Building The Backdrop

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Backdrop, Initial Stages

So, just how do you create a background that can hide 4 puppeteers and cartons of puppets on a large stage? I looked at the available options and the costs, and decided to create panels that would accordion-pleat together.

The backdrop was 6 framed 3' x 6' sections, with a cross-piece on each panel at 3 1/2 feet for carrying. There were multiple door-hinges connecting the sections, allowing the backdrop to be neatly folded. It collapsed into a 3' x 6' x 6" stack for transport.

Once the wooden frames were completed, heavy muslin was stretched on each panel, the same way a painter's canvas is made.

These were painted white, and the various hieroglyphs and pictographs were penciled in first, and then they were filled in with the colors.

The background was stippled using sponges to create the various shades of "stone."

I minimized the cost by using cans of house paint in white, two shades of brown, and a smaller amount of black. These were mixed to provide the various shades.

Backdrop Detail

This turned out to be a rather laborious undertaking. It took several weeks to finish, with the help of a friend. Details were filled in with the help of reference photos from books that came out about the film.

The designs disappeared into the background, even though they were differentiated with colors and shadows. I punched up the contrast and outlined the designs with felt tip pen.

It looked better on stage than up close, but presented a suitable reference to the "Wall of Destiny" from the film.

Finished Backdrop

Unfortunately, the backdrop muffled the minimal onstage sound from the sound system, making it difficult for the crew to hear their cues. This threw off the pacing.

If I ever had to do something like this again, I'd build in "scrims" (weave mesh fabric, disguised as part of the backdrop, and through which the crew could see us and hopefully, hear their cues).

Since they literally couldn't see us, the only way to coordinate things was to have audio cues.

That turned out to be the weak point of the presentation. We couldn't hear our entrance cue.

We entered the stage late. I had to give quick instructions before appearing, which further threw things off. Still, we managed to catch up, get through the presentation, and get off stage, despite the problems.