Build Your Own Cyclorama or Cyc Wall Backdrop with NextWaveDV
We've recently covered how to convert your garage into a fully functioning movie studio, and now, thanks to a helpful making-of breakdown video from NextWaveDV, you can construct the next step in the evolution of your home studio setup. You may already be familiar with the effect created by cycloramas -- as NextWaveDV points out, Apple's "I'm a Mac" commercials may be the easiest example to recall -- basically, they allow for a uniformly-colored (and lit) backdrop to isolate your subjects in a kind of disembodied, heavenly way. Read on to check out this effect, plus what you'll need to achieve it yourself.
Here's that Apple ad for a visual (and humorous) example of the effect you can achieve with a cyclorama (also called 'cyc walls' or 'infinity curves'):
Next is the episode of DVTV, which gives some great details into one particular design and construction of a cyc wall.
The first step, of course, is to make sure the walls and wiring in your space are up-to-spec (both standard and your own) -- as always, anything seriously electrical should probably be handled by a professional (even us DIYers get to ask for a little help sometimes). The fun stuff starts, though, once you decide the dimensions of your cyc -- which are determined both by those of the existing space as well as the the shape and quality you're looking for.
This particular setup, as explained in the video, rounds out its curve at a height of three feet, but your own may be shorter (if that's easier for you) or taller. Here plywood is used, but the material for these ribs is quite variable, so something like pressed board or MDF might be better to work with. You carpenters out there can confirm this for me, or better yet, recommend other possible materials!
Hardboard is used as the actual skin of the cyc here, and the prices of all this material are readily available, but again, there's likely some variability at each step. Anyone who has successfully built or is in the process of building a cyc, feel free to chime in with your own details -- there's a good possibility something else may be much easier, or cheaper, or sturdier, or some kind of combination of these. As for painting, remember -- you can paint your cyc wall any color you might want or need to -- if you want a permanent green-screen studio, you may choose a chromakey green over the flat white -- although, as they say in the video, with people walking all over your cyc, expect having to regularly repaint!
Having a solid, large cyc such as this available to you means you can actually repaint it to whatever you need for a given circumstance. Maybe you need a super-bright (or even really glossy) pink-purple as the background for some frolicking hallucinatory scene you're shooting, after which you'll need a green screen, and then later on you'll repaint it white to shoot a parody Mac commercial -- you get the idea. Really all any of this takes is a fairly straight-forward re-paint job.
As for the lighting setup, the NWDV guys have decided to sort of split the difference between pro-studio and DIY routes -- opting for ceramic incandescent fixtures but lamping them with photography globes, wired so each individual fixture can be shut off for a good amount of control. You may want to hook such an array in a dimming board in your own applications, or spring for a full-wattage overhead grid altogether. I personally would likely gravitate towards more conventional cyc lights in my own hypothetical studio environment. Even over-head soft boxes, perhaps something like a Mole zip light, could be repurposed for something like this -- and would allow a better degree of control over blanket-lighting the cyc, or more easily enable separate lighting of the cyc without spill affecting the subject. Given modern image sensor's native sensitivities being as high as they are, maybe my old-fashioned approach is overkill at this point.
I'd be very interested to hear of anyone's experiences building such a cyclorama in a semi-DIY studio type of environment. Do you guys think this video will influence your own home studio plans? Would traditional-style cyc lights be important to your own setup, perhaps going for something cutting edge like LED variations?