This is the first article in a 3-part series on How To Light A Scrim. Others are shown below.
One might think that a fabric company has little to do with lighting. After all, while scenery and lighting design are inexorably linked, how important can fabric be to either? Yet the choices a designer makes in fabric, as with all the other elements, will directly affect the final look of the production. This series of articles discusses common types of fabric, why they are used, and challenges they may present to a lighting designer.
ANGLE, ANGLE, ANGLE Lighting vis-à-vis fabric is nowhere more critical then when dealing with sharkstooth scrim (or simply "scrim" as some refer to it). Lit correctly, a sharkstooth scrim provides one of the most magical effects: the bleed-through. If the scrim is lit correctly, it can appear completely opaque; as the lighting is changed, the scrim will “dissolve,” allowing the scene behind it to “bleed through” the scrim or the scenery painted on the scrim. Continue the change, and the scrim will disappear completely, as if by magic. But what is the “correct” way to make this happen?
In real estate, the three most important factors are “location, location, location.” To create this effect with sharkstooth scrim, the most important things to remember are angle, angle, angle. Combined with a stringent control of the lighting, the correct angle will make the task easy. Knowing the correct angle is simple: just think oblique or, if you prefer, steep, and you're well on your way.
We often get calls from less experienced users telling us that our sharkstooth scrim “doesn't work.” When pressed, the caller usually says that the sharkstooth scrim will not provide an opaque surface and that the scene behind the scrim is visible when the scrim is lit. Invariably, we find that one of two things is going wrong. First, prior to the bleed-through, the space behind the scrim must be completely dark. The key word here is “completely.” Any light behind the scrim reflects on the scene that the scrim is trying to hide, allowing the audience to see it, albeit dimly. Already, the magic is beginning to weaken. For a scrim to be most effective the area behind it must be totally unlit. Of course, the brighter the lighting on the scrim itself, the less likely it is that anyone will see a glimmer or gleam shining from behind the scrim, but every effort should be made to keep the area behind the scrim completely dark until the “reveal” cue is running.
Now the area is as dark as possible (our caller assures us), but it still “doesn't work.” The scene is still visible through the lit scrim. Here's where the angle of the lighting is critical. Ideally, the lighting on the scrim is at such a steep angle that it cannot possibly illuminate the scene behind — so steep that any spill “buries” within a foot or so of the scrim. You must create a “trough” of space between the scrim and nearby scenery so that any light that spills through the scrim hits nothing and won't show to the audience.
The most common way to achieve this is to have some type of strip lighting at the top and directly in front of the scrim. The majority of the light from the strips washes the front of the scrim (with some spill downstage), and any excess light shines through into the empty space between the scrim and the scenery and is not visible. If you have extra line sets and a spare blackout drape, you can ensure this by hanging the drape about a foot behind your scrim at the upstage edge of your “trough” and flying it out moments before the bleed-through. You 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.
In Part 2 of this article we’ll discuss other lighting placement options for correctly lighting a Sharkstooth scrim.
Please see our Scrim Fabrics for a broad selection of products in varying widths, composition, and colors.