Busy week. Wrapped up yet another sketch for a University project Monday/Tuesday, did three images today for a project at Boston College, and I’m headed to Martha’s Vineyard tomorrow to scout a property for a large format formal watercolor. Before I leave, thought I’d update the blog with a project from about a year ago. There are three images in this series, but I think for now it’ll do to just deal with the interior.
The Modern Theatre opened in 1914, and was the first theater in the country with a dedicated sound system for projecting talkies. It’s also the home of the “Double Feature”. After years of lying empty and unused, it’s now being renovated by Suffolk University, which owns the building. A tower is being constructed on site to house 200 students of the university, and the original exterior is being restored. Over the years, the interior has suffered many indignities, and there is nothing remaining that is salvageable. In the gutted volume, a new 185 seat theater is being built, and the lobby will double as a gallery for local artists.
Since the interior was to be all new, there were no photographs to work from. Essentially the only information was a conceptual plan provided by the architect (a preliminary study), and a couple paragraphs describing the lighting system. It’s a fairly common scenario: do a concept rendering of a space before it is finished, so that if it isn’t feasible, the client won’t have spent a lot of money developing the idea. Only problem is there’s not much to work from in order to do the rendering itself.
Here’s a plan (at bottom) and a longitudinal section (top). Martin Vinik was the theater planner. The architect for the entire project was CBT Childs Bertman Tseckares Inc, of Boston.
I made a quick model using the plan as a texture on the floor, so that I could build the elements to scale without much fuss or thought. No need to build anything that won’t be seen from the stage (which is where I wanted to take the view from), and no need at all to build the rest of the building. Nothing but the volume of the theater and the balconies, stage, light rigs and catwalks.
My gut feeling in this case was to try to avoid the idea that a theater view must always show the point of view as if it is taken from the house. You’ll often see a rendering of a new theater taken from the farthest seat in the house, with a very wide angle lens, in an effort to show the entire house. This tends to distort the space and lay it wide open, splayed and out of normal perspective. The near seats look mammoth and the stage looks distant and minuscule. Not good.
Rather than play that game, I went straight for the stage. I had the idea that I’d show the house and seats from the performer’s perspective. Since the performer is visible from every seat, it goes without saying that the performer will be able to see the entire space. If I showed the crowd filing in prior to the performance, I could even turn up the house lights and manage to show the space in its entirety. One or two tries with the camera, and I settled on the view to be developed (below).
I sprinkled in some lights and jacked them up to provide the requisite glare. Part of the challenge was to yet again show something without showing anything too specific. Standard marching order. Glare helped a bit to camouflage some areas and hide them from direct view, because we didn’t quite know what many of the details would be. Here’s a test render, done with an eye to create some interesting lighting and shadows
I sketched out a quick composition test to run by the architect. This was painted directly onto the test rendering, and anything in this image that isn’t in the one above is simply paint. Well, digital paint, anyway.
I worked with Adrian LeBuffe as the project architect for CBT, and though I got the thumbs-up to proceed, he also provided some additional information about a need for acoustic panels, and clarified some points about lighting. He also gave me leeway to develop the image in a way that was a little more visually interesting than typical digital renderings.
From the composition study, I realized that rather than a vague pair of chairs, the image needed to feel more concretely associated with the unseen performer. I swapped out the ambiguous pair of chairs for a solo stool and microphone, sitting center stage on simple carpet. That little tweak made the image, to me, more visceral and a little more believable.
Looking at the composition study, you can see that it almost feels as though the stage is in one world, and the house is in another. The frame of the proscenium and curtains making it feel like we looking through into a television. I needed a way to bring the two spaces together, making them feel more intimately intertwined. The visible lighting was a device that accomplished this for me, and allowed me to better organize the composition around competing diagonals. As for color, the palette is basically all blue/orange.
There is an “ground” or a base texture of varied random strokes, which help break down edges and detail, and help to present the image as more sketchy and less finished. The texture isn’t there to replicate brush strokes of paint, but is more intended to act like the textured coats of gesso did on raw canvas prior to receiving paint, it provides an interesting surface to work on.
I wanted to continue a motif that I’d started with the two exterior images. In all three images there are couples who are engaged in their own personal dramas. In the image below, we have the self-styled urban hipsters headed toward the front row. In the middle-left is a couple at odds. He’s checking his watch, and she’s leaning away, feigning interest in something that isn’t even there.
Some other similar minor moves are sprinkled around the image, but all are far enough away to not take away from the stool at foreground left, which was my supporting player in the composition. The star is the theater space itself.