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In May 2010, the director Oliva Wronka asked us if we liked to develop stage projections for a theatre play. This seemed a little strange to us at first: In our normal everyday life we create Matte Paintings for movies - that means images which are used as backgrounds of movies: massive landscapes, castles, cities... But soon we should get to know that our job isn’t so much different from the theater project...

The State Theatre of Wiesbaden planned to break up the limited room space of the stage with a huge projection surface, an opera foil, in order to open the view to a wide landscape. The foreground of the scenery had already been built, that means the objects which the actors would later play with: Logs of birch trees and doors which they would move through… At the end of the stage we widened these parts of the scenery in the projection until infinity. The painting melted with the scenery to a perfect illusion.

 
 
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Indeed, the projection foil wasn’t at the end of the stage; it was spanned over the first third of it.
We were astonished by the huge machinery behind the stage of the theatre: The enormous cable pulleys which move the sceneries. The storage rooms for the reconstruction works are as big as the whole auditorium. Huge.
There is a saying in the theatre: “For each person on stage, there are 4 more behind the curtain!” - A logistic like those for movie productions. But just LIVE!
 
 
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Can you briefly explain the process of creating a scene, from concept to finished stage screen?

Despite the many parallels to the film industry, the director warned us timely: “The theatre works on its own rules!” We should soon get to know what that exactly meant. At the end of May we were shown the stage design for “The Snow Queen” (by Hans Christian Anderson), on which we should set up our paintings.
We used a small black box to give us orientation about the approximate proportions of the stage and of the sceneries. The elements were just merely hinted: Paper pieces without any texture. (A1)
The first agreements with the scene designer were very important. He set the cornerstone of our style: we captured his elements and continued them in the painting… But we didn’t receive the “concept arts” which we needed… As it had been said, we would “…See the final look of the elements only when the workshops will have finished implementing the sceneries! – That will presumably be 2 weeks before the premiere…!” A sophisticated “pre-production” isn’t usual at the theatre. Suddenly we stuck in a big dilemma. Where should we focus on? – These were our first experiences to get to know what it meant to work for the theatre!
 
 
 
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How many screens did you work on?

12 paintings had to be developed for the whole theatre play. Slowly, our time was running out… One painting of this projection-size took us on average 5-7 days of development.  The level of detail is important thereby, as each motif is seen on stage for up to 10 minutes. A nightmare – because each faulty blade of grass would be debunked during such a long time of view…
We decided to set the imagery by ourselves. The basic material consisted in the pictures of a photo-shooting of the Yellow Mountains, which we had made in China in 2007. The landscapes appeared fabulous to us – just perfect to show the world of “The Snow Queen”… The fog created a cold silhouette-like landscape, which came close to the impression of a theatrical backdrop, like a small paper-theatre. At that time, the first designs of the castle arose.

One of the main dangers is when the painting doesn’t get integrated into the scenery and the spectator then senses it solely as wallpaper at the end of the stage…
We bypassed this problem with a visual trick: The foreground of the paintings mostly remained in the shadow. Only in the background a light appeared to lighten the scenery.
Thereby the visual access to the picture is easier for the spectator. He gets deeply involved into the painting, to the brightest light. The spectator looks to a far-off point which seems to be far behind the canvas screen… 

 

 
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In July we had our first projection-test. The euphoria was great…- But the theatre had got a surprise for us, which we had not expected: At the cinema, all the spectators sit in front of a big screen. Every single one has the whole size of the screen in front of him; at the theatre, it’s not like that. (A4)
The stage is three-dimensional. Some stage designs partially obstruct your view. Depending on the seat place, the perceived field of view of the spectator changes dramatically. For example, the spectators in the upper lodge places have a very strong top-view over the stage – but for them, the screen quickly disappears behind the curtains...
Although we have to fill a huge projection screen with a gigantic landscape, the area which all the spectators perceive at the same time, is vanishingly small…  
The designing of the paintings at the theatre proceeds according to completely different rules…
The motifs HAD TO be set up very centrally.
That was a really painful experience because we nearly would have had to reconstruct all motifs again… From then on, a chessboard-grid helped us to have an idea of which parts of the painting would later be visible for the spectators… 
 
 
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Did you have a favourite?

During our daily job we have to make sure meticulously that the pictures look real – at the theatre we are confronted with the opposite of that: too strong realism would cause a separation between the stage backdrop and the projection.
Therefore, my favourite is the summer castle that gets the last rays of the daylight.
It doesn’t look realistic – for me, it has something magical. Like the paintings of Casper David Friedrich.
When we are asked whether all these small details will be noticed by the spectators at all, we always say: "No - of course not, but they would notice if they were not there ..."
 
 
 
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When did the play run? Is it still going? Do you have any further theatre work?

The premiere was on the 12th of October 2010. Until February, the “Snow Queen” has been shown over 50 times. More than 50.000 tickets have been sold. The press reported the play as “One of the best Christmas tales in the last 10 years!” and the projections were called “Dreams of light!”

In the meantime we are working on the next stage production...
The theater is a welcome adventure beyond our daily jobs - with all its curious rules and process operations...
 
 
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Technical information: Projections

A general problem is that in the theatre, there is plenty of light on stage in order to floodlight the actors.
Working with these high watt-sizes, normal projectors wouldn’t suffice to throw pictures on the screen. Therefore we work with very strong light-power projectors (4000 watts), but they get very hot…
The testing foils may be laid only a few minutes in the projector frame before they start to burn… The final pictures were produced on special heat-resistant foils. Nevertheless, also these motifs will have to be changed ten times in fifty shows…

The advantage of these strong projectors is the luminosity of the pictures. Each motif shines like in broad daylight. And another advantage: those projectors don’t reflect any pixels. Even the actors on stage still see the pictures in a high, needle-sharp resolution.
 
 
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