The Tender Land

– Vibrant Fabric Prints Achieve Realistic Imagery on a Grand Scale –

When Michigan Opera Theatre (MOT) decided to reprise Aaron Copeland’s “The Tender Land,” Scenic Designer Monika Essen began developing a theatrical design that used photographic realism on a somewhat exaggerated scale. The March 2016 MOT performances were based on a major revival of this “quintessentially American opera” that Founding General Director David DiChiera originally mounted in 1978 (with Copeland conducting) to open the first Matrix Festival in Midland.

Since it was determined that large format printing would be the best way to achieve the desired realistic imagery, Technical Director Dan Brinker contacted nearby companies that produced bill boards, outdoor banners, and other super-large format prints hoping to find a local supplier.

“I also wanted to investigate what companies like Big Image, which specialize in producing large-scale printed graphics on soft goods for theatrical use, could offer”, Brinker says. “After evaluating several options, we chose Big Image based on resolution, color quality, and the range of fabric choices.” Cost also was a factor and Big Image provided “by far the best price” for the quality of printed products that were required.

Taking the leap from local to global sourcing was a major step. Brinker had heard about Big Image from professional industry sources, but at first he was “a little anxious” about ordering custom prints to be shipped from Germany to Detroit. Fortunately, these concerns were allayed by how quickly Big Image provided the samples Brinker needed to check for resolution, color rendition, and other qualities.

Opacity was an especially critical consideration. “The lighting design called for very bright light on the backdrop and legs, [so] there was concern of light bleeding through the prints or if backlighting parts might be required,” Brinker explains.

Lighting Designer Kendall Smith asked Brinker and his technical team to experiment with fabric samples to examine reflectivity and opacity in advance of finalizing the fabric selection and ordering the prints.

“Cloth 201 was exactly what we were looking for: high reflectivity, mostly opaque and great color rendering,” Brinker says. “The samples made it very easy for the designers, directors and company managers to visualize the end-result.”

The scenic design required a backdrop that was 62’w x 30’h, six legs that were each 7’w x 31’h and two fabric prints of wheat rows, which were 40’-4”w x 6-6”h and 29’-4”x 6’-4”h. Due to their size, all of these prints were produced using Big Image’s proprietary Infinitus printer, which can produce the world’s largest seamless prints on soft materials.

West End Studios, a Detroit-based scenic shop, built the hard scenery, including the frames for the legs to which the fabric graphics produced by Big Image Systems were attached. Although the printed fabric was stiffer and less stretchable than the raw muslin or canvas often used for scenery, West End’s crew was able to adjust for this difference when covering the hard-framed flats.

“Without question, we’ve been extremely happy with the results of this project,” Brinker reports. “The design was well received and the process was extremely smooth. Working with members of Big Image’s staff turned out to be very simple and a real pleasure. They were extremely attentive to our needs, pointing out issues ahead of time to make sure I’d considered all aspects of the project. The prints were delivered on time without delays or problems.”