Saturday, November 16, 2013

How to Make a Backdrop.

Had a residency at Demopolis High. Helped the theater department create a massive backdrop for the Fall play, 'Treasure Island'.

Drama teacher and director, Jody Tartt tracked down and hauled in this 20'x30' heavy muslin canvas. We starched it and primed it on the classroom floor.

Called in the big guns, Jeff and Dan, two local pros, to assist in the raising of the canvas. I wanted it wrinkle-free and taut in order to apply the paint as if on a vertical wall.

Took awhile but we figured it out. Had to run pipes along the sides.

Lashed and bungee corded the top.


Ninth graders nailed down the base at intervals of about 14 inches.

Love to see kids working it out and getting it done.

Slowly, carefully raised the canvas to maximum height.

Raising it was scary because you're at the mercy of an electronic lift. With the fabric nailed to the floor we expected rips and tears but it turned out great.

Borrowed a tall scaffold from Mr. Jones. These youngsters helped assemble it but only I will actually use it. 
Too risky having kids scurrying up and down this thing. So if anyone is to suffer great injury or death it will have to be me.
Ain't gonna lie. Often as I'm on scaffolds and ladders, I am not a fan of heights. The wooden platforms here sorta freaked me out. Didn't seem sturdy enough for my delicate constitution.


Mr. Jones and his construction crew were kind enough to add some reinforcement. It was all good from there. I took to that scaffold like a squirrel to a tree.
The students did all the research. they gathered the reference images and set the visual tone. I guided them through some conceptual drawings and how to present ideas through the most basic sketches.
I did a series of design sketches based on student reference materials, collages and drawings. We commiserated, debated and voted on the final backdrop design, agreeing on a few modifications.
The final design is digitally projected onto the canvas.

Everyone shares in the tracing of the projected line drawing.

Even Jody Tartt got in on the action, shimmying up the tall ladder to hit some high spots. I caught her from the vantage point of the scaffold.
We followed the line tracing with some base colors.
I like my base colors somewhat insane, sometimes garish, a little random even. I think this sorta adds to the depth and richness of the finishing coats and overlays.

Needed an extra hand one day. Chef Abdoul is a Picasso in the kitchen so I figured that would translate to the canvas. It's about a respect for detail more than anything else and being real comfortable working with the hands.
video

Most southern food derives from Africa. Part of Abdoul's mission in Alabama is to form a culinary dialog between African and Southern cuisines. I kinda dig this conversation between Abdoul and Jody cuz it's all about that bridge.

video

The backdrop reached completion. Everybody seemed pleased with the results. I enjoyed the whole process of creating it. Especially collaborating with Jody and her great students.

I wasn't around to get some full production shots including actors and the set built by the theater class. But it looked quite good all together. Excellent quality.

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