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I'm interested in any techniques for making invisible thread invisible in platform and stage conditions other than by dimming the lights. Is lighting thrown up against the curtain helpful? What are helpful approaches you have found for using lighting for thread work of any kind? Thanks for the help on this.
Peter Loughran
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This is a complex question. It all depends on several factors. For example the type of IT plays a role, along with the background and lights, not to mention the distance between the IT and the audience. Some ITs are shinny some are dull. The lights as you said also play a factor. Never have direct light shinning on the IT, yet if the lights are dim then a black background can work well, but if the lights are bright then its best that you go with a 'Busy' background. The type of object can also affect the IT's visibility. I don't think there is one answer for this question, although you can find lots of literature on the subject, I find experimenting yourself will ultimatly create the best result for you and your perfroming situation.


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Thanks Peter,

That is a great start. Can you or anyone recommend some specific resources where this is covered? I have bought several books and/or videos which say they are going to cover lighting and I found the handling cursory. Specifically, I am interested in the subject of "backlighting." Does this mean throwing a wash up against the curtain and making the light behind the thread both indirect but strong?

I recognize the necessity of "experimenting myself and finding the best result for each performing situation" but it would be helpful to be armed with an arsenal of theory about the best lighting stragegies and I think the part of the equation that is potentially most promising and about which I understand the least is this subject of backlighting. I'd like to be able to do thread work with as little adjustment in lighting as possible. Ideally, perhaps move to the side of the stage or performing area where the light is no longer direct - and where maybe there is still a strong backlight so the audience does not realize as readily that you have moved to a
"dingier" lighting area to reduce visibility - it could appear that you were moving to a hitherto unused area for variety or to be closer to a section of the audience, etc. (This is, I take it, part of the reason that David Copperfield moved out into the audience area for presentation of the floating rose.

Under the guise of moving closer he actually was able to move to an area where the lighting could be carefully and less noticibly controlled.) I'd love good references to available literature.

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I used to perform a self contained version of the Don Wayne floating ball and always found that having a red tint to the stage lighting coming from the floor area helped in concealing the IT I used which was quite heavy duty
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Profile of Thoughtreader
If you are using black thread and have a black backdrop and the audience is more than several feet away you should have no problems. In fact, even if the backdrop isn't black (just not white) and they are a good distance from you, it will not be seen. Strobe light will help hide it with dimmed lights.

Make sure to avoid "over head" lighting that points down from directly above you. Use a blue gel and that too will help mask the thread. If you are using a nylon type thread, blacken it (use a permanent marker) every other inch, leave the other shiny. It will help mask that and then you can use either a flashy mylar type backdrop or a black one.

PSIncerely Yours,
Paul Alberstat
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I always have one of my crew, check for lighting and backgrounds while setting up for IT routines. Many times it's just my sound tech. He can give me ample feedback as to whether or not the IT can be seen, and from what distances and with what lighting effects look the best.

I have found, for the most part, that a solid BLACK background, is not the best background for stage IT work. A patterned or brocade(sp?) background works the best. Also, you must consider your floor. If you are performing on a stage, and the audience seats have a high rake, then you must backlight your floor as well. This way, when the people are looking down upon your performance, the backlit floor will help conceal the IT from their angle.

Usually, when you have lighting coming from the front of the IT, it is pretty much invisible... although, because the lighting is coming from the front, it is now
'backlit' for you... and you can see it perfectly (although they can't.) Just avoid AT ALL COSTS, lighting that is coming from directly ABOVE the IT... the audience will see it everytime!! Lighting coming from the front, in a dispersed or non-direct focus, will always be your best set-up.

Side lighting is not recommended, as it can help to flash the IT. You can mix dispersed lighting with that of a spot-light, as long as the dispersed lighting is fairly wide focus. In other words, the spot focus should be wide as well, which blends the two light sources together.

Hope this helps a little,
- - Troy

One thing I forgot...


If 'back lighting' your background, then you must also consider the distance between your IT and your background. It's difficult to tell you exactly what is the proper distance. As I mentioned earlier, I have a crew member help give feedback, when setting up and testing lighting for IT work.

- - Troy
"If you go around sprinkling Woofle Dust on everything... people will think 'My... What an odd character." www.magicmafia.com
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Although I would not consider myself an expert at thread work for the stage, let me share a few things. This is good for any dancing hank like ultimate dancing hank.

Probably the most important thing in making a thread invisible is to make the effect such that it does not suggest that a thread could be responsible for the effect. In other words to make the thread psychologically invisible.

Some effects scream out thread, even to the point that the effect even explains how the thread runs, where it is attached, etc. Even when not physically visible.

Assuming it is psychologically invisible, it also has to be physically invisible of course. The main thing which makes a thread visible is the fact that it shines. Even a dull thread does shine.

When constructing your routine, think of the thread as a chrome plated rod, a mirror so to speak. Now imagine the lights hitting this mirror surface, and bouncing off at the same angle, like light normally bounces off a mirror. This will show that a thread which goes from left wing to right wing is bound to reflect light into the eyes of the audience.

However, a thread which runs from the back to the front, will reflect the stage lights, which are in front, towards you and not into the audience. Meaning you will see the thread shine but not the audience (a slightly uncomfortable feeling, when you can clearly see the thread).

If you make a bunch of drawings of thread positions, audience eye positions
and light positions and how the light reflects, you will find out that as long as the thread points somewhere in between the source of light and the spectators eye, there will be no possibility for the reflection to hit the spectator's eye.

Try making the routine with the thread always in one of those 'safe' positions.

Of course a dull thread will also prevent reflection (although not as much as careful management of how and where the thread is). A good non-reflecting thread, is one which is used by eye doctors to sew lenses to eye's. It is a medical thread, which is woven silk or Polyester. A woven thread has more texture than a monofilament and that helps with avoiding reflections.

What I have here is called Perma, by Ethicon company. Kevlar is the strongest thread and is a dull black and does not shine and if your lighting is very controlled is a great

Walmart has button thread which is a dull black but is weaker than kevlar but works fine. As far as I know, these are the best threads for stage work. Very little shine. One can also work iodine into a thread by rubbing it in to make the thread very dull. Messy, but very effective.

If it is possible to stage things so that the thread is in shadow area's all the time, shadows may be resulting from your body, props etc., then of course very little reflection will result.

The above is about avoiding reflections which has a lot to do with the way your effect is managed.

However, one cannot always completely avoid reflections which may hit the audience's eye's. If reflections are to be there, the way to make them invisible is to BATH them in light. Meaning, NO black background!!

Finn Jon, an excellent thread worker once said that, stars in the sky are only visible at night, but they are also there at daytime, but then you cannot see them
because of the surrounding light. So have a light colored background and direct some lights on the background. They will bounce off, and any shine of the thread will not be visible because of this surrounding light. The shine will be there but will not be seen like the stars at daytime are not seen.

With a light, colored background, when a thread is visible, one can make it invisible by increasing the amount of lighting! May seem a contradiction, but it does work. With a dark background the battle is much harder and one has to end up almost in total darkness to make the thread invisible.

As far as color goes, black generally is not the best color. A dirty brown tends to be the best. But... the color is affected by the color of the stage lighting. Normal stage lighting is off white, yellowish. I have found a dark purple to be excellent, under normal stage light it ends up a dark dirty brown. What you want of course also depends on your background colors.

A thread which is mottled in color, all rather dark one's, is even better. The different colors tend to visually break the line in little pieces, also making it less visible. In the same sense will a mottled background help in hiding.

The thing about the red and white light, I am not sure but suspect the following. Most black thread is actually a very dark blue, has a blueish shine. Anything blue under blue light will tend to look white. So blue light may make 'black' thread more visible. Red and white (actually yellowish) makes for light which is slightly orange. A dark blue object under orange light seems more black.

This may explain the advice given in the Howard Thurston manuscript.

I hope this helps. I think the first and best thing to do is to make it psychologically invisible and further careful management of the thread to
avoid reflecting rays to come into the eye's of the audience. After that comes the actual lighting. I think it best to not depend too much on the actual stage lighting. Too often you cannot exactly get the lighting you would like to have.


Go watch David Copperfield, dancing tie, TV special. Watch as the assistant (joanie) walks in and out of the reflected light wash. Watch as she walks out of the wash and becomes dark like a shadow and then in to hand David a prop and the lights shine on her. Which means he's reflecting the lights off the syc drop.
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Profile of Wiseguy5009
I don't really think it matters. As long as your IT and back drop aren't totally different colors, it shouldn't make a difference. Though, I do suggest dimming the lights just a bit. It will give it more of a mysterious air to it. Although, if you leave the lights all the way on, then you will be showing the fact that you have nothing to hide. Just use dark IT and a dark back drop.
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