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Entertainment markets offer manufacturers steady gigs

Fabric Structures, Features, Graphics, Projects | September 1, 2009 | By:

With a wide variety of fabric applications, the entertainment industry offers sweeping opportunities for manufacturers.

Entertainment and related markets offer sweeping opportunities for fabric products manufacturers to make their mark. The breadth of the industry extends far beyond Hollywood and Broadway to include corporate events, concerts, exhibitions, touring shows, amusement parks, cruise ships, casinos, community performances and church productions. Art directors and production companies that run the shows are relying more and more on the creative uses of fabric to achieve the desired experience on stage and film, before cameras and in front of live audiences.

“Those projects can range from providing a simple curtain to whatever the imagination can come up with,” says Marilyn Moss, fabrication manager West Coast at Dazian Fabrics LLC. For example, the company made jungle vines from stretch Trapeze® and sheer NuVoile fabrics for Disney’s Broadway show, “Tarzan,” and strips of its leno fabric were used as bandages for a Hummer commercial and print ad. The company also covered the entire front of the Ricardo Montalbán Theater, Hollywood, Calif., in drapery for a Nike promotion.

Besides drapery and backdrops, production companies need ceiling decor, basic masking panels, room separation, table and chair covers, awnings, window dressings and set decor, adds Moss. Dazian’s custom work, rentals and printing have been seen on such sets as “America’s Next Top Model,” “Big Brother,” the MTV Music Awards and the Academy Awards®, as well as many corporate promotions.

First contacts

Melinda Ritz, a Los Angeles-based set decorator who has won three Emmy® Awards for art direction on the set of “Will & Grace,” says they’re in the business of recreating environments and use a lot of fabrics and fabric products to design residential and other scenes. “When two or three hundred of us are at work and we have multiple sets, you could have 75 or 80 sets per show under the direction of one set decorator. That’s quite a lot of real estate to cover in fabrics and upholstery,” she says.

Ritz actively pursues fabric products through the Web and relies on fabricators who offer interesting materials for upholstery and curtains. She’s always interested in high tech fabrics, woven metal and unusual fabric products that can show well on film. “We’re looking for things that are very creative, higher end, something of interest that looks really great; metallics look really great on film. It has to be something that is read on camera to be attractive to our needs.”

John Janavs Production Design in Los Angeles works mainly for variety TV—reality shows, such as “The Biggest Loser” and “Hell’s Kitchen,” game shows and music shows. Janavs uses fabric and printed fabric extensively, from simple muslins, chiffons and velours to exotic materials with different patterns and textures. “I love the flexibility of fabric. I think the uses have become more creative than they used to be. We used to just go and rent something from Dazian or Rose Brand. Now we’re either making more or we’re doing more custom-patterned stuff because you can now print on fabric cost effectively,” he says. “One of the challenges we’ve got is that every client wants something that nobody has seen before, so you’re constantly looking at how to make your clients say ‘Wow.’”

For a typical show, Janavs does a lot of printing work, most of it on banner material or hard stock and fabrics, relying consistently on three printers. He will search the Internet when he’s looking for a specific product or use word-of-mouth referrals. He is generally seeking interesting product at a fair price and outstanding service to meet the tight deadlines that come with the industry.

“Once I’ve got somebody that’s reliable, I’m not going to try somebody else on a whim. I can’t afford the mistake,” says Janavs. “Fabric companies should also realize that when we like something and we decide it’s what we need for a show, obviously there are budget issues, but we’ll go a long way to get what is right for the project. If they can facilitate that, they can be successful with us.”

Beyond the cameras

Debra Roth, owner of Pink Inc. in New York City, says she fell into the entertainment market with her focus on ultra lightweight fabric structures and interactive fabric forms that serve the creative interests of art directors and special event planners. The company’s dramatic fabric costumes and structures add color, form and social interaction to special events and productions.

With the availability of wider stretch fabrics and the ability to print on them, the market is wide open for “interesting things to happen” with fabric and graphics, says Roth. “Fabric has gotten more popular lately because it has unlimited design possibilities and these beautiful structures are easy to rig, easy to store, break down small and are cost effective in shipping and labor,” she says.

Sometimes the company is dealing with an art director or an event company, stage designer or production designer. Cruise ships and theme parks, such as Disney’s, have many different departments, each with different contacts—attractions, parades, building interiors or special performances, for example. For her part, Roth is interested in wide-width, inherent flame-retardancy, and consistent availability of the types of fabric on which the company’s patterns are based. Roth is also watching new nanotechnology for the integration of lighting and what can be achieved when combined with fabric.

Juxtaform LLC in Tempe, Ariz., has touched on entertainment projects with its line of premade, colorful tensile fabric structures that can be contoured into different shapes and used as space articulators. The product line is growing with interior designers, architects and art directors in a variety of industries because it offers a cost-effective way to design a stage or interior setting, separate spaces and use as decór, says co-owner Kay Grams.

“People tell us that they’re always looking for something like this, so there is a lot of interest in it. I do see fabric products being used in more and more applications. People are using fabric as a temporary way to divide and define their open spaces. It allows flexibility to change your space as needed and design on the fly,” says Grams.

Projecting opportunities

Jim Webb has taken his company, Innovative Scenery & Design in Orlando, Fla., into a wide variety of markets, including concerts, amusement parks, exhibits and huge multiplex developments with entertainment attractions. One project he directed was a 20-acre development that required more than 200 awnings and canopies for storefronts, picnic pavilions and exhibits, upholstered furniture and vinyl restaurant seating, backdrops, scenery and drapery—all of which he outsourced to a wide range of fabricators and printers. “I usually take on a large project, special event spaces or exhibits and stage shows, and outsource for large-format printing, soft goods or fabrics,” he says.

A lot of fabric was used in a Billy Joel and Elton John concert set that Webb worked on, including fabric used for painted backdrops, but increasingly companies are using large-format printing over painted scenery, and there is a growing movement with art directors to use computer-generated images projected onto fabric. “Images can be changed throughout a program. It offers a lot of movement on the set, and is more interesting than something that just sits there,” says Webb. “Doing that is a lot less expensive than digital print because it’s limitless. You can do what you want, change from one scene to the next, and the fabric can be used again.”

The beauty of digital

Digital printing on fabric has become a natural business extension for Rose Brand in Secaucus, N.J., a major supplier of theatrical fabrics and production supplies for theater, film and special events. According to Peter Finder, vice president of sales and marketing, digital printing has become more popular with designers because they can digitally design their own backdrops. “Young designers who are computer savvy like to create their own art, and as they move to the forefront there will be more shows designed around images that are digitally printed.”

The price to print an image is sometimes less expensive than having a scenic artist paint it, and the results are often more beautiful, Finder says. Rose Brand is now doing a job for a major international production company that includes, among other soft goods, three different printing techniques on different fabrics. One uses dye sublimation on a satin to create a cartoonlike image of a curtain on the main curtain of the show. Another uses direct dye on a fabric that can be front and back lit while dark elements of the image remain opaque. The cyclorama of the show is a sky drop digitally airbrushed on natural muslin.

Fabric’s variety favored

Jim Cotton and Susanne Jansson of Better Mousetrap LLC, in Long Island City, N.Y., are experiencing a downturn in print projects in entertainment, but an uptick in requests for plain fabric. In addition to wide-format, dye sublimation printing, the company supplies fabric to entertainment fabricators and subcontracts with builders of tensile fabric structures to meet the needs of art directors and event planners. It generally works with spandex, poplin, chiffon, stretch material, mesh and polyester muslin—just about anything that has a matte finish, says Jansson.

The couple would like to see more “glitzy” fabric that can be printed on for live entertainment and stage productions, such as an organza or an open weave with silver or gold polyester threading to get more glimmer, adds Cotton. “Maybe a fabric base that contains phosphorescent so that it absorbs light or projects light in the dark.”

Rose Brand began developing fabrics with certain characteristics years ago, based on what the Broadway designers were looking for. More than the standard muslin and scrim that gets painted, they wanted silks, satins, translucent materials and metallics for use in their productions. Dazian is constantly working on developing fabrics that reflect current trends and customer needs, as well as keeping up with technical changes, especially in the print industry, says Moss. “I’ve noticed that printing is like the computer industry. It’s constantly changing and we diligently work at developing product to keep up with those changes,” she says. “With this industry, with all the technology out there, there’s still a need for realism. Realism is limited with computers. There will always be a need for fabric.”

Barb Ernster is a freelance writer based in Fridley, Minn.

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