Article originally written by Heather Beal at Constellation Creative for Big Image Systems. To contact Heather click here at firstname.lastname@example.org
Objects in the Mirror debuted at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago earlier this year. The play, written by Charles Smith, is based on the true story of Shedrick Yarkpai, a Liberian actor Smith met in Adelaide, Australia. It’s a story of identity and place, chronicling Shedrick’s journey from the Liberian slums during war to the safety of Australia, and his struggle to reclaim his own identity.
Act one takes place inside the world of war-torn West Africa, of the slums and migrant camps where Shedrick lived among soldiers and pirates …
Act two brings us to the present, through time, to the expanse of the beach, the ocean and the horizon beyond.
It’s the smashing together of scenic opposites …
The set for the show was imagined by esteemed Scenic Designer Riccardo Hernandez.“The play or opera being presented onstage dictates everything we do,” he explains.
“The scenic design, (of Objects In The Mirror), creates two complete opposites; using hard surfaces, such as corrugated metal and wood in the opening act, and a large-scale, digitally printed backdrop of an actual photograph of the beach for Act Two.
“I chose this particular photo because it provided a wonderfully lyrical, poetic vista that spanned the entire width of the Goodman’s stage. The sky reminded me of a Rothko painting. The clouds are peaceful, not threatening.”
The beauty of the design is that hidden within the seeming tranquility of the ocean is a sense of unease …
“The main character in the play is searching for his identity,” Hernandez says. “He is from Africa, so even though Adelaide appears to be safe, he still feels out of place. The fact that there is a clear horizon line, but no distinct sense of land reinforces this.”
With the design set, the next challenge was how to translate Riccardo’s visions to the stage. For the Act Two Seascape, the Goodman Theatre’s Technical Director Mark Prey, knew that he needed to find the right material to achieve the desired effect.
The production plan called for this backdrop to be lit from both front and back. Preserving the richness of color was crucial. This can be tricky when lighting a backdrop from both sides. Drops can tend to fade and lose saturation when lit from the rear, like a lampshade, the light can be diffused and cause underwhelming results on the front side.
Add to that the challenges of seams. Lighting a cyc from the rear exposes any seams that may be there from sewing narrow widths of fabric together. You can use alternate materials like Rear projection screen, but it’s cumbersome, seamed and a pain to deal with on this scale.
This could, of course, be remedied by the charge scenic, who can hand paint a seamless piece of muslin. But what if the design and vision doesn’t support a painted look? For “Objects In The Mirror”, Riccardo and the team at the Goodman had decided on replicating an actual photograph to help tell the story. The photographic image helps to ground the production in a reality that may not be possible by painting the image. Getting the audience to Adelaide, and keeping them there, required new ways of thinking, new technologies to overcome the physical limitations.
Prey decided to call Big Image Systems to see what options its staff could propose. “When Riccardo requested a large printed drop for this production I knew Big Image was the company to talk to.”
“We recommended Translight Fabric [Translight] for the ‘Objects in the Mirror” drop”, said Olle Lindqvist, President of Big Image’s U.S. Operations.
WHAT IS TRANSLIGHT?
Translight was developed by the engineers at Big Image Systems. The printing process is done on Big Image’s INFINITUS line of printers, the only printers in the world capable of producing seamless backdrops 40′ x 160′ on traditional wide theatrical materials.
The effect is unique in the industry. Translight’s double-sided printing process can be manipulated to overcome loss of color, create Day/Night effects and even be used to create “Magic” with the illumination of hidden objects that appear when lit from behind.
“Big Image developed this double-sided printing technique to offset the loss of color saturation that always happens when a backdrop is lit from behind,” Lindqvist explains, “By printing on the front and back of muslin (Cloth 201 HzN), we knew the backlit colors would be as vibrant as those we used to achieve printing on vinyl (RP Screen).”
OVERCOMING THE TECHNICAL CHALLENGES WITH TRANSLIGHT
1. SEAMLESS PRODUCTION
The Translight process eased the challenges faced by the production. The drop spanned the entire Goodman stage, and at 31′-6″H x 74’W, Big Image Systems was the only company that could print this drop as a single piece. This eliminated the possibility of seams, which would have been needed if they used another machine.
2. FAMILIAR FABRIC
“Since Translight drops are printed on muslin, they are far more durable and easier to work with than vinyl drops,” Olle added.
Translight printing is done on 100% traditional cotton Muslin, (called Cloth 201 HzN). This means a large backdrop that is much easier to handle during install. Unlike heavier, stiffer rear projection screen, or even the fragile rigidity of a large painted backdrop, the Translight printing process utilizes water-based inks which actually penetrate the muslin.
3. CONSISTENT AND VIBRANT COLOR
In the case of the “Objects In The Mirror” Seascape, the ultra vibrant colors achieved with backlighting were created by duplicating the front image precisely on the back of the drop. No small feat, as Olle described …
“Achieving precise registration of the images is absolutely critical for successfully employing the Translight technology,” Lindqvist notes. “Using Big Image’s water-based inks is, in effect, like spraying water on a cotton fabric.”
“The first side is printed and the fabric shrinks a small amount as it dries. Thus the dimensions of the fabric and the printed image have already shrunken by the time the fabric is prepared for printing on the second side.” So Big Image’s production team needed to pay meticulous attention to sizing, aligning, and registering the digital art before printing on the backside of the drop.
“The drop looked great onstage under light,” Prey says.
Hernandez agrees: “The cotton Translight fabric was quite friendly to light. The effects we could achieve were more real, more mysterious than if we’d used another material or technique. For decades audiences have seen painted reproductions of photographs on hard surfaces. Now, though, the Translight technology directly recreates the photograph and this allows designers to light it in ways that enrich the storytelling we can do with theater. I would absolutely use Translight again.”
B.I.T.N would like to thank Riccardo, Mark and the Goodman Theatre for their time and help with this article.
To learn more about the Goodman Theatre click HERE
To learn more about Translight and how it can be used in your next production click HERE.
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