DRAPES & BACKDROPS
September 2008 Issue 109
TPi looks at some of the industry’s top solutions...
As a premier supplier of drapes, rigging, starcloth and track, Blackout can transform any venue into the right atmosphere for a diverse range of events, concerts, conferences and corporate occasions.
With offices in London and Paris, Blackout is happy to consult on any project with enthusiasm and attention to detail. Having a large and well-stocked warehouse enables Blackout to provide back-up support and ensures that tight deadlines are met on time and within budget.
The company’s skills and creativity came into play recently when former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev hosted a gala dinner for the cancer charity he established in memory of his wife, Raisa Gorbachev. The Russian Midsummer Fantasy party, which took place at Hampton Court’s Stud House, was attended by the good and the great. Orlando Bloom, Kate Beckinsale and Emily Watson were among the actors and actresses mingling with fashion’s favourite designers including Stella McCartney, Matthew Williamson and Vivienne Westwood at the star-studded event.
Blackout was commissioned by Urban Caprice to transform the venue into an opulent setting befitting its guests. Working only from visuals, Blackout used gold swags created from stage satin and satin Trevira. They also provided rigging for the lighting, sound, video and set using black Prolyte trussing and Prostar motors with their unique gabled ground support truss system.
An Austrian Festoon lifting drape was created by Blackout for the stage set using five 10m/m Liftket motors and Kinesys contro. Through a series of diverter pulleys and wires they lifted the opulent purple satin Trevira drape up and down between performances managing to replicate the exact curve the designer had visualised. In the main marquee, purple velour drape, with fullness around the perimeter, was used to create a stunningly rich feel. Red velour drape was used in the bar areas.
Rockdrops came into life over five years ago because TPi Award-winning stage manager GCB (a.k.a Gary Cooper-Burrows), the founder of Rockdrops and the G Force stage crew companies, discovered an niche the rock’n’roll backdrop market.
Even though drape companies and individual painters had been making backdrops for years, they had little or no knowledge of touring, how the industry worked (none have the 24/7 availability of Rockdrops, according to the company) and how the the product that they were manufacturing was actually used.
One of the earliest innovations Rockdrops made was to provide a brightly coloured touring bag to store and transport the backdrop, and its has recently moved to PVC tour bags to keep the backdrops dry and safe in full-on festival weather conditions.
Historically, and until recently, most touring backdrops were handpainted on to scenic canvas — a process that was very time-consuming, costly and would often lead to mistakes and inaccuracies in the final product. The last few years have seen continual refinements and improvements to the fabrics and the methods in which they are manufactured and the technologies for creating the images to be printed.
It is now common practice to digitally print on to man-made fabrics. These not only look and perform better, but also meet today’s important ecological considerations — the fabric being totally recyclable and manufactured to a zero landfill policy. This is a far cry from even a few years ago where once a band had finished touring, the backdrop normally either ended up on some rental company’s warehouse racking or was being dumped under some European festival stage!
Finding a selection of media that will be accepted across the entire international touring circuit has always been an issue. What is made here in the UK to a British Standards spec is has not always been accepted in, Paris, Munich, New York or Boston, for example. To overcome this hurdle, the fabrics had to be taken to these countries and by trial, conference and debate, it was agreed that the fabrics being identified and used were safe.
A crucial development, as another production management aid, was to print the relevant fire certificate on to fabric and stitch it to the backdrop itself, thus making sure that the particular cert belonging to that particular fabric/backdrop, and avoiding identification issues or arguments.
Event and site branding specialist Sunbaba has over 11 years’ experience in producing signage and branding solutions in a diverse range of sectors including festivals and concerts, sporting events and the construction industry. The company creates scrims, backdrops, banners, fence covers and building hoardings from a variety of specialist fabrics.
Sunbaba’s 2008 projects have included a re-brand for the Brit Oval, Red Bull Flugtag, Mighty Boosh Festival, Hop Farm Festival and Farnborough International Air Show.
The Suffolk-based firm also provided all the branded signage and the stunning stage scrims for the Lovebox London Weekender in Victoria Park, a project which totalled 700m2 across the 25 acre site. The main stage was branded with Ultramesh scrims which wrapped tightly around LED screens positioned on either side. Each of the smaller stages featured Sunbaba’s Digisound PA scrims ensuring perfect sound reproduction for the acts playing and Ultramesh header banners for one, featuring sponsor and media partner logos.
This summer has also seen Sunbaba working alongside production company Sledge, supplying the branding at the Innocent Village Fete in London’s Regent’s Park. The fete featured five key areas, with live music at The Hay Barn, The Village Disco, The Alfresco Ballroom and The Big Wheel Band Stand and activities on the Village Green. Sunbaba branded each of the locations with a comprehensive range of materials, including Correx, Foamex, Vinyle, Ultramesh, PVC and HT Coated polyester.
Sunbaba takes a pro-active approach in offering ‘greener’ signage solutions; its research and continuous development has resulted in many innovative solutions and ensures that its clients are provided with the latest in signage technology.
Its unique signage materials include BIOflex — 65% biodegradable and ideal for event branding as it is designed to degrade in approximately three years — and Digimesh, a sound transparent mesh perfect for branding speaker stacks because it allows the sound to pass through with almost signal degradation.
For 20 years, Theme Traders has been producing, designing and installing superb backdrops, sets, props and drapes for events, conferences, parties, shows and stage sets where a transformation is of the essence, albeit, often for a one night stand!
From fabulous rock and press parties for bands such as Iron Maiden, Theme Traders has worked for the most unusual clients, with the most interesting and exacting briefs. No two days are ever like the other — each detail and military preciseness to get the job done in the always limited time frames is a normal requirement.
Iron Maiden wished their venue to be transformed into a series of odd and spectacular themes — a Soho strip area, backdrops, neons, scantily clad girls, street furniture... and to top it all, on the way in guests were invited to meet past great characters such as Marilyn and Elvis greeting them in a state of decay at the entrance! Each unique area was either blacked out or had backdrops as dressings, each dedicated to the name of the tracks of the album.
The transformation of a room, whether a stage or any other area, will benefit immensely by creative treatment. Creating chill-out spaces for musicians and performers at concerts is a serious business. Funky sofas set against a swagged white walls with moody uplighting provide a perfect environment for interviews. Chesterfields are currently very popular, set in library style rooms draped completely in red velvet with huge green kentia palms placed strategically and a roaring fire backdrop.
Backdrops are available to hire and can be specifically painted to specification for any event. Until recently, hand painted backdrops were the only type available but today digital scenes can be arranged easily. The artwork has to be superb and extremely high resolution to start with as the scale demands it, bearing that in mind there is nothing like beautiful draping such as that used to create canopies for Arabian and Eastern nights — rich gold and red, organzas, chiffons and silks, all bellowing from the ceiling and creating a spectacular Bedouin tent fit for only the most important kings.
Theme Traders has a huge image database online at www.themetraders.com and also showrooms in central London where its Aladdin’s Cave is open to all by appointment and is inspirational if you are in the early stages of planning a great event. The company has also opened in Scotland and is now a major force in live events, offering a full ‘total production’ service across the board.
Norfolk-based Hangman and its sister company, Metalman, have continued to expand this year, and the summer months have seen them challenge and extend the boundaries of fabric engineering.
With budgets tight, production managers are demanding more from their backdrops and need to achieve several looks for each and every drape. Hangman has called on its celebrated creativity and experience to come up with innovative solutions.
Supporting the Foo Fighters on their summer 2008 tour, Supergrass wanted a new twist to their classic logo on a backdrop theme. More than 750 circles of UV-reactive gauze inserts were used to recreate the Supergrass image. This not only allowed them to light the drape from behind, creating a ‘light bulb sign’ effect but also to use UV lighting to manufacture a completely different feel for the set.
Light bulbs are also the theme for the most recent Kings Of Leon tour. Hangman used a newly-developed technique of double sided printing on to a backlight screen to produce the illusion that an electric filament was being switched off and on.
Hangman’s Sam Booker explained: “We’ve invested more than 10 years into improving printing techniques and quality for large backdrops. New substrates and fabrics have been tested and superior colour saturation achieved so that every last drop of potential is eaked out of the process. We can now print on a massive variety of set elements, including stage flooring, rip stops, screens, canvases, gauzes and even drum skins to a standard that surpasses anything else we’ve seen.
“However, some of our clients still insist on having things hand-painted. Printing may be a million times better than it was even a few years ago, but some things will always look better done the old-fashioned way!
“This summer, Coldplay commissioned a number of drapes which involved a combination of both techniques — we printed their 30ft high ‘VIVA’ logo on a Trevira and then hand-painted UV on to certain areas — something else you still have to do by hand.”
Hangman’s drapes have always had a multi-dimensional quality and this year they took on a circus quality as Mika walked out from the mouth of a 50ft x 25ft clown drape with dramatic light-up features created by 300 LEDs.
Acre Jean is about to celebrate its 25th year as a major supplier of fabrics and associated equipment. Clients are able to draw from its vast hire stocks or commission bespoke items. In either instance, the company has always provided that 24/7 service which is essential to the industry.
In recent years, Acre Jean has supplied programmable Austrian reveal systems for touring applications and increased its stocks of Kabuki release solenoids, which now include IP65 versions for sale and hire.
The manufacturing and installations department have been kept busy with many arena projects in the UK, Europe and Scandinavia.
Introduction of the Eclipse Ladder Track has attracted great interest and a 360° installation has been carried out at the NIA in Birmingham.
The NIA’s Paul Rowlands said: “We consulted with European Arena Association venues in regard to what seating reduction draping systems they had in place, and what was good and not so good about them. We concluded that minimal maintenance, minimal competence for operation, high equipment/drape specifications and very short lead times to set the drape, were our priorities, together with the ability for it to work alongside our existing tracking systems. Working very closely with Acre Jean, the Eclipse system was adapted from their existing Ladder Track.
“In short, the NIA Eclipse drape enables us to create an arena within an arena on the day of the event without calling additional labour or the need for skilled technicians. The system is not only robust but can transform the NIA effortlessly around 360° in a matter of minutes and above all it looks good!”
The extruded alloy track systems have proved to be very popular with local authorities, schools, colleges and theatres. Lightweight and easy to install, requiring no bespoke curves, the system can be tailored to fit perfectly on site.
South London-based Acre Jean’s starcloth department is currently constructing a 1000m2 RGB cloth for a major client and has recently supplied cruise liners and theatres with RGB-LED and fibre optic variants.