How to build a cyclorama stage…

Las Vegas will soon have a brand new, state-of-the-art sound stage and film production studio! Whether you’re creating a commercial, film, music video, or television, we’re the ones to call. Our sound stage includes a three-sided cyclorama wall that is roughly 30’x30′, and around 18′ high! We’re planning on a motorized light grid, so no ladders or scissor lifts! What on Earth is a cyclorama you may ask; let me tell you. A cyclorama in film and television is a wall that features a curve that seamlessly blends the wall into the floor or another wall. This gives the effect of having no visible lines and no shadows. Infinite possibilities!

You may wonder how to build something like that. Well, we didn’t know either, so we did what you’re doing right now, and got on the internet where the entirety of human knowledge (and stupidity) exists. And, keeping in mind low-attention spans, I’ll make this quick-ish…

First, hammer drill, and, I cannot emphasize that enough: HAMMER DRILL! The hammer drill will make drilling into concrete much easier (it’s still an awful task); it’s not enough to just drill into concrete, you must also hammer the eva’livin’ out of it (you may skip the gym after completion). Next, steel 2×4’s will be the frame of your walls (in our case, two of the three walls we built). We spaced the 2×4’s approximately every three feet. Then, drywall… oh drywall. There is no easy way of putting drywall up, except to just get in that scissor lift, and hope you don’t cry in front of your colleagues when you’re 20′ in the air. So now, you have all your big pieces of drywall screwed into the neat frame you just built; next is what tough construction folks call “mudding”.

Mud, like wet dirt? No, it’s “all purpose, pre-mixed joint compound”; but, it’s thick and wet like mud, so I get it. I had never “mudded” before, looked it up, and saw a bunch of people driving their over-sized trucks through fields of mud… no help there, so, I just went for it. For covering in/up the drywall screws, I just went straight out of the bucket. For “paper taping” the seams of the drywall, I found it best to put a thick bit of slightly watered down “mud” over the seam, place the paper tape, and then using two “blades” just flatten it out. Okay, this is boring.

How do you create the curves?! You buy pre-built “ribs” from a company that does archways, and you just screw them into the 2×4’s and into the concrete on the ground; and for the vertical curves, you go straight into the walls (make sure you screw into a 2×4 for solid construction). Then, take a thinner sheet of drywall that is suited for bending when wet, and you bend them into shape. We took two spare ribs, put them on saw horses, and then a sheet of drywall and formed it into our mold. After you have your “mold” to shape the rest of the drywall on, you just painstakingly take each piece, start adding water and slowly add weight (sand bags) onto the center of the drywall sheet until is rests nicely into the mold. Once dry, you put it in place on the ribs, and screw in. We found that some of the sheets needed a little extra water while being screwed into place as they way not have been curved perfectly. Once that’s done, it’s back to the mud.

Here was the truly difficult part: using the joint compound to create a 1 1/4″ gradient from the flat walls onto the curved pieces of drywall. Any bump or dip in the compound would create a shadow, which you cannot have. We started with small amounts of mud that we would attempt to build the gradient with by pulling to or from the edge… it didn’t work. There was always a bump on the edge of the curved piece, and always a slight dip before the edge… it was confounding. The vertical curves were first, and we eventually were able to sand away our errors, and painstakingly fill in errors until we had no shadows. For the horizontal curve into the wall/floor, we went with a different approach. We took a 12″ flat blade, and added a ton of mud to the edge of the curve on the wall, then, we aligned the blade’s end to the edge of the curved piece of wall, the opposite end flat against the wall above it, and just drug the blade as far as the mud would go. This gave us a ton of holes and cracks, but it was an almost perfect gradient from the wall onto the curve. Then, for the second pass, we would go in and fix our little holes, gutters, groves, etc., worked much better! This took us from 6-12 passes (and sanding) on the horizontal curves, to just 2-3 passes on the horizontals. Much better!

The curve to the floor was the exact same process as the joint compound on the horizontal bit of curve, except, instead of joint compound, we used concrete. Luckily, the concreted didn’t end up being much more difficult to work with. Let me wrap this up, it’s getting boring I’m sure. There was a lot of sanding! We had to sand after each application of mud or concrete, and after two passes with paint. For paint, we did a thick, high quality white paint to help fill in little cracks and bumps, but mostly just used a white primer, as it’s matte, budget friendly, and looks great. I think we’re four or five coats in.

So, with masks on the entire time, for COVID safety and lung safety (from sanding and painting) despite the oven our studio is during the day, we powered through. We still need a couple more passes with paint, and I’m certain we’ll find a blemish or two that need some attention, but, we’re close. Next, professionals who actually know what they’re doing will come in to run our three power drops (60 amps to the grid, and two 100 amp drops to the floor). Someone will add temperature insulation and air conditioning. We’ll have someone install sound dampening items to the ceiling and walls, another person will put up our 10×20′-ish motorized light grid…

And, when that’s finally done… we’ll make cinematic magic!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Close
Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
Pinterest