Creating that bleed-through effect should only seem like magic to the audience. However, with so many critical factors, reveal and dissolve effects on the stage can sometimes leave lighting technicians wishing they could wave a magic wand and have it all work according to plan.
With a few key considerations, we will equip you with the tools you need to create seamless bleed-through effects, but first let’s start with the type of fabric. Our recommendation is sharkstooth scrim.
What is Sharkstooth Scrim?
Sharkstooth Scrim is a flame retardant 100% cotton close-knit netting fabric. Consider Sharkstooth Scrim the invisibility cloak of the stage.
When Sharkstooth Scrim is lit from the front at an oblique angle and the area behind the scrim is dark, the scrim appears to be opaque. However, when the scene behind the scrim is illuminated it becomes “visible” and if the lights on the front of the scrim are removed, the scrim becomes virtually “invisible.”
7 Quick Tips to Effectively Light Sharkstooth Scrim
1. Darkness Before the Bleed-through
Any light behind the scrim will reflect on the scene that the scrim is trying to hide and allows the audience to see it. For the scrim to be most effective, the area behind it must be completely dark. Of course, the brighter the lighting on the scrim, the less likely that anyone will see a glimmer or gleam shining from behind the scrim. Still, every effort should be made to keep the area behind the scrim completely dark until the reveal occurs.
2. Proper angle of the LIGHTING IS CRITICAL.
If the area is as dark as possible, but the scene is still visible through the lit scrim, then consider the angle of the lighting. Ideally, the lighting on the scrim is at such a steep angle that it cannot possibly illuminate the scene behind it.
Create an area of space between the scrim and any nearby scenery so that any light that spills through the scrim will not hit anything and won’t show to the audience. The most common way to achieve this is to have strip lighting directly in front of the scrim’s top. The majority of the light from the strips washes the front of the scrim and any excess light that shines through into the empty space between the scrim and the scenery is not visible.
3. Blackout Drapes Behind Theatre Scrim
If you have extra line sets and a spare blackout drape, you can ensure this by hanging the drape about a foot behind the scrim at the upstage edge and flying it out moments before the bleed-through.
Commando Cloth or Velour drapes are great material for blackout stage curtains. You will still need to control the spill upstage or the blackout drop will be visible, most particularly as it flies just before the bleed-through begins.
4. The Right Type of Light
The most common placement of lighting for a scrim is above and directly in front of the scrim. If the lighting is oblique, it will wash the scrim, and will not need to be from above. If the scrim is in a downstage position, footlights can be very effective for scrim washes. In a “wing and drop” set, the strips can be mounted vertically on each side of the scrim so that the spill will wash off-stage, between the wings downstage and upstage of the scrim. In most situations, having a blackout drop a foot or so upstage of the scrim is also very helpful.
5. The Wrong Lighting Positions
It is also important to note, the lighting positions that will not work for lighting a scrim:
a. Lighting from the front will certainly light the scrim, but it will also light everything behind the scrim as well. This is because the sharkstooth scrim is essentially a series of holes tied together. When lit from the front, the holes will let the lighting continue upstage and illuminate everything behind the scrim.
b. Lighting from a balcony is not an ideal position, as it may provide the maximum visibility of the scrim and the images behind it, for those who are sitting in the orchestra.
6. Lighting Behind the Stage
Equally important in making the scrim work is effectively lighting the scene behind the scrim. If you want the scrim to disappear when the dissolve is complete, the lighting for the scene to be exposed must all come from behind the scrim. Any lighting in front of the scrim may show the upstage scene, but will also continue to illuminate the scrim and any scenery painted on it. While this may be the desired effect that you are looking to achieve, for the scrim to disappear, it cannot be lit. The scene lighting should come upstage of the scrim or from side positions that are upstage from the scrim.
7. Positioning of the Tooth
Many people often ask which way the sharkstooth scrim should be used. The tooth is almost twice as high as it is wide, and is the common orientation when sewing the scrim. However, the properties of the scrim are not affected if the tooth is rotated. In fact, this is often done to save a user money and to more efficiently use the available widths of scrim. Another common reason for rotating a scrim is to offset the moiré effect, which is caused when holes of the same size are lined up with one another, causing a wavy, blurry look to whatever is seen through the scrim. This can cause viewing discomfort to audiences. This can be done by rotating one of the scrims to safeguard that the “teeth” do not line up. Having at least 6′ between scrims will also minimize this effect.
When you touch a sharkstooth scrim, one side is fairly smooth and the other has more texture. This does not affect the use of the scrim, but more texture gives the light extra surface area to touch and is slightly more visible to the audience.
Chicago Canvas & Supply carries a large selection of flame retardant theatre scrims for your next stage production.