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Care and feeding of a Cyclorama (Part 1)

What is a cyclorama?

A cyclorama is a studio set which features a curve (or cove) between the floor and the back wall. In the real world, this is typically made by bending thin plywood to form the curve, but on movie and TV sets the cove is formed using fiberglass or plastic preformed panels. The plywood option is popular because of cost (a few hundred dollars) while the preformed panels are best described as "spendy" (read $10K plus).

How do you pronounce "cyc"?

Cyclorama is a cumbersome word, and being lazy, we abbreviate it. In New Hampshire, "cyc" is pronounced "sick", but in any other place it is pronounced "psych" (like "psychiatry"). 


SOPHA's cyclorama

We have had many cycloramas here at SOPHA in Manchester, New Hampshire, but our current one is in Studio A.  It measures 12' wide and is 10' tall. It extends about 14' out onto the floor.

How did we build our cyc wall?

We used luan plywood (a hardwood plywood about 1/4" thick) and simply bent it to shape. We did not use ribbing, but simple dimensional lumber for supports. The joints on the Studio A cyclorama used a marine flexible epoxy which has held up fine, but when we built other cycs, we went with Bondo instead.  Why? Cost. The epoxy was shockingly expensive and required special orders.  Bondo - the smelly polyester resin used in auto body repairs - is cheap and sourced locally.  

What is the cyc wall coated with?

This is not our first rodeo, which is to say we have a ton of experience with cyc walls. Our first cyc wall was huge: 35'x35' square. We went to far as to coat the floor with a shiny white epoxy finish - the stuff one would put on a garage floor. On the plus side, you could scrub the floor clean after each use. The down side was that it took a lot of scrubbing to clean the floor, taking about three hours to scrub that floor back to white again! Further, during pollen season we saw an interesting phenomenon: the pollen dust would act like millions of tiny ball bearings on the hard, smooth floor making it nearly impossible to walk on with hard soled shoes - it was slipperier than ice.  

Our current cyc walls are simply painted with white primer. We buy it five gallons at a time in large pails. We buy from small local companies when ever we can, and paint is no exception.  We set up a contractor account and the price we get for premium paint is far better than we would get for the watered down paint we had bought previously from the big box stores.  It takes about a half gallon to just pain the cyc floor, and about a full gallon to paint the floor and the curve and the wall together.    

How we paint the cyc floors

We start by preparing the floor with a careful sweep. We occasionally have to scrub the floor if there is anything greasy or such on the surface. We have found that placing a bright light source in a cross-light position makes it far easier to see the details of the operation. We shake the paint pail and simply dump paint onto the floor in long wide ribbons. We use a standard paint roller on a long painting pole and simply roll out the paint evenly.

How long does this all take?

Painting the cyc takes about 45 minutes.  We have found that in the winter, the cyc can be dry and ready to use in as little as an hour, but in the summer, it could take as long as four hours to dry. It is our impression it has more to do with the ambient humidity than any other factor. 


A staff member painting the cyc.  This is an older image: she is using the original crappy paint. Notice she has poured a ribbon of paint and she is rolling it out.

How often do we paint the floors?

Ah, the million dollar question. For Studio A, we paint every month or so.  


The end of Part I.  Part II is here.  

We hope you find this helpful!

- Bud Thorpe for The Master Lighting Course.

Editor's Note: This article first appears in the SOPHA Blog on February 12, 2015.  It is reproduced here on our sister site because it is that darn useful!





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