Posts Tagged With: sampling

Head first into the summer opera double bill.

The workshops are in full swing and beginning to fill with the pieces of our opera double bill. Arianne and Alexandre Bis has our students working on realising the designs of Simon Corder.

Here is a snapshot of the samples produced by scenic art for the set. We have three main finishes that need to be produced for this set. We have a yellow marble finish, a painted number grid and a white-washed concrete finish. Here are the samples that were put together for Simon to look at.



Construction have been busy building all the necessary flats to make up the walls of the set and treads for the show and with the help of our TT students, who are with us for their associated studies, we seem to be making good progress.

Construction have also had the pleasure of realising one of the more decorative features of the set. Alice, Lana and Oscar under the instruction of Andy were able to have a bit of fun in creating the Baroque style fireplace.

The main frame was made from timber which was clad with ply to give us the basic shape. The edges of the frame were decorated by laying a border of a thick plaster mix and then shaped with a purpose made jig to give the edge shape you see below.

the larger decorative mouldings were made by pouring plaster into vac formed moulds and the attaching these to the timber frame. The The mouldings were strengthened by laying hessian into the plaster.

Andy also sculpted some extensions with clay to finish off sections of pattern too fit and align with the size and shape of the piece. A mould was made of these clay sculpts which was them cast to create a finished plaster section.

The pieces were then screwed onto the main frame using the supports that had been set into them.

The joins were then filled and moulded by hand to give the impression it was one fluid piece.


The piece was then ready for a paint job. Our second year student Lana and I finished the piece by applying a marble paint effect.



Our scenic art students began their process by texturing the flats. This was done by covering them with a thin layer of idenden which gave the surface a rough concrete texture. They were then painted white and a raw umber wash applied to the bottom sections.


In props our students have been busy constructing miniature models of  the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and Sacre Coeur which will sit on plinths around the walls of the set.They have been using mainly styrofoam to construct the models and some of the final details will be drawn in CAD and 3D printed.

Emily did a great job at gilding the large picture frame to give a degraded finish. This prop piece will sit above the fireplace.


Props have also had the opportunity to work on some polycarving. In front of the fireplace is to be placed a decorative peacock fire gate. Sneha with the help of Anna carved the peacock from blocks of polystyrene. This was then covered with layers of foamcoat to help smooth the surface before being painted in metallics.


Alongside preparing the opera set, we have had students from other areas of technical theatre creating work for either a personal project or getting stuck in with assisting on the construction of the Alexandre Bis set.

Here are some example of the work going on amongst our associated studies students.

Fit Up….


Fit up for the opera went relatively smoothly. It began by constructing the steel deck truck onto which the set was attached. The walls and treads went in first, followed by the windows and balcony.


Once the set was attached to the truck we had to attach some breaks to it. However…we didn’t have any rubber fixed to the breaks we had… so we improvised…

…Worked a treat!


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Full speed ahead into the New Year


As the first blog of 2016, I would like to wish you all a Happy New Year and welcome you to an exciting peek at what we’ve have been getting our teeth into in Design Realisation.

The start of the new term has given our DR students three shows to work on, which means their hands have been full and the workshops bustling but they have produced some great work.

The first to go up was combination of two drama’s ‘Pinter’ and ‘Dealers Choice.’ The set, designed by Amelia Jane-Hankin, had to adapt to both pieces of drama and is a simple yet effective, uniformed structure made up of wood panelled columns and flooring.


In construction our students prepared the frames fro the columns by making each side as a separate flat which were then screwed together to make the cuboid structures. Plywood was then cut to size on the wall saw and used to clad the sides of the columns.

Sam took the ‘assassins’ approach to the task at hand.


In scenic art the team painted the ply cladding with a smokey brown woodgrain effect and highlighted areas using a dry brush effect in a lighter grey.

The floorboards were given a woodgrain treatment in two shades of brown, a wash was then applied on top to blend and finally they were glazed over.


Alongside work on the Studio Theatre drama, our DR students were also preparing and beginning work on our Milton Court drama, ‘Top Girls.’ The design, by Dora Schweitzer, includes a collection of wonderfully distorted and somewhat frightening drawn and sculpted figures of women and children.

Scenic art have had their hands full with this one; the first task being to attack the large back cloth. The design featured several sketchy figurative drawings of women which were to be drawn in pastels and oil bars onto a black cloth.

Our scenic artists began by producing several samples from the references that had been given by the designer. The drawings were mainly created with a white chalky outline and then had highlighted elements and shading added in a selection of yellow, red and orange hues.

Once the designer was happy with the samples it was time to start work on the cloth.

Once the images were traced out onto the cloth using the projector, the students were able to work on individual figures to build up the collective figurative piece.

In addition to the back cloth the design included several sets of tables and chairs which all requires a heavy paint treatment. They started their life as white ikea dining sets and were transformed to look like dark, heavily rusted metal. This effect was achieved in a variety of stages.

Firstly the table frames and chairs had to be sealed with transparent polish and covent garden primer to allow the paint to stick to the metal and plastic. They were then primed with a mix of black and blue/grey paint. Sections of silver foil wrap were glued to small areas and the excess peeled off, to give metallic highlights and pieces of bogus paper were stuck to the table tops to create some texture. After this all the surfaces were given a rusty orange and blue sponge wash and once this had dried then the painters were able to go over elements of the chairs and tables adding more detailed and saturated rust colours before glazing over them to seal the paint treatment.

The results were pretty impressive…


Our students in props also had their hands full making a number of dummies that were to be flown in over the set.

These were made by pasting brown paper with glue around a foam figurine, cutting the dried paper shell away from the figure and filling inside with two part expandable foam to make the figures solid. Armature wire was then inserted into the bodies to create joints to enable the figures to be manipulated into different positions.



No comment…  :-/

The props department then added hands and facial features using armature wire and mod-rock and the figures were painted and clothed ready to be placed in the set.


The last of the trio of shows is the Opera which this term is, ‘The Rape of Lucretia.’

The design, by Jamie Vartan, resembles that of a war trench which has required scenic art to create a ‘mud’ floor which covers the stage. This was achieved by covering sheets of MDF with a layer of idenden and working into the texture. The texture around the edges of the floor were enhanced by mixing the idenden with foam crumbs and layering that onto the MDF.

Once dried the floor was then painted.

The set is surrounded by a timber border which is made up of the largest lumps of wood I’ve ever seen! Getting these into the building took an act of God!….Or perhaps just an incredible team effort!

These along with the treads made by construction are all in the process of being treated with a paint wash before they are glazed.


Props is probably the busiest department with regards to work on the opera. As part of the final scene there is a dramatic reveal of a graveyard complete with 1 million white crucifix’s and a blooming meadow. Lana and Jonathan have been working hard to create these pieces using a combination of artificial turf and dried shrubbery which they are painting to resemble wild flowering plants. As the plants have to be harvested as part of the Opera, each plant stem had to have a hole drilled into the plywood base under the turf for it to be planted in and harvested from. This was no quick job!

As opera fit up approaches, our DR students are making the finishing touches to the set. I would usually be saying there’s a frantic rush or final push to get everything finished but there is actually a rather calm and relaxed atmosphere circulating the workshop… I’m expecting there to be a huge panic next week when we realise we forgot to build that life size carousel!


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Three departments, two shows, so many photos…

Firstly, I can’t quite believe it’s nearly the end of week 3 already! Secondly, I can’t believe I haven’t posted anything about what we’ve been up to here in design realisation this term yet! I can honestly tell it’s been non-stop here in the workshop at the Guildhall School; three lots of Associated Studies (where 1st year students in other TTA streams try their hands at design realisation), one production in the Milton Court Studio and one giant opera set ready to head into the Milton Court Theatre next week…

I might as well tell you in pictures, that way you don’t have to read my rambling explanations of what we’ve been doing, and I don’t have to try to remember it all!

A snippet of what props have been working on:

And meanwhile in construction:

And in scenic art:

Phew! I told you we’d been busy! Next week is fit-up for the opera double bill in the Milton Court Theatre.  The scenic art team have been texturing and painting the floor over there too so I will be sure get some photos of that and the fit-up in progress which is always one of my favourite things to blog about.  Also stay tuned for more goings on in the prop department…

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Pinocchio in full swing…

Week three is here and the workshops are buzzing and whirring with activity.  Associated Studies is over for another term so the departments have spread back out, filling the workshops with set and props, samples and ongoing projects…

Work is continuing with this term’s opera, Pinocchio, with lots of pieces being made.  In the props department, Giulia and Marie have been working on the puppets for the show.  These puppets are really interesting as they are secured around the necks of some of the characters so that their own faces animate the faces of the puppets.  Sophie has been continuing her work on the eerie Crow Doctor’s mask which is taking shape and becoming more frightening every time I walk past!  Meanwhile, Katie has been carrying on with her work on Pinocchio’s hair; making a plaster mould of the sculpted clay hair and casting it in latex coloured with black pigment…looking good so far. 

The scenic art team have been continuing their work on the bricks, adding washes to make them more realistic and ageing them; I think you’ll agree that they look fantastic!  They’re also been sample other paint finishes including gold for the last crest and the floor.  Anna has also been working hard on the gravestone, creating a marbled finish and drawing up the lettering which will be painted with a trompe l’oeil effect so that it looks like it’s been carved into the marble. 

The construction team have also been busy working on the two Blue Fairy houses; adding windows, adding MDF tiles to the roof so that it looks like it’s been tiled with slate and making doors for the houses.  Will has also been working on a mechanism for one of the doors which ‘breaks’ when it gets kicked…I’ll try not to say too much in case I ruin the surprise- all in the name of the magic that is theatre!

Anyway as I’m sure you can see, we’ve been quite busy here in the design realisation workshops.  There’s still a lot to do and a full week ahead of us so I am sure there will be more photos…stay tuned!

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2014 kicks off with Associated Studies…

The new year and the new term brings new faces into the design realisation workshops this week as we welcome students from other technical theatre pathways into the world of construction and prop making.  A selection of first year students from the Theatre Technology Pathway and the Stage and Costume Management Pathway are spending a week working in the department and learning the basics of scenic construction and prop making, including learning all about the health and safety aspects of the workshops and all of the machinery, tools and materials that they can use.  It’s nice to have some new faces in the department who will hopefully get a taste for design realisation and will be back for an allocation in the department next year.

We also have some second and third year students from other technical theatre pathways working in the department this term; third year Will is in scenic construction, third year Katie is in scenic art and second year Marie is in props. 

As well as associated studies, we are also starting work on this term’s opera, The Adventures of Pinocchio which will be presented in our Silk Street Theatre.  The production features a huge set and some very interesting props so there’s no doubt that the design realisation department will be kept very busy over the next few weeks.  Fit-up starts in week five so there’s a lot to do in quite a short space of time!  

As with all productions, the early stage of the process for us is planning how we are going to make and paint all of the elements.  For scenic art, led this term by third year Hannah, that means trying out different paint processes and creating samples for the designer to look at.  These samples, painted from the model piece as a reference, allow the designer to give feedback to the team concerning the colours, textures and overall ‘feel’ of the sample compared to their vision of the overall design.  Sometimes, this sampling process continues for a while, with the scenic artist creating a variety of different version for the designer to consider.  For Pinocchio, there are several paint finishes that need to be created, the main one being a brick effect.  Because of the scale of the brick work, the set is being covered with ‘vacform brick’; plastic sheeting that has been created by heating thin plastic within a vacuum over a 3D shape.  We have our own smaller scale vacformer here in the props department but for a large project such as this it would take a long time to create the amount of bricks we need for this set! 

In a similar way the props department need to create samples to show the designer.  This usually takes the form of quick prototypes of props showing shapes and sizes along with research materials that form the centre of a discussion with the designer.  For Pinocchio, the props team are making (along with many other things!) several masks; such as crickets, owls, foxes and a crow doctor.  The team, led by third year Katie, have been using card and other materials to quickly mock-up shapes for the masks.  Once these have been approved by the designer, they can begin ordering materials and making the real masks.  

For the construction team, led by third year Tara, planning the build concerns drafting technical drawings from the designer’s model, ordering materials and creating cutting lists.  They have to consider how each scenic component will be made as well as it’s relationship to the rest of the set.  They also have to consider other features of the component; will the piece be flying? Does it need wheels? Will someone be standing on it? To name but a few…

Well as usual it doesn’t take the design realisation department very long to get stuck in, here are a few photos to show you what’s been going on. 

Next week it’s the scenic art associated studies and the rest of the department head straight first into building and painting all of the set and props for Pinocchio…it’s going to be one fast paced term so keep your hats on, keep your eyes open for more blog posts and keep your fingers in your ears, because it gets pretty noisy down here…but it’s ok, because sometimes I stop talking!

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From one show to the next…

Week six of the summer term has arrived; minus the Bank Holiday Monday, plus the rain of course…

Week six means that the design realisation department are finishing the last tweaks and additions for this term’s opera Owen Wingrave and are starting work on this term’s musical, Rags. The scenic art and props department spent last week planning and sampling for the musical. Sampling is an important stage in the design realisation process as this is when we try out different techniques and materials to best achieve the finish desired by the designer. Here you can see the scenic art team and Clare from props working on various samples for Rags, designed by Susannah Henry. There are a lot of elements for the musical and lots of paint effects that need to be sampled including the floor and two scenic cloths. Looks good so far, it’ll be interesting to see what techniques and finishes will be used on the final set.

The construction team have been finishing their work on Owen Wingrave by making the last element of the set; some decorative handrails. Painted with the same high gloss seen in the rest of the set, the handrail has been made by welding pieces of box steel together using a jig to hold all of the elements in place and square. Decorative ‘baskets’ were made up to add embellishment to some of the handrails which were constructed in a separate jig beforehand. Here you can see pictures of the handrails being constructed and the various steps in the process. I think you will agree they look very smart and in keeping with the aesthetic of the rest of the production.

This week, look out for the scenic art, scenic construction and props department starting work on the musical. The fit-up is only a few weeks away so things are going to get pretty busy once again in the design realisation workshops…

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The doors of the Silk Street theatre open to the public this evening for the first production of Le nozze de Fiagro.  For those of you who are lucky enough to get tickets let me tell you, you are in for a real treat! I saw a dress rehearsal the other day and it was spectacular and such a brilliant example of how talented the students are here at the Guildhall School. 

If you are going then you will see what the design realisation department have been working on for the last few weeks.  Look out for Hannah’s painted logo near the start, the bed, trees, office desk, flag pole eagles and Adirondack chair which show the diverse skills of the props team and of course the sleek and crisp main scenic component, the huge truck, which looks so nice under the stage lighting.  A good job, well done I’m sure you’ll agree. I’d love to hear your feedback too so leave a comment if you want…

Meanwhile, ‘back at the ranch’ the department have moved on to the next shows in line for the rest of the term.  We have two productions coming up: The Laramie Project and Opera Scenes which is being designed this term by our very own third year Design Realisation student Nancy Nicholson. 

The props department have started work on some rocks for Opera Scenes which have to be strong enough to stand on.  Here is George cutting down pieces of polystyrene ready to glue to his rock piece which has plywood box as a core to add structure and strength.  Lai is carving her rock, adding texture and forming an organic shape. 

 George cutting polystyrene for his rock Lai carving her rock

It’s a long process but they should look very good when they’re are finished.  This half of the term the props department are also making 10 pairs of feathered wings for the Laramie Project (among other things!) so we should get some interesting photos of these being made…and i’m sure we will start to see feathers everywhere!

The scenic art team have been working on samples for opera scenes and the Laramie Project.  The set for the Laramie Project, designed by Libby Watson, consists of a series of platforms at different levels all with aged planks on.  Painted onto the wooden planks are various signs and images such as the well-known coca cola lettering which have faded and worn.  Here are some samples ready to be approved by Libby. 

Sample of planks for Laramie Sample of signage lettering for Laramie

To create the lettering on the set at a later date, the scenic art team will have to work fast so they have prepared a series of ‘pounces’. A pounce is a bit like a stencil which is used to transfer a simple image or outline onto a canvas or flat for example.  The outline is drawn onto the pounce material- in our case heavy duty tracing paper- and then perforated with a spiked wheel.  When the pounce is ready to use, charcoal (or other powders depending on what you are doing) is rubbed into the tiny holes made by the wheel.  When the pounce is removed, a faint dotty outline remains on the set, ready to be painted.  Here, Jennie and Katie start work on some of the pounces neeed…

Jennie working on pounce Katie working on pounce

The rest of the department are busy starting work on the Laramie Project, drafting pieces of scenery to build, ordering materials and planning planning planning! More photos to come as things start being realised next week.

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Sampling for the opera…

One of the challenges for the scenic art department this term is painting a BP (back projection) screen for the upcoming Opera Le nozze di Figaro, which will be performed in our Silk Street Theatre.  The screen, which has the qualities of a slippery plastic sheet, will be used during the production to represent the side of a soft covered truck.  I’m not going to give away the secret but let’s just say that the screen has to be painted in a very different way to a standard scenic canvas to protect its fundamental properties – the fact that it’s a projection screen…

Model piece of the truck screen

(Turns out it is quite difficult being ambiguous and descriptive at the same time!)

Anyway, as with all processes and techniques in scenic art, sampling is an essential element.  Sampling colours and methods allows the scenic artist to try out different approaches to achieving the desired effect.  It also allows the designer to make choices about his/her preferences with regards to their design so that they can visualise how each element will look. 

Sampling is even more essential when dealing with materials that are less frequently used, such as the BP screen.  Here you can see second year design realisation student Hannah working on the motif that will need to be painted onto the screen.  Hannah is using a combination of techniques to achieve a solid, bold colour in certain areas of the image as well as a more transparent finish in other areas.  By back lighting the screen Hannah can see how her image will look when the screen is in use during the production.  She can see how much paint she needs to add to make the image clear, but also so that it becomes transparent when lit from behind.  After her sample is approved by the design Bridget Kimak, the scenic art team can begin painting the real thing! More photos to come…

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