Stage Effect Help

Discuss your favorite platform magic and illusions.
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Joined: April 17th, 2009, 9:16 pm

Stage Effect Help

Postby NoahK » April 17th, 2009, 9:39 pm

Hello all,

I am currently working as tech director on a regional production of "Secret Garden" and the director wants a VERY difficult effect. In the opening scene, a young girl sits staring at a dollhouse which, without warning, bursts into flame and "burns down". The effect itself is a challenge, but it's the restraints that we're dealing with that makes this seem almost impossible.

The director doesn't want pyro around our young actress (so no flash paper/cotton/etc.), the dollhouse must be totally self contained (no wires, cords), and the dollhouse needs to be able to be picked up by a member of run crew. I have been brainstorming for a long while, but just can't seem to work this one out. I though my background in magic might help, but so far I am truly stumped.

My lighting designer says that in the worst case we can just point some moving lights at it and spin a fire gobo, which will look OK...But I can't help thinking that this is an awesome opportunity to do something more!

Anyone have any crazy ideas/suggestions/thoughts that might help lead me in the right direction?

Thank you SO MUCH,

Jonathan Townsend
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Re: Stage Effect Help

Postby Jonathan Townsend » April 17th, 2009, 9:41 pm

How do you feel about a flat screen upstage onto which is projected the table and dollhouse?

Getting clever using a scrim also seems workable but then you get into some lighting issues and angles/distance...

just a thought.

David Alexander
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Location: Aurora IL

Re: Stage Effect Help

Postby David Alexander » April 17th, 2009, 11:47 pm

You didn't mention a budget (always important) but Showscan could produce a short film that when projected would look like the real thing. When the Luxor opened in Vegas they had a couple of Showscan attractions and they looked quite real.

T Baxter
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Location: Canada

Re: Stage Effect Help

Postby T Baxter » April 18th, 2009, 6:28 pm

Your director wants a dollhouse to catch fire and burn down, but he wants no pyro. Typical.

You might be able to rig some lighting and a small fan in the dollhouse, with strips of redish-orange material,cut into uneven triangular points, and perhaps a small fogger. The fan and lights, with the flickering cloth material will look like flickering flames from the audience. The fogger may look like smoke added to the flames, although you'd have to experiment, because the fan for the material may disperse the fog too quickly.

Ask your director if he's more interested in smoke and blackening, or flames.

T. Baxter

Kent Wong
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Location: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Re: Stage Effect Help

Postby Kent Wong » May 28th, 2009, 12:49 am

Richard Sherry manufactures a dollhouse whose walls fall outwards during the production. This might fit your needs.


Dale Shrimpton
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Re: Stage Effect Help

Postby Dale Shrimpton » May 28th, 2009, 6:29 am

I would have smoke billow out of the house, and project the flames onto the smoke, fantasmagoria style.

id also have the house made in two sections, the back half of the house, being a charred duplicate of the front, so that at some point, it's turned around.
maybe have a turn table on the table to achieve this.

or, failing this have a burnt house made, over which you sit a perfectly lovely house shell.

have the shell atatched to a wire in the flies. in a semi black out, with a tightly focused light, you fly out the shell, leaving the burned house behind.

have the house constructed out of shim.

on the outside it looks nice and white, but on the inside surface, you paint the charred version of the house.

in the table, you have orange gelled birdys.
bring up the birdies, and down the stage lights, and the house melts from good, to burned.

Mr. Stickley
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Joined: March 14th, 2008, 7:05 pm

Re: Stage Effect Help

Postby Mr. Stickley » May 28th, 2009, 5:01 pm

Hi Noah,

Having worked in professional (regional and equity shows) theatre as a magic consultant, I have a little bit of experience (but DARN I WISH EVEN MORE - it's too fun!) in this realm.

Your situation reminds me of a very important lesson my directing professor Glenn Cassale (of Beauty and the Best, Peter Pan, Wayan's Bro.'s fame) drilled into my head several times when trying to pick his brain about magic as a part of live theatre - and that is... regardless of what spectacular effect WE AS MAGICIANS would like to implement, it is next to worthless if the tricks and technique become a "showstopper" and don't actively contribute to the story itself.

It's hard for us (at least me) as a magician to not want to create jaw dropping special effects and magic within a show. But we have to step back and realize that it's the telling of the STORY that needs to take complete precedence.

Keep this in mind when putting together your material for the show. Good luck - working on these things can be both a lot of fun, and a little frustrating.


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Location: Chicago

Re: Stage Effect Help

Postby Necromancer » May 28th, 2009, 6:41 pm

Hi Noah,

I might look into constructing a series of thin shells that telescope over one another and are held in place by wire rods from below. As one shell after the other slides down the exterior to settle with its bottom edge on the tabletop, irregular contours of the interior shells are revealed, with the topmost edges and other previously hidden portions painted to appear quite dark and sooty. Meanwhile, an interior smoke unit can be pumping away as fire-gelled lights play upon the smoke. This, combined with the slow crumbling of the house, could be very interesting to watch. The entire action would be controlled by a stagehand beneath the table, like a rod-puppet operator.

Best of luck,
Neil Tobin, Necromancer

Dale Shrimpton
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Re: Stage Effect Help

Postby Dale Shrimpton » May 29th, 2009, 6:40 am

You could construct a burnt house, which you cover with a light silk covering painted to look like the outside of the house.

the middle of this, ( the apex of the roof) is atatched to a pull, which goes into the table legs, via a central tube.

at a given cue, the pull is activated, and the silk covering is pulled into the house and table, leaving you a burnt out house.

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Re: Stage Effect Help

Postby opie » May 29th, 2009, 11:36 am

Start by rigging the house so that "flaming" ribbons, blown upward by a fan and supplemented with "flaming" lighting and sound effects. As the actress reacts to the flaming house, slowly close to blackout.

A quick replacement of the flaming house with a burned-out house could be made, with only a very-short blackout period....only a few seconds, with a good trained black-art crew.


james graham
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Location: shawnee ok

Re: Stage Effect Help

Postby james graham » May 6th, 2010, 7:08 pm

having done several theatre sets and knowing time constraints, the cloth and lights/charred turn around technique is probably the best option. there is also a website caled MTI shows that has props for rent. you may find some ready made ones there.

incidentally,there was a scene in an old movie where the house was built on an old indian graveyard. there was a three word sentence in the script that simply read, "the house implodes". thirty seconds of video was made using high speed cameras and sequential pulling of pieces by wire through a hole in the bottom of the model. it cost $250,000.00

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Richard Kaufman
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Favorite Magician: Theodore DeLand
Location: Washington DC

Re: Stage Effect Help

Postby Richard Kaufman » May 6th, 2010, 8:07 pm

James, I've sent you a private e-mail about this which you've ignored, but if you're going to post here, please use capital letters. It makes your posts easier to read.
Thank you.
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Ryan C. Reed
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Joined: June 7th, 2010, 4:12 am
Location: California

Re: Stage Effect Help

Postby Ryan C. Reed » June 7th, 2010, 4:21 am

I've designed and built A dollhouse Illusion recently. You can see this at (then click on portfolio - photos)

or from the builder

If still needed. I could custom design something wicked cool and functional for you. Keep me posted (if still needed)

Ryan C. Reed
owner / founder
Illusion Entertainment
Ryan C. Reed
owner / founder

Illusion Entertainment

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