FAQs & Helpful Hints
plays based on Hollywood movies are nothing new; there have been
stage productions of “The Wizard of Oz” and “Dracula”
for decades now. It seems that any movie that makes a hit at the
box office stands a good chance of being brought to the live stage.
The challenge facing designers working on this type of play is that
the director often wants to re-create, as closely as possible, the
look of the movie. This can be especially challenging for the special
effects designer, since many movie effects just won’t work
in a live setting.
example, in “The Wizard of Oz,” the wicked witch makes
her dramatic first appearance from a huge cloud of red smoke that
appears instantly, accompanied by a thunderclap. On film, this effect
was easily achieved by burning red smoke powder until a suitably
large cloud of smoke had been produced. Once the cloud was in place,
it was a simple matter of starting the cameras and having the witch
jump out of the cloud. The thunderclap was added to the soundtrack
later. It’s a bit trickier to create the same effect on stage,
but it is possible.
get a large cloud of smoke to appear nearly instantly, the designer’s
choices are limited to flash powder or a fog machine. The problem
with either of those solutions, however, is that they produce a
large cloud of white smoke. (To date, there are no flash or fog
effects that create a cloud of colored smoke.) It’s easy for
the designer to get around this; all she need do is light the stage
in the color she wants the smoke to appear. An interesting side
effect of this approach is that the sudden change in lighting adds
to the overall impact of the effect.
movie effect we often get asked about is creating bullet-hits on
an actor’s body. The effect, in case you’ve never seen
an action movie, is that part of the actor’s shirt or jacket
explodes, spewing blood and making it look for all the world as
if he’s just been shot. Even on film,this is a potentially
dangerous effect, as it involves attaching an explosive charge to
the actor and setting it off. To protect the actor, a plate of body
armor is fitted between the charge and the actor’s body. On
a movie shoot, of course, there’s time to set all of this
before starting the cameras. On stage, however, the body armor would
make it hard to move about and act.
older and much simpler way of creating the effect of someone being
shot is to simply have the actor clap a hand to his chest and drop
to the stage. For most plays, in fact, this is really all that’s
needed as the gunshot itself isn’t a major plot point; who
did the shooting, and why, is usually more important. If you need
a bit more realism you can make “blood-bags” from water
balloons or plastic baggies. (While the blood bags used for movie
effects are usually constructed from condoms, they are also intended
to be burst by an explosive charge.) Fill the bag with a small amount
of stage blood - either bought from a stage makeup supplier or made
from scratch - and tape it to the actor under his costume. Now,
when he claps his hand to his chest, he should be able to burst
the bag, causing some of the blood to seep through his shirt.
movie effect that I strongly urge you to never try is the body-burn
effect. You’ve seen this effect in horror and action films;
it makes it seem as if an actor has been set on fire. What you don’t
see in the movies is the large crew of safety and medical personnel
standing just behind the cameras to put the fire out and attend
to any burns or injuries the stunt person may have sustained. In
addition to the high risk of injury to performer himself, there
is also the possibility of this effect starting a fire in the performance
space. Even in a controlled effect such as a torch or flame projector,
a live flame can be dangerous when used on a performer - the risks
just outweighs the benefits.
a show seems to call for a body-burn effect, there are usually ways
to fake it safely. For example, the play “Dr. Jeckyl and Mr.
Hyde” includes a scene in which the laboratory burns down
with somebody in it. Many directors create this effect safely by
using flame pots scattered around the set and triggered remotely,
and placing the unlucky victim in a spot that’s obscured by
scenery. Using dim lights - and perhaps our new Blaze light fixture
(#CH-447) for realistic “firelight” - really helps to
sell this effect.
important thing to remember is that, unless you’re attempting
a live production of “Die Hard” or “The Matrix,”
your audience probably isn’t there for the special effects.
Heck, even those two movies, jam-packed as they are with effects,
only did so well because of the story that was happening between
the explosions. While a great-looking effect can add a lot to a
show, it should never be more important than the story itself.
Theatre Effects Customer Service Department
Effects, 11707 Chesterdale Rd, Cincinnati, OH 45246
Phone: 1-800-791-7646 or 513-772-7646 Fax: 513-772-3579
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