Tuesday, February 3, 2009

There is a new kid in town! Google Sketchup 7 is the BADDEST sketchup yet, with a small format onbaoard, photo-realistic rendering engine provided by IDX renditioner express you can see your designs come to life in record time.
With smoother operation and a whole list of new features sketchup 7 provides a perfect platform for theatre design. The IDX renditioner express is available free to download and provides not only lighting, but reflective surfaces, and color lights as well.
For those of you who are still breaking out the cardboard to model in three dimensions or limping along with Gimp, or 3d max give sketchup a try. You might find that designing scenery is fun again.
The images are from my design for The Cover of Life at Oklahoma Christian University. The top is the sketchup model and the bottom is a rendering with the free IDX renditioner expresss, a fully functional rendering option, the only limitation is output size.
See my article in the scen shop dept for more details.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Hail to the Chief!

In Techland there is none greater than that unsung hero of the theatre, The STAGE MANAGER. Part director, part actor, part designer, this hybrid worker bee is the glue that holds many theatre companies together. In searching for the best way to desribe the prime directive of this amazing individual I ran across this little website that depicts it better than I ever could.

Click on the first page and then scroll down as the stagemanager's duties are revealed in a clear and concise format from first rehearsal to run!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Make your own stage lighting

Did you know they sell stage lighting at the hardware store?

Well okay, it needs a smidge of customizing, but follow these instructions and you should have no problem taking work light, to stage light.

First, assemble your materials. You will need: One halogen worklight. I used the 500 Watt variety to provide maximum illumination, and a good range for dimming. One rectangle heating register starter collar. It can be found in the heat and air section of your local home center or at a heat and air or plumbing supply. One roll of reflective silver heat resistant duct tape. Note: you must use the reflective tape, nothing else holds, believe me I tried. And one can of flat black spray paint.

Next a couple of tools will come in handy. You may need a Phillips screwdriver for adjusting the light or replacing bulbs, a box knife for neat cuts on the metallic surface of your tape, and a heavy duty pair of tin snips for cutting the register starter collar. I have now added the idea of punching a few vent holes in your fixture to keep the heat to minimum so you might want a drill with a ¼” bit as well.

Okay on to phase one. You may have wondered why you can’t just use the light as is. You can, however, it will have a tendency to light everything and not just the stage. The collar has a 6” round opening on one end that will serve us as a “chimney” to focus our light beam a little. The rectangular end will be mated to the light itself and that is where the snips come in.

Cut the register collar at all four corners and using pliers fold and bend the box to fit your light fixture. You may also find that you need to notch the collar in one or two places depending on what kind of latches and other hardware are in the way of you getting a tight fit.

Once you have the two pieces matched up take your spray paint and give the inside of your collar a good coat. The aluminum finish on these collars reflects light and causes it to bounce to places that we don’t want it. Trust me, skip this step and you’ll come back to it later. I originally put a coat on the outside as well but this is unnecessary and increases the heat radiating from your light.

After giving the spray a few minutes to dry to the touch fit your register collar snugly onto the light. Now it’s time to fasten it on using the duct tape. You may have to experiment a little to find the best way of doing this. You want as close to a light-tight seal as you can get.

Once you have it on good, go ahead , get an extension cord, turn out the lights and try it out, you know you want to.

Mounting these was a bit of a problem but I solved it using a piece of 2x4 and attaching my light to it using a 2” wood screw drilled through the pipe base of the light. This allowed me to pivot the light right to left and the already adjustable pipe handle gave me the rest. I had the added benefit of being in a metal building with exposed I beam. It was very simple to use a carpenter’s C clamp to attach the 2x4 to the beam. I haven’t explored other possibilities but when you get yours installed send me a picture of your installation so we can share it with the world. These are not a permanent solution but will work in a pinch and only cost about $17.00 a piece if you get your lights on sale.

I set up a dimmer system plugged into a multi plugged extension cord. You can use standard dimmer switches mounted under a plywood or MDF board. Make sure you put all of your connections into a junction box mounted to the back of your dimmer switch to protect against electrical shock, fire and heat.

Make sure to add up your amps guys! To avoid blowing breakers check to see what amperage your circuits are and plug into enough different circuits to spread the load safely. Make sure not to add too many lights on a single dimmer as this will cause a great deal of heat and may blow your dimmer switch. Also tape your cords down, safety first. Now go get you some actors to bounce your light off of!

PS I did not bother with finding a way to use gels, I’m sure it could be done, if you figure it out send me a pic. Or go here to see another simple light solution that I still use to add color on my stage.

Software for the creative types

Software is everywhere these days, soon we’ll be downloading burgers at the drive through window. Here are a few fun little programs I have picked up along the way. Most of them I use myself.

1. Google sketchup. Cannot say enough good stuff about this one! It is the all time coolest 3d design software out there. It is powerful enough to work well for stage design, yet simple enough my ten year old daughter can use it with ease. There are both free and paid versions, also check out the sketchup warehouse of free design elements you can use to enrich your art work. The one weakness is the lack of lighting available in the program itself. I understand they have a solution for this in their latest version. Here is a quick graphic I made in about twenty minutes using it.

2. Celtx screenwriting software. This is a free open source software that helps you get the right lay out for your screen plays. Also includes features that allow you to create character analysis, costume design, storyboard or set ideas and much more. The biggest limitation is that it does not play well with others and you must have Celtx to use the project file correctly, however since it is free and open source (light on code and quick to use, takes up very little space) everyone on your creative team could have it tonight. I copy it to disk and give it to my film students.

3.Jahshaka video editing software. This is another freebie. It claims to be a full featured video editing and production suite with everything from titling to transitions, to DVD authoring. Loads and operates easily so far. Have not had the time to find out if it works all the way yet or not, but worth a peek.

So there you go, have fun!

Friday, March 9, 2007

Stage lighting 101

Why Do I need Stage Lighting?

The short answer is, depending on your performance space, you don’t. In fact I have included a tutorial on building your own from halogen work lamps that can be purchased for around ten dollars apiece.

While makeshift lights like these can be fun they are limited. They also can get very hot and tend not to last as long as stage lights. There are three basic kinds of traditional stage lights: A par can or spotlight, a fresnel, and an ellipsoidal.

A par can is just that, a can with a spotlight bulb in it. Without a lens they are very limited in their usage. Rock and roll bands and DJs count these among their favorites. They are the cheapest and easiest to find of all stage lights and you would do well to add several to your kit.

The Fresnell, so named after the scientist who invented the fresnel lens, is the work horse of the theatre. These versatile lights can focus into a fairly tight spot or diffuse the light over a much wider area to provide coverage. They are sometimes equipped with barn doors, or shutters, that allow light to be boxed in or out of a specific area on the stage.

The ellipsoidal is a specialty light. Its lens allows it to be focused very tightly and it nearly always has shutters to further trim the light output and focus it into specific areas. The ellipsoidal is the most expensive of the three and best used for “specials”.

Almost all theatrical lights have these things in common: A can, this is the drum shaped metal container that holds the light, a yolk, this is the U shaped bracket used to attach the clamp to the can. The clamp: This is generally used to attach the light to a pipe or other hanging surface. A lamp (bulb), a plug (these come in several different varieties use Edisons whenever possible as that is the American standard and will be compatible with plugins, extension cords, etc.) , and a lens (the glass piece in the front of the light ) all of these things together make up the lighting “instrument”.

When ordering lights for purchase or rental make sure you know which of these pieces are included in the base price.

Stage lights are controlled by dimmers. These are specialized electronic circuits that allow the brightness of the lamp to be adjusted. Dimmers are not one size fits all. Make sure that the dimmers you buy will put out enough power to run the lights you are using. This is determined by amps per channel. Roughly 100 watts to an amp, so a 10 amp dimmer would be capable of supplying power to 2 500 watt lamps or 1 1,000 watt. Dimmers are in turn controlled by a dimmer or light control board. These come in a variety of configurations, and here again are not the same.

The two major variations in lighting control are analog and digital. If you have analog dimmers you need an analog controller and vice versa. Hopefully you are working with someone who has some expertise in this field or buying from a reputable supplier who knows their job well. A good estimate of how much light you need would be to divide your stage by square footage. If you are going to be using a three color scheme then you will need a minimum of 6 instruments per 100 square feet of stage space. This is enough to allow you some flexibility of design. If all you need to do is shed light on the subject you can make do with half of that.

In addition to intensity light can also be designed using colored gels. They come in an almost infinite array of colors and can be cut to fit. They sit in a gel frame that slides into clips on the front of the instrument.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Make your own sound effects

Adding sound effects isn’t always easy! However it ads a great deal to any production! It isn’t always easy, just keep practicing you’ll get it right! Here are some techniques for making common sound effects. These are ideas from around the web, enjoy!:

· Cornstarch in a leather pouch makes a good snow crunch.

An old chair can produce very controllable squeaking sounds.

Crumpling cellophane makes a crackling fire.

A large sheet of sheet metal suspended and shaken produces thunder.

Coconut shells, cut in half and stuffed with padding, will make the sound of

horse hooves.

Use a heavy rolled up and taped phone book or hit a raw chicken or turkey for

punching sounds.

Break celery to create the sound of breaking bones.

Step on tape from an unraveled audio cassette to make a convincing substitute

pair of gloves sounds like bird wing flaps

An arrow or thin stick makes a great whoosh!

An old chair makes a controllable creaking sound

A water soaked rusty hinge when placed against different surfaces makes a great creaking sound. Notice how various surfaces act as a sounding board to amplify and change the sound: this is an important principal of Foley and sound creation!

A heavy staple gun and a other metal parts make can make a good gun sound

A metal rake makes a great fence sound (and when scraped across metal makes a great metal screech - if you can stand it!)

You will need a car door and a fender which you can pickup at a wrecking yard - they are good for car and other heavy metal sounds. If you can fit a whole car in the studio, even better!

Burning black plastic Glad garbage bags (cut open a bag and strip it into thin pieces) will make a cool sound as the bag melts and drips to the ground
1/4" audio tape when balled up sounds like grass (we walk on it!) or flowers

A wet balloon makes a weird sound when rubbed: this is funny more than practical!

'Flubber' (they sell it in toy stores) is great for wet squishy sounds; so is gelatin and liquid hand soap.

Frozen romaine lettuce (I used this in the 'War Of The Worlds' television series for alien head squishes!) makes a great bone or head squishy noise

Coconuts shells cut in half and stuffed with padding makes great sounding horse feet (I swear I still use this trick): it takes some skill to make good sounding ones (not too hollow or thin) but it works!

Cellophane can make the sound of crackling fire (the effects editor should do the fire but in a pinch it does work)

You will need a wooden door - apart from door knocks and other movement sounds, they make great wooden boat noises when laid across a heavy wooden stool (the stool gives the door a resonance and helps with the creaking

The inventor of modern sound effects

This article is a copy of a copy of a copy. I do not know who wrote it or I would gladly give them credit. I am not seeling it and so if I am infringing on someones copyright, please let me know.
Jack Foley was a technician in Hollywood who is credited with creating the modern way of adding sound effects to movies, here is his story:
The Story of Jack Foley
Like many other workers in post production, I heard the terms foley studio, foley sheets, foley footsteps, foley reels, foley walker, foley editor, without fully realizing, for some years, that the term foley was the name of a man. Perhaps that's because I never worked at Universal Studio. Yes, Jack Foley was quite a man and his many contributions to the art of sound effects is a story in itself.

Jack Foley started in the motion picture business in the silent picture era and lived through the exciting times when overnight the industry converted to sound moving pictures. I became intrigued with the man and, through the help of his former co-workers, friends, and his daughter, I've pieced together the career of a most remarkable man. Jack was truly adaptable in a period of change, a jack-of-all-trades and master of them all.

Jack was born in Yorkville, N.Y. in 1891, and was raised in the Seagate section of Coney Island. He went to Public School No. 158. His classmates were James Cagney, Arthur Murray, and Bert Lahr. His first job was as a general order clerk on the New York docks. During this period, Jack met Cary Grant, who was a stilt walker at Coney Island. Jack also played a lot of semi-pro baseball in the New York area, which sparked his lifelong interest in sports.

Dissatisfied with the weather, Jack moved to California. His first job was as a double and stunt man. One of his studio acquaintances introduced Jack to the rugged beauty of the California's Sierra Mountains and surrounding Owens Valley. It was to become a lifetime love affair.

Jack moved to Bishop during World War I, and served his country as part of The American Defense Society, a group guarding the water supply of Los Angeles to prevent sabotage-poison being put into the water. Jack raised his family in Bishop and went to work in a local hardware store. Here Jack became interested in little theater and wrote articles for the local newspaper. A rival newspaper in Lone Pine reported one of Jack's theatrical endeavors, "'Stop Thief', a play, is being put on by Jack Foley, the only non-henpecked Irish husband in America, is a member of the cast. That fact, within itself, is worth the price of admission."

When the farmers of the Owens Valley sold their farms to the City of Los Angeles for water rights, the people of Bishop faced a bleak future.

Jack soon convinced the town's storekeepers that Bishop had much to gain by luring filmmakers to that area, and he mounted a publicity campaign to attract the studios northward. He was very successful, and became a location scout for numerous productions. The area, bound by snow capped mountains, beautiful valleys, and a scarcity of people, made it ideal for westerns.

Making the most of his studio contacts, Jack became Benny's director. Now Jack revealed another talent. He sold a number of scripts to Universal which were produced. When not busy directing silent films, Jack kept himself busy directing inserts for the studio. Inserts are the close-ups of movements, such as a hand picking up a gun, which are not bothered with during normal shooting. Jack prepared the sets, graphics, props, models, whatever was necessary, either doing it himself or arranging for it to be done.

Almost overnight, sound was introduced. In the forefront was Warner Brothers with its Vitaphone recording system. In the wings, Western Electric was readying it's photographic system. Jack, writing in 1952 in the Universal International Studio Club News, had this to say in retrospect about these exciting times: "The Warner kids on the neighboring ranch had just come up with a sound picture 'The Jazz Singer' while the hard riding, cliff-hanging shoot-from-the-hip boys on the U ranch were complacently rounding up the last few scenes of the great American musical, 'Showboat', a SILENT picture. Faces around here were so red someone yelled 'The Indians are going!' Someone asked, 'are we still in business?'"

Jack continued, "Most of the studios were in the same fix. Western Electric could only promise equipment in the future, but there was one Fox-Case portable unit that was being loaned here and there for a week's study and tests so that the studios could start breaking in men for sound procedure." Jack described the studio's hunt through all departments for personnel even remotely knowledgeable about radio and applied arts. Then, "...the volunteers cautiously advanced and surrounded the Fox-Case. After three days of watchful waiting, the strain started to tell on a group that was used to shooting sixty or more scenes a day, and someone said 'Let's shoot craps or shoot a picture.' And so they spent the next three days and nights making "Melody Of Love..."

"The industry was not so happy about the U camp jumping the gun, and all we could say was 'Hell, we didn't know it was loaded!' or words to that effect."

Jack's article was not so clear as to actual sequence of events, but evidently a composite music and effects track was then added to the hitherto silent "Showboat". The music and effects were added simultaneously and the first "Foley" session was born. Jack describes it: "Then Stage 10 swayed to the rhythm of a 40-piece orchestra under the direction of Joe Cherniavsky as he scored "Showboat" and the rest of us watched the screen with him putting in the sound effects of the 'Showboat', 'Dat Ole' Ribber' and the laughter and cheers as it jus' kept rolling along. And with 'Showboat' on it's way, other pictures on the silent stages came in for sound shots." Jack illustrated his article with the accompanying drawing, which also shows his talent as an artist. Jack had a regular (usually illustrated) column in the Universal International Studio Club News.

He was a humorist and wrote under the synonym of Joe Hyde. To understand the significance, you must know that Joe Hyde was a studio cleanup man, who spent his working time pushing his cart around the studio lot sweeping up cigarettes and other debris. Joe enjoyed the notoriety, and Jack Foley continued the charade until Joe's death. At that pint, Jack revealed himself and henceforth called his column "And That's The Way I Heard It." He continued his pointed humor lampooning studio people, technicians, actors, stunt men, and executives alike.

As sound was added to picture after picture, Jack was called upon to add the sound effects. "Jack's technique was to record all the effects for a reel at one time," explained George Pal, who used Jack's talent on some of his pictures. "Jack added the footsteps, the movement, the sound of various props-all in one track. He used a cane as an adjunct to his own footsteps. With that cane, he could make the footsteps of two to three people. He kept a large cloth in his pocket which could be used to simulate movement."

Fellow workers say that the results of a Jack Foley session were as good as what young editors get today cutting twenty tracks. Joe Sikorsky, who worked with Jack, recalls, "Jack emphasized you have to act the scene... you have to be the actors and get into the spirit of the story the same as the actors did, on the set. It makes a big difference."

When there were too many effects to handle, Jack enlisted the aid of the prop men who brought him props. They evidently stayed around all day, and he put them to work. He occasionally pressed his friend Walter Brennan into helping him. Jack told Brennan to put a rock in his shoe. He did, and the limp that resulted became Brennan's trademark.

The anecdotes surrounding Jack's strange profession grew as Hollywood columnists discovered his behind-the-scenes activities. The movie "Spartacus" showed scenes of slaves walking in leg chains. The director was all set to return to Italy and restage the scene to capture the sound effects. Jack stepped in and did the whole sequence with footsteps and key chains.

The movie "Pink Submarine" needed a comical motor sound. Jack is reputed to have reversed a burp and looped it for the effect.

The director of a melodrama had a step rigged to make a squeak when the leading lady descended a flight of stairs. After many unsuccessful takes, Jack was called in. He explained how to do it, "I won't add the creak until the film has been cut together into a rough print. The I'll park myself in an old rocking chair in front of a microphone-and when the lady's foot hits the fourth step, I'll just rock, myself back slowly.

Jack, estimated that he walked 5000 miles in the studio doing footsteps. He characterized the footsteps of stars in this manner: "Rock Hudson is a solid stepper; Tony Curtis has a brisk foot; Audie Murphy is springy; James Cagney is clipped; Marlon Brando soft; John Saxon nervous."

"Women are the toughest to imitate," he confided, "my 250 pounds may have something to do with it, but the important thing is their steps are quicker and closer together. I get winded doing leading ladies. Jean Simmons is almost, not quite, the fastest on her screen feet in all of Hollywood. She's topped only by June Allyson. I can't keep up with her at all."

Jack received a number of awards, including the Golden Reel Award, voted by his fellow sound effect practitioners, members of the Motion Picture Sound Editors. Jack passed away in 1967. But his name lives on in practically every studio in the world. What better tribute to an amazing, versatile, and energetic pioneer of our business. We will remember you, Jack Foley.