Valuing Variety and Versatility

Photos courtesy of Franciscan University.

Franciscan University Uses Fabric Prints by Big Image Systems to Achieve Quality Goals Creatively, Flexibly and Efficiently.

In his Spring 2020 report titled “Integrated Planning in a VUCA Environment,” Nicolas R. Santilli, Ph.D., uses the acronym “VUCA” to describe the situation university and college leaders across the U.S. faced while deciding whether to offer in-person, virtual and/or hybrid classes. VUCA stands for “volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.”

Clearly, the constantly changing health and economic conditions stemming from the pandemic have required extraordinary adaptability and ingenuity—especially during the implementation phase of broadcast, livestream and video productions.

In June 2020, John Novotny, Creative Director of Video Production for Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, knew that he and his team not only had to rapidly adjust their approach to two projects scheduled for Summer 2020, but also apply what they learned to meeting the “massive increase in the demand for video production services” that he saw on the horizon.

“Fortunately, we had a lot of experience working with Big Image on previous sets,” Novotny says. “This time around it was a no-brainer to design and order a fabric print to get something done well and quickly. A physical set would have taken a lot longer to construct. It also would have been more expensive and difficult to store—so this didn’t make a lot of sense for a one-off series. At best, we might have been able to use portions of a physical set for something in the future, but the reuse is usually very limited.”

“The first backdrop we needed was for a broadcast and online series based on a book about The Dead Sea Scrolls written by one of our professors, Dr. John Bergsma,” Novotny says. “We have about 60,000 subscribers for our YouTube Channel and we also provided this series for EWTN, the Eternal World Television Network, which broadcasts 24/7 and reaches more than 250 million people worldwide.”

Due to scheduling challenges, this backdrop had to be designed, printed, shipped and installed in record time.

“We’d rushed the first drop through, and the Big Image team did a fantastic job getting it to us,” Novotny continues. “They were really flexible and a pleasure to work with even though we had such a short turnaround time. We weren’t sure if we were going to get the set on time, but since the setup was straightforward once everything arrived, we were able to meet our schedule.

We ended up flying the set because we’d designed the drop to be the same size we’d ordered in the past, but the director was working with a taller height. So, we tied the framework to the lighting grid with para cord and suspended it about a foot off the ground. There was nothing at the base but darkness and it looked really cool. The framework is light enough that you can do this.”

“The backdrop we had printed for the Catechetical Institute’s online education series had to be taller than the one we had printed for The Dead Sea Scrolls set,” Novotny says. So, Graphic Designer David Deptula addressed the new height when he created digital art for the CI set.

“We combined the taller backdrop with a frame that extends up to 12 feet in height and set elements that we already had, such as a stonework wall,” Novotny says. “Since our Kedar Rails and Clamps framework couldn’t extend higher than 8 feet, we collaborated with Big Image to add some FlexiT pipes and bases to it that enabled us to achieve the height and amount of curve we needed. We really loved the look of this set.”

Chuck Morse, who was the Director for both productions, says he was pleased with the results. “The flexibility of Big Image’s framing system came into play during the production of Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” he says. “By flying the framework and cyclorama (cyc)—supporting them from above—we eliminated the two center supports and this enabled us to create backlighting effects across the length of the cyc without creating shadows.

Thus, using a cyc with a durable framing system gave us a flexibility that could not have been achieved with hard-wall sets. Particularly in a small studio, cycs create the ability to quickly reset a studio so it can be used to produce a variety of content for various programs during a single session. Since the fabric is translucent, backlighting can create very dynamic visual effects. For example, by employing even a basic system of dimmers, really effective lighting transitions can be achieved. Also, the curve of the cyc allows for interesting perspective shots when camera angles are directed down the cyc from the edges. These angles can be enhanced by incorporating forced perspective into the artwork.” Novotny says that everyone involved in these productions liked the quality of the fabric prints and the versatility of the framing systems.

“This is a very cost-effective way to get really nice-looking sets for a limited amount of space,” he says.

“The fabric prints worked well because we were able to shine lights through them at different points to highlight certain elements. With The Dead Sea Scrolls set we put flame bulbs behind the drop so it would flicker a bit. For the C-Institute series we used backlighting to highlight certain text.”

The ingenuity and adaptability Novotny’s creative team used to make the Summer 2020 broadcast and video series a success will serve them well as they address new challenges during the 2020-2021 academic year.

“It’s interesting,” Novotny notes. “We are dealing with a major increase in demand for our services at a time when the pandemic has created a lot of financial stress, too. Restrictions related to COVID-19 limit the number of people you can have work safely together, so that is another factor we need to consider. I don’t think we could get the look and versatility out of a constructed set that we can achieve with printed backdrops. We could easily get 10 to 15 sets without having to worry about people working in close proximity. We can store the backdrops and have infinite variety and versatility.