Projection Techniques For Copying and Enlarging Scenery

Ever since I began designing scenery I have employed a number of tricks as a designer for copying and enlarging my drawings from the relatively small 1/2″ =1′-0″ scale that most scenic and paint elevations are produced in.  One of the simplest tricks is to superimposed a 12″x 12″ in-scale grid over the drawing.  There is nothing tricky about this.  This is a technique known to artist since at least the Renaissance and described in most text books on the subject of scene design and construction.  Using this technique, an actual 12″ x 12″ grid is drawn on the surface on which the drawing is to be reproduced full-scale while a scale 12″ x 12″ grid is drawn over the scale elevation.  If the scale elevation is in 1/2″ = 1′-0″ scale, then the grid is an actual 1/2″ x 1/2″.   By examining how the lines on the scale original intersect the scale grid, those intersections can be plotted on the full-scale drawing relative to the full-scale grid.  Once the intersections are plotted, the drawing can be reproduced with remarkable accuracy.

CarouselGroundrowThis is the technique used to transfer the scale drawing  onto lauan in order to create the 36′ x 6′ ground row for the Fall 2014 production of Carousel. This scenic CarouselJulie_6961element remained onstage throughout the production and served to create a visual transition between the 3-dimensional scenic elements on the stage and the background sky cloth.


Overhead ProjectorAnother technique that I have long employed ever since copy machines and printers have been able to print on acetate is to print or copy the original scale drawing onto a clear acetate sheet and to use an overhead projector to transfer the line-work directly to the target surface. The acetate is laid on the transparent table of the projector.  A lamp shines light through the acetate and lens.  A mirror configuration overhead of the “table” redirects the light and shadow of the line-work forward and out of the projector   Originally designed and used in darkened classrooms for the pre-computer era version of a power-point presentation, an overhead projector is a relatively dim apparatus.  Therefore, the work space must be kept fairly dark.  This is never more true than when trying to enlarge a large image. This technique works at its best when the shapes to be enlarged are no larger than about 12′ x 12′.  this, because of the nature of the projection device.

Overhead projectors normally have a fixed focal length.  In order to achieve the proper enlargement I usually make a mark of known dimension on the target surface and then move the projector backward or forward until the representative element on the projected image exactly matches the mark on the target.  In order to achieve the desired enlargement, one must have available the necessary space to place the projector far enough away from the target surface.  I find that a 1/2″ scale drawing usually requires a distance of about 25′ to achieve the right scale.  The process of finding the right placement for the projector is further complicated by the fact that the movement of a few inches  toward or away from the target can take the image out of focus, yielding a fuzzy and indistinct projection.  Focusing the apparatus changes the size of the projected image slighty, so the whole thing is process of back and forth adjustment.

Meanwhile, it is also critical to get the projector at exactly 90 degrees to the projection surface.  Horizontally, this means moving the projector side-to-side so as to minimize any horizontal keystoning and distortion of the projection.  Vertically, this means that the mirror/lens should be exactly at the vertical center of the projection.  If the target image is 12′ high, then that mirror/lens should centered on a 6′ elevation, providing the target surface is standing vertically.  If the target is leaning forward or backward toward or away from the projector, then the elevation of the projector must be adjusted accordingly.

LysistrataJonesBachanalBannerProjection_0897For the production of Lysistrata Jones in Fall 2013 we transferred individual letters onto paper using an overhead projector.  Note the distance at which it was necessary to plBachanalBannerTransfer_0904ace the projector in order to enlarge the 1/2″ = 1′-0″ scale drawing into the proper scale and the need to darken the stage to make the process possible.  Following this, we transferred the individual letters to the banner fabric by cutting the letters out of the paper and placing and tracing the letter toms onto the fabric of the banner. A student then reinforced the linework BachanalBannerInProductionwith a colored marker (as illustrated above).  The letters were filled in with a thin wash of brightly colored paint to finish the lettering.  Suspended overhead and flown in at the right moment, the finished scenic element was critical to the finale of the production.


Similar to the overhead projector is the use of a video projector in conjunction with a computer.  Using this technique, the computer video output is mirrored to a video projector in the same way that one might share a power-point presentation to a classroom of students.   The drawing on the computer is then projected on the target surface.  While prone to some of the same limitations as the overhead projector, a video projector of a digital image has several advantages.  Modern video projectors appear much brighter than the standard overhead projector.  Meanwhile, the video projectors often feature controls to allow the operator to compensate for keystoning with the adjustment of settings on the projector controls.  Since the image is projected directly from the computer, it is unnecessary to print the image, eliminating steps, supplies and one step of digital to analog conversion. Meanwhile, the digital drawing or image can be zoomed to take full advantage of the entire screen area, allowing more flexibility with respect to projection distance.  Furthermore, the image can be moved slightly on the screen to simplify the process of alignment.

NightOfTheSoulProjectionTransfer_1507This is the technique that I used to transfer images of English graveyards to the flats forming the back walls of the setting for The Night of the Soul  produced by Theatre Simpson in February of 2014. The scenic elements are shown on Pote stage where they were projected.  Because of the simplicity of the images the layers of paint were painted directly onto the muslin-covered flats over the projection.

MullinsCarouselSign_2431The image can even be rotated as illustrated in the photo of the transfer of the lettering to the “Mullins Carousel” sign for a fall 2014 production of Theatre Simpson and Music at Simpson’s co-production of Carousel.  The sign was hung immediately following construction and well before it could be “cartooned”.  The paint elevations were created in Photoshop.  I de-selected layers of color to reveal the lifework and rotated the image in Photoshop to match the angle at which the sign hung.

Meanwhile, thanks for listening.  Have fun!  But be safe!








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