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In this article, Robby Schlegel gives you three great options for designing, building, and making your own do-it-yourself projection screen.
In the world of live production, video gear can be some of the most expensive items on any new building quote or upgrade initiative. As the Church, we have responsibility to steward our resources well and make every dollar placed in our offering plates count. One way some churches do this is by building their own projection screens. It’s easier than you might think.
Let’s start with the essentials. We’ll need a white surface.
Actually, that’s it.
When dealing with front projection, pretty much any surface or material will work. We’ve seen this proven with examples of projection mapping onto skyscrapers, courthouses, homes, and even onto people. (See some of Stephen Proctor’s incredible work on that here.)
The point is you can use just about anything for projection materials.
Here are some ideas to get you going:
Paint an Existing Wall
It’s easy to paint an existing wall if curtains or other staging doesn’t cover the back wall of your stage. We used this technique for the three screens in our sancti-nasium. They looked better than some of the most expensive Da-lite screens I’ve seen.
Before our contractors added wall texture, we masked off the areas for the screens. Rosebrand and other theatrical companies make paint especially for painting projection surfaces, but we just used the whitest paint Home Depot carried. We painted some 1×2’s flat black and used that to build a frame around what would become our “screen”. It all came together quite nicely.
Probably the most common method for building your own projection surface is to stretch white fabric into place as your projection surface. Theatrical spandex works well and you can get it made into whatever size/shape fits your space. With properly placed metal grommets, you can use tie-line, aircraft cable, or even black bungees to stretch the material into place. This can be done with other fabric, but typically needs some form of wood or pipe framing to staple the fabric to. Various companies sell fabric by the roll, many large enough to not need to be sewn together. Look for blackout cloth or anything with a rubber or vinyl backing to get the best results. This works well for situations where someone decides to build a 3 story Scrooge set in front of your existing screen too!
Don’t worry, we took down the banisters and calibrated the image before service time.
If you’ve spent any time on CSDI, you’ve probably seen us designers use foamcore or Coroplast by the boatload. Both are white, take light (from fixtures or projectors) quite well, and are both lightweight and economical. Art stores or signage companies carry this paper or plastic material, typically available in 4’ x 8’ sheets. If that isn’t large enough—and I bet you’re looking at building a surface larger than a home theater screen—try cutting 4’ x 4’ squares and arranging them in a grid.
Yes, you will see the slight cracks in between. But that can actually make a pretty slick look. Imagine a giant screen made out of twenty-eight 4’ panels… You’ll easily convince somebody it was intentional to fit with your theming and set design.
Or if you want to clean up the look, use white duct tape over the cracks and paint some thick coats of white paint over the whole “screen”.
Finally, it’s important to look at the big picture here. Will the screen be up for a short time or for years? Will the screen be visible the entire service or does it ever need to roll or fly out of the way? Does building your own screen make sense in your space with the rest of your gear and production needs? Maybe not, but if you can squeeze a couple thousand bucks from the project that just might account for replacement projector bulbs or cabling.
Note: The higher the resolution of your projectors, the more you’ll want to pay attention to the smoothness and color of your material. It’s important to try it in your space with your gear. Projectionists say most people can’t see even standard definition pixels from further than 15ft and most audiences are at minimum 40ft from your projection surface. You most likely won’t see small wrinkles or blemishes.
Robby Schlegel is the Central Campus Technical Lead at Discovery Church in Orlando, FL. Working in live production environments for over 14 years, Robby has developed a passion for excellence in all areas of technical artistry and strives to blend the technical and creative into one cohesive medium.