Sunday, March 11, 2007

LED Stars

For a recent production of the opera Susannah the set design called for the use of stars. The main scenic elements was a series of 3 portals, and a drop which would all incorporate stars. The portals were stock units, so we only needed to modify the structure for whatever technology we decided to use. Also, the theatre owned a fiber optic curtain which we used for the backdrop.

We discussed and evaluated a series of techniques and methods for accomplishing the effect including wiring LED's, using addition fiber optic cables, and among others. the final method was chosen to meet the following criteria:

- We needed to be financially cautious. We had around $300 to do the effect.

- Time was a major consideration, labor for build was limited, but available. However, the load in period was short, and labor was tight.

- The final result needed to replicate the look of the fiber optic drop. There were 2 components to this. First, the illuminator on the drop allowed the stars to "twinkle". Second, we wanted to match color intensity as much as possible.

- Operation - would they need to be controlled separately, would they be dimmable, could they be controlled by the board....

Our solution was to use bright white, wide angle LED Christmas lights*. On AC current LED's give a very slight twinkle. The lights were controlled by the board for ease of operation as well as being able to control the brightness easily. Thigh it would still take time to install the lights, we would not need to spend any time wiring. We determined to have 3 strands on each portal header to facilitate twinkling. Each strand could be on a different dimmer and the intensity could fluctuate throughout the cue.

To install the lights we pre-made blocks about 1.5" square with a whole wide enough to accommodate the lights drilled through it. On the front of the portal 1 carpenter drilled holes placed according to the paint elevations in one of three drill bit sizes (the different sized holes allowed different amount of light through, making it seems as though some stars were closer than others.) To install we put the LED through the blocks center hole and then gaff taped the whole thing to the rear of the flat. We then secured the gaff tape with a couple of staples. The below picture illustrates this.

In this picture you can see the multiple strands of lights used. We ran the lights in odd patterns to try to eliminate the look of lines of stars. once the effect was installed and working, you could not tell which was one what line - they looked random between using the three different lines and the three different hole sizes.

The picture below shows the header and stars being lifted into position so we could start the installation of the portal legs. We used Genie Tower lifts to raise the portals since there is not a fly system in this theatre space. You can also see that we only used some of the LED's. At the end of the cord we bundled up the remainder and put it in a bag to mask the light out put from the bundled LED's. In retrospect the only thing I would have changed would be to cover the rear of the portals with some masking because in the scene with the lowest amount of light the stars did bled somewhat on the front of the portal behind it.

The below picture shows the final set. It doesn't do justice to the effect however. The LED's worked very nicely. The different sized drill holes was a great method of varying the stars.

*We purchased the lights from The prices were competitive and shipping was low, and the service was fast. What more can you ask for in our line of business?

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