Friday, October 9, 2009

The blood fountain

I'd hate to ever give the impression that I always know what I'm doing. Many times the difficult props require much more of a back and forth and a ton of tweaking, this is my best attempt to detail that process.

The idea is that in a scene in the chapel the alter starts to drip blood, the effect wanted to start quickly and be very big, but then not draw attention for the rest of the scene. The alter was upright (like you would find on one of the side walls of a church) and about 1'-0" deep. There is a curved piece of lauan at the top that created a space about 1'-0" high and 7" deep to mask my work.

The first part of the idea was always the same. A tube, that "T"s from either side of center full of holes and capped on each end. The blood would be pushed into the T fitting from the back, run through the tubes, out the holes, and run down the back wall of the alter.

My first plan to get the blood there was to use simple pressure and mechanical force. There would be someone behind the alter with a 2 Liter soda bottle full of blood. This would be connected by a hose to the T fitting. The person operating the effect would simply squeeze the bottle and the force would push the blood though the system. The first plan feel though though when the alter (and the curtain that was supposed to live just behind it) got moved 4' upstage. The space behind the alter was now too small to fit a person. This meant that the person controlling the blood would have to be below the stage. The tube would have to be significantly longer and my soda bottle would no longer hold enough blood to fill the entire length of tubing and make it out the top.

The solution we ended up using was a small fountain pump (purchased in the garden section at home depot). These garden pumps are relatively cheap, have a lot of muscle and, when fully submerged, make almost no noise. They are sold right alongside the tubing that fits them. We placed the blood supply in a paint can on the back of the unit, placed the pump into the blood, connected the pump to the T fitting, and ran the cord for the pump down though a small hole in the stage to an extension cord on the other side. The extension cord is then plugged into a surge protector. To make the blood go, all the assistant stage manager needs to do is flip the switch on the surge protector for 30 seconds.

This set-up was tested before the first preview and declared a success, but after watching that night from the back row, we had to make some changes. The 1/8" holes that I had drilled along the tubing were far too small. While the blood looked very cool up close, from the back of the house the thin lines of blood were almost invisible. We needed fewer bigger holes. I took the back off the alter, covered some of the holes with tape and redrilled other holes so they were almost 10x the size. I then turned the hose so that the holes were facing directly at the lauan back; this helped to spread out the stream of blood.

At the second preview the blood was much more visible and exciting, but after the show we discovered a new problem. The bigger streams of blood were messier, drips were hitting the cross on the wall, bouncing forward and not falling into the tub (made out of long thin planter boxes) at the bottom. I didn't want to make the tub bigger because it needed to be easy to remove and rinse out after every show. I ended up creating a run-off slide out of thin sheets of craft foam (available in sheets at any craft store) and duct tape. Any blood that splashed in front of the tub would land on the foam and slide back into the tub.

Most of these solutions were easy to do, but the trick to being successful with props is more in the willingness to do them, to never expect your first solution to be the final one, and to always be prepared to change your plans to adapt to new problems.

(Also I promise to provide a photo of the blood in action at some point.)

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