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Set Design: Techniques for Building Stage Backdrops

By: Kate Grimes

Every year, Destination Imagination teams from across the world show off their beautifully crafted props and backdrops at Global Finals. One of my roles at Global Finals is to take photos of these teams in action. I’m always amazed by the vibrant set designs and the imaginative worlds they create for their performances.

A well-designed and executed backdrop will establish the setting and mood of your team’s performance. Backdrops can highlight a team’s skills in design, construction, artistry, or the inclusion of technical devices. If your team is new to DI and has limited experience building set backdrops, we can help get your team started.

Before You Begin
  1. Quickly sketch your initial ideas. Sketching will help your team visualize different solutions and choose the best direction for your backdrop.
  2. Build a small-scale model before you work full scale.
  3. Choose materials that will fit within your Challenge budget.
  4. Note: Backdrops are not necessary for every Destination Imagination Challenge.
Three Techniques for Building Your Team’s Stage Backdrop

1. Standard Box Backdrop

One of the easiest ways to support a one-piece backdrop is to use a box as a support. The box needs to be big enough to support the backdrop, so the size of the box will depend on the height, width, and weight of the single sheet. This type of backdrop technique is great for an elementary team.

Standard Box Backdrop

2. Book Fold Backdrop

This simple design offers great opportunity for adaptation, and is usually easy to transport because it can fold flat. To build a basic two-piece backdrop design, create two panels, and then choose a hinge system. Your system can be as simple as a natural hinge (e.g., a fold in cardboard), or they can be more complex designs (e.g., a metal hinge).

Book Fold Backdrop

3. Scrolling Backdrop

Scrolling backdrops allow for quick scene changes, simulate movement and can employ vertical or horizontal scrolling. To build a scrolling backdrop, you’ll first need a frame support. The frame support should be made of a sturdy material such as wood or PVC. These materials will support the torque and tension of the moving scenes.

Scrolling Backdrop

In this example, the support frame is made from PVC pipes and connectors. The crankshafts will slide over the vertical poles on either side of the support frame, so choose a thinner PVC pipe for the support frame than the PVC pipe you will use for the crankshafts.

The crankshaft has the scrolling scenes attached to it. Whatever material you choose for your crankshaft, make sure it can spin when it is added to the support system. Next you’ll have to decide what scenery will be on the scroll. Your scenery should be made of flexible materials. You can use paper, fabric, shower curtain, plastic, or vinyl.

Carefully cut the end of the scrolling material so it is straight and securely attach it to the crankshaft. Roll the scenery on the crankshaft until all but a small bit is left. Then neatly, attach the loose end to the other crankshaft. Keep in mind that the whole system depends on the straightness of the scroll. Teams often mark the back of the scroll to indicate where to start and stop cranking for each scene change. In this example, either crank can move the scrolling backdrop forward or backward.

These are just a few techniques for building backdrops. We are currently sold out of our No Fuss Backdrops book. Please check back later.

Backdrops Book