DIY Stage Design Overview
The overall design for this DIY stage design is 35 feet by 9 feet. It consists of 22 triangular frames with LED rope facing inward. Each of the 22 triangles are individually controllable via DMX and can be whatever color you want. The structure is controlled over DMX from a pc running a free software called QLC+. This software allows the triangles to be set up in an LED matrix which in turn enables color patterns and gradients to be animated across the entire pyramid.
I was recently tasked with creating a new stage design for an upcoming series for which I was also designing the look of. This series was called “Ascend – A long obedience in the same direction.” The pastor wanted the concept of the design to somehow express traveling up a path.
For a long time, I had wanted to create a large stage design with light boxes or frames. I decided I was going to create that effect with this series. So, keeping in line with the series’ aesthetic I thought that a triangle would be a good shape to use and they are much sturdier than a square. If you don’t properly support the corners of a square it will skew and well, not look square anymore. Another reason a triangle is such a good shape for a lightbox is that each side the light is coming from is closer to the center of the shape, therefore you can achieve a brighter, truer color.
I started my design process in Adobe Illustrator with a document the width of the church stage (scaled to inches) and the hight of the truss I was going to hang the triangles from. Then I used guides to break the space up into rows and columns to figure out the right aspect ratio for the triangles. I was trying to make the triangles and overall design as big as I could while considering these factors:
- Lumber use (getting the most out of each board)
- Surface Area (having the triangles small enough to still be bright)
- DMX Control (number of triangles that will need to be controlled)
- Keeping a nice grid for color animations
- Good Design
With the rows and columns figured out, I drew the first triangle, copied it and scaled it up to fill all the available space. I used the larger triangle as a guide to place the other triangles to form the larger shape. I moved things around a lot adding and taking away triangles until I ended up with the above design.
After I had the design and layout, I brought it into Google Sketchup to create plans with real-world measurements and figure out more of the details like how much wood, fabric, wire, LED strips I needed, and how I was going to actually pull it off. I planned on using 1×3 boards to build the triangles. (I ended up getting 1x6s I think, and ripping them down to a little less than 1×3) Also, I used a thin white fabric and white paneling that seemed like it was made from mdf with a whiteboard-like finish on the front. I wanted the insides to be white so that light would bounce around inside making it as bright and colorful as possible. This also diffused the light making it softer as well.
- Ripped the boards down to 1x3ish
- Cut the boards to length for each side of the triangles (Two sides were identical)
- Mitered the respective angles on each end of the boards so they fit together to make a perfect triangle
- Cut a 45° angle on the front edge of the boards with the table saw
- Routed out a channel between the 45° front edge and the back edge
- Glued and shot a nail into each edge connection
- Painted the frames white
- Cut out and stabled white fabric to the frames
- Soldered connectors to LED strips
- Glued LED strips into routed channels
- Cut out triangular backs from the white paneling
- Skrewed on backs leaving the connector hanging out
45° Angled Front
I came up with the idea to cut a 45° angle on the front edge of the frames because of my pastor’s perception of the project. The triangles were designed to be reusable. I told the pastor this and he said: “Oh cool, we could put two of them together and make a square.” Which made me realize since the frames were going to be made from 1 by, if you put two together there would be a2-inch thick dark line running through the middle of the square. After a few moments of panicked disappointment, I thought of cutting the 45 so that light could shine edge to edge. I think it made them look even cooler regardless of if we put two together or not.
I tried to find a cheap translucent fabric that would let the most amount of light through while also not revealing the LEDs themselves. With no clue what to get, I went to a fabric store and held the cheapest fabrics up to the light to see which would work. I made a pattern from the triangles and added three or four inches to each side so the fabric could wrap all the way to the back. Making sure to leave enough extra to pull it tight as I stapled it to the frame. This took some trial and error to figure out how to do it properly. I think I was able to make it turn out nicely though. There were some wrinkles but these weren’t visible when the lights were on.
To help make the triangles reusable/reconfigurable I added a connector to each triangle. This made it so much easier to build the big pyramid. I don’t know how I could have done it without them easily disconnecting from the main shape. This also proved indispensable when needing to repair some of the triangles when the LEDs came unglued. It was a lot of extra work, but again, I think it’s a must!
I spit the triangles up into 3 groups for control purposes and so that they would be easier to hang from the truss. The DMX decoder I used can control up to 8 LED strips. The two structures on each side are made up of 7 triangles, and the middle consisted of the full 8. Each structure had it’s own decoder and 30 amp power supply.
Once I built all of the triangles, I laid them out one row at a time and attached them to boards. I then connected those rows with more wood creating the different levels of the bigger pyramid. Looking back I would have used kindorf which is a sturdy metal material. The wood bowed with the weight of the triangles, and the wood wasn’t completely straight, to begin with.
DMX Decoder & Power Supply
A DMX Decoder takes a DMX lighting signal and converts it into a signal the LED strips can understand. Basic decoders only allow you to control one strip, they have three channels, a red, green and blue. The decoder I used, as I mentioned before, controls up to eight separate strips (24 Channels vs 3). This means you can have eight totally different colors being controlled from the single box. The decoder gets an address from 001-512 depending on how other lights in your system are addressed. Let’s say the address is “001”. So the next decoder would be addressed “025” leaving a 24ch gap. But that’s a little more in-depth than this article goes.
To choose the right power supply you need to know the voltage the strips operate at, and how many watts per foot they consume. The strips I used run 12v at 5amps for a 16.4ft. Each triangle only used half a strip so that’s 12v at 2.5 amps. The middle structure has 8 triangles on it so it needs a power supply with 20 amps or 240 watts. So my power supply was rated for 12v at up to 30 amps or 360 watts. The power supply wattage should be greater than your need.
- •Spray Paint
- •White Cotton Fabric
- •White Paneling
- Table saw
- Miter saw
- soldering Iron
- Wire Strippers
- Screw Driver
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions ask them in the comments. If you liked the post please share it on the web!