Member section first, but I guess I'll just reply to this as my first post.

    I recently just did something similar for a production of LaChiusa's SEE WHAT I WANNA SEE, in that case it was shoji. (rolling Japanese screens)

    Yes to everything said above. From a scenic painting approach, doing up wallpaper is slightly paint heavy, fighting clogging up the muslin weave with paint will be your biggest battle, methinks.

    You might want to think about making a dye bath for your muslin in your preferred base wallpaper color. You could use a crazy thin paint, or a natural dye / stain (tea, coffee, hibiscus, powdered mustard, etc). This will undoubtedly produce a mottled and uneven color wash, but sometimes that can work to your advantage. It would be far easier to make the other walls match this wall than the other way around. A light, two-tone spatter might help break things up a bit, too.

    About wallpaper: in order to maintain a clean image from the stencil, one would have to use a thicker paint to curtail any bleeding, and then you'd just be left with a blobly blob. Of course, thicker paint and the wall doesn't go away when and how you want it to. That being said, you could do the stencil pattern up in magic marker, or trace the stencil onto the surface and do your detail work by hand with a brush and a thin thin paint or dye.

    The best prices I've found for muslin are at https://www.onlinefabricstore.net/.
     
  8. RonHebbard

    RonHebbard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Welcome aboard. Anyone who uses "shoji", "methinks" and the shift key in their initial post is welcome here.
    Toodleoo!
    Ron Hebbard.
     
    drewseth and Evans Poulos like this.

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