November 25, 2012

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?

Link: DVTV: How to Build a Cyclorama/Cyc Wall/Infinity Curve

Your Comment

10 Comments

Awesome! Been wanting to get one of these.

November 25, 2012

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Quobetah

Oh my God yes. Talk about perfect freaking timing, this combined with the earlier home studio post and the DIY lighting kit....

November 25, 2012

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Austin Mace

actually a seamless infinite cyclo is in fact called COVE as cyclorama originally was only the curtains surrounding the stage

November 29, 2012

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bru

You may find this helpful as well http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=thjh2c7b4KY

November 29, 2012

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Greg

Don't go cheap with the ribs, spacing them too far apart, likewise, don't go cheap on a really thin top layer of plywood...one ladder in the wrong place, one person climbing too high to re-paint it...and you'll break through. I've seen a couple cycs with holes it in and then you have to shoot around it.

Also, if you make it string, you can skate it right before its time to re-paint. Cycs are always a tease, cuz I just want to skate it.

December 6, 2012

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Daniel Mimura

Don't go cheap with the ribs, spacing them too far apart, likewise, don't go cheap on a really thin top layer of plywood...one ladder in the wrong place, one person climbing too high to re-paint it...and you'll break through. I've seen a couple cycs with holes it in and then you have to shoot around it.

Also, if you make it strong, you can skate it right before its time to re-paint. Cycs are always a tease, cuz I just want to skate them...

December 6, 2012

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Daniel Mimura

If you have professional video editing software, there is actually no need to repaint a greenscreen cyc white. Shoot your "white cyc" project against the greenscreen and then in post, key out (replace) the greenscreen elements with a white opaque fill.

Having worked in Hollywood as a cinematographer, gaffer, and lighting tech for 12 years, the mistake I have most often seen DIY/Indie Filmmakers make with greenscreen is that that DRAMATICALLY underestimate the minimum distance necessary to keep between their talent and the greenscreen. Remember that the light you use to light your greenscreen will bounce off of it and wash your talent in a soft green backlight/rimlight that bleeds around them like an outline. If you are simply keying a white wash then hey, no problem. That green spill rimlight becomes a white rimlight just as if your talent was standing in front of a white cyc. But if you key an image on your greenscreen cyc, that IMAGE is going to wrap around your talent as a rim (not just the color & tone of the background, but the detail in the image too). This creates a fakey, amateurish effect similar to the one we often see on local TV stations when the weather man is standing way too close to their greenscreen and the CG weatherman is moire-ing around him.

As always, softlights are best for greenscreen cycs. To make them look completely even you usually have to light them from both above and below, as they are usually to wide to light simply with lights on stands from the side. This sometimes means finding a way to hide small, soft units on the ground behind set pieces, often with flags to cover the spill those units throw on the floor on either side of the set pieces.

For small-ish greenscreen cycs that will be shot at low-ish video light levels, another lighting option is the "ghetto flo." These are cheap 4' "shop lights" flourescent fixtures from Walmart, Home Depot, etc. that run 2 4' flourescent tubes. Order (buy) 2900K color corrected flourescents tubes from Kino-Flo and throw them in the shop light fixtures. Now you have a permanent-ish set of soft lights for your greenscreen cyc that generate very little heat and draw very little power. The tubes will be more expensive at first that purchasing 500W photofloods, but will pay off quickly as the life expectancy of photofloods is actually very short, and the flourescent tubes will last you much, much longer.

January 10, 2013

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Sean Costas

...should have been "weathermap" wraps around him. Also worth mentioning: The amount of light you will get from the ghetto flos I described above is dramatically less than what you'd get with the same # of 500W photoflood bulbs. So depending on the size of your cyc, you may want to do a quick & dirty test with a shop light or two with regular (uncorrected) flourescent bulbs to make sure you get enough intensity from them to light your cyc evenly, as the ghetto flos can't run the pro Kino tubes as brightly as a real Kino-Flo fixture would. Lastly, when shooting video at high frame rates (above 60fps), you have the possibility of seeing flicker created by the ghetto flos.

January 10, 2013

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Sean Costas

What sort of distance do you need between the top of the grid with the lights and the ceiling (and also the distance between the bulbs and the silk? I'm looking at doing this in a basement, but am a bit concerned with heat/fire issues...

March 4, 2013

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Joe in Atlanta

Hi, I am wondering what curve I should place on the infinity wall I am building. I have a 5m wall 2.6m high I am placing the infinity curve on. The focal length can be anywhere up to 6m. I have all the tools and knowledge to build it, the only problem I see is the actual curve. What degree should I use as the curve, such as dimensions top of curve to base of curve with angle between the two?
Thanks for your help in advance.
Mark

August 12, 2014

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Mark