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Lights, Camera, Action

Digital Designs Movie Sets

By Melissa Donovan

A glamorous look into filmmaking is something that many print production facilities find themselves in on a daily basis. While we may ogle at stars, plotlines, and dialogue in a movie; none of this would be possible without extravagant set pieces designed for multiple film scenes.


Many times, actual locations are used to save on costs and give a boost to a local economy. Printed signage may be required to create fictitious places. In other instances, back lots use scenery crafted from hand or designed with the help of a digital printer. This method is cost effective, as the print will only be used once and the color gamut is ideal for high-quality backdrops. 


Printing Movie Magic

SagaBoy Productions, based in Santa Monica, CA, is one company creating movie set graphics. In business since 1997, the one man operation designs visual graphics for films and generally prints and produces about 99 percent of the job. Martin T. Charles, graphic designer, SagaBoy, has worked on countless full-length feature films. Of note are The Avengers, Charlie Wilson’s War, Date Night, Frost/Nixon, Leatherheads, and Public Enemies.


Most recently, he collaborated with Tom Hanks for Larry Crowne, which was co-written and directed by Hanks and opened in theaters on July 1, 2011. In the movie, Hanks plays a star employee at a big box store which is downsized. He decides to start over by enrolling in a local college, where he meets his professor, Mercedes Tainot, played by Julia Roberts.


Charles relies on SOLJET PRO III XC-540 and VersaCAMM VS-640 printers from Roland DGA Corporation for printing in his space of 400 square feet. He became familiar with the printers in 2005 when a need to print and cut vinyl for race boats in the Miami Vice movie arose.


“To design a graphic that could be printed and contour cut in one continuous motion was the beginning of a new experience,” comments Charles.


Movies are made quickly and that requires SagaBoy to design and output sets and props at a fast pace. Charles says project timelines generally range from three to six months on average. To keep up with demand he credits his Roland printers. “I know their capabilities and it cuts down on the guesswork, making me more efficient,” he adds.


Designing a Film Set

For Larry Crowne, Charles spent two months producing his first test graphic and then another two were needed to complete all of the graphics for the movie. In total, 12 to 15 graphics were created, ranging from 18x24-inch signage to a 40x16-foot billboard, and a 60x12-foot wall mural.


Sets included a community college classroom, a corner building façade, and backlit graphics for a restaurant. Media ranged from wallpaper, clear and white static cling, adhesive matte vinyl, adhesive backlit fabric, backlit film, vinyl banner, and silk fabrics—all printed on the Roland SOLJET PRO III XC-540.


“Choosing and testing the print materials is important. That is one of the reasons I use Roland media—it is profiled for the printer, which saves time and ensures top-quality results,” explains Charles.


In the movies, real life fixtures and objects are sometimes hidden to create a fictional setting. For the design on the façade of a corner building, a newly opened boutique needed to be depicted. Using removable adhesive fabric, Charles printed a photographed image of the building’s stucco and manipulated it to resemble an Italian Piranesi etching. This was applied to the wall and later uninstalled without damaging the building’s exterior.


The backlit graphics found in the restaurant scene were another challenge. Covering a 20-foot glass wall, Charles used the same removable fabric found in the building façade, which allowed for visible images when the fabric was backlit. A second mirrored wall was covered in sheer white static cling and a window covered in removable fabric as well. These areas all contained a specific café logo which had to match across all materials. Using the SOLJET PRO III XC-540, Charles was able to precisely match the colors.


Lights, Camera, Action

With the assistance of his Roland digital printers, Charles is able to effortlessly create scenery for some of the biggest productions. With his busy schedule, the newly acquired VersaCAMM VS-640 has yet to be fully utilized, but Charles looks forward to mastering both the metallic and white ink features the device offers. Digital’s continue advancement allows SagaBoy to offer movie producers high-quality representations of real locations or fictitious places in an efficient, cost-effective manner.


Oct2011, Digital Output

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