How to Build a Cyc Wall
The word cyclorama is a variation of “panorama,” meaning “complete view,” but on a 360-degree circle. In modern photography, however, it’s been adapted to suggest a background that goes on forever. That’s why it’s also known as an Infinity Wall. Most likely, if you need to know how to build a cyc wall, you’re already a professional photographer, videographer, architect, contractor, or studio owner. Therefore, we’ve put this list together to help you figure out how much time and work to plan for.
1. Assess your walls
The first thing to consider when building a cyc wall is the surface of the walls you intend to use. If there are any protrusions, such as outlets or light fixtures, you’re going to need to remove those and patch the holes. If there are major protrusions, such as support columns, doorways, or window frames, you’ll have to start by putting up drywall — supported by studs — in front of them.
2. Determine the size of your cove
How big you make the cove of the cyc will affect how evenly and smoothly the light will fall on it. Essentially, the bigger the curve, the easier it is to light. We’ll be detailing how to build a cyc wall for full-body photography or video work, with three-foot curves, a 12-foot-high wall, and 18 feet of bare floor. If you’re going to do smaller-scale work, you might consider just buying a five-foot tabletop cyclorama (or hanging white seamless paper or a fabric green screen from c-stands).
3. Do your shopping
There are pre-made cyc forms you can buy and glue down, but if you are handy with a jigsaw, you can build it yourself for less money. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Trammel or yardstick
- Four or five 4×8 sheets of ¾” plywood*
- Approx. 100 feet of 1-inch dowels*
- Hammer or nail gun
- Box of nails
- Box of wood screws
- Liquid nails
- Seven 4×8 sheets of ¼” Masonite*
- Craft paper
- All-purpose drywall mud
- Topping drywall mud
- Electric sander
- White floor primer
- Flat white paint and/or chroma key green paint
*These quantities depend on how big and sturdy you build the cyc wall
4. Cut your wood forms
First, you’ll need to create curved, wooden beams for support that you can then duplicate. For a three-foot curve, you ought to be able to get four forms out of a 4×8 foot sheet of ¾” thick plywood. Decide how many forms you’ll need based on how long and high and how strong you want the cyclorama to be.
For the most part, you should not put any weight on the cyclorama curve. Accidents and awkward situations happen, though, so you should build it to easily support the weight of a person. If a light or c-stand falls on it, you may need to patch a hole. Spacing the forms every two feet will make the structure very strong, but for economy’s sake, spacing the wood forms every three feet will work too.
You can make the arc of a curve by pegging a trammel with a three-foot radius into your plywood, then attaching the jigsaw and cutting it. You might also get away with drawing the arc using a yardstick with a hole drilled through one end and a nail through it, then sanding down your hand jigsaw cut so that it’s a smooth curve. The arc doesn’t need to be precisely three feet. What’s important here is making all the forms exactly the same size. After you’ve made a master form you are happy with, trace it to make all the others you need.
5. Place your curves
Attach the wood forms to the wall by screwing one-inch dowels in along their back edges, and then screwing those into the wall behind them. For the vertical corner, install a horizontal curve just above the two closest floor-to-wall curves, so you create a triangle between the touching tips. Then, split this triangle with another wood form in the center, attaching dowels at the base and screwing them into the floor. After you’ve got all your wood forms spaced around the room, reinforce the curve with horizontal dowels about every eight inches.
6. Lay down the surface
The surface of a cyclorama is made from various materials, from fiberglass to plywood to slitted drywall. Here, we’re using two layers of 1/8” masonite, with the seams staggered.
First, nail a sheet of masonite up into the vertical corner, starting about six inches above the line of the floor-to-wall curves. Then, add liquid nails to all the wood forms and horizontal square dowels on the floor-to-wall curves, covering them with masonite so that the top edges touch the masonite already on the wall. Drive nails or screws through the temporary wooden dowels into the floor at the base of the masonite, until the glue is dry, so it doesn’t slide. For added strength, we recommend gluing a second layer of masonite down as well, cut so that the seams do not overlap with the first layer.
The triangular corner will still be exposed. Cut the craft paper into pizza-slice patterns that fill the gaps between the wood forms, then trace them onto sheets of masonite to cut and glue down in two layers. The intersections between the slices will have edges you will fill in with drywall mud after you prime it.
7. Apply the mud
If you decide to buy pre-fabricated cyclorama curves, you can skip all the steps before this one. Drywall mud will stick better to your walls and curves if they are coated with primer first. Then, at the rough edges, apply all-purpose drywall mud to attach drywall tape. As the mud dries, it will crack, and you will sand it to smooth it out and then apply additional coats. Topping compound drywall mud requires fewer coats because it’s stronger and less likely to crack, but all-purpose drywall mud is better for the first coat to attach the tape.
8. Paint the cyc wall
The last step is painting your new cyc. Tape off the edges above it on the wall and on the floor at least fifteen feet from your curve, so you’ve got clean lines when you’re done. Make sure your floor is perfectly clean. Then, apply white floor primer with paint rollers, starting with the top of the wall and working your way down.
After the primer dries you’ll be using flat paint so there’s no shine. Keep in mind that you’ll be re-painting the cyclorama regularly, so you want to find a flat white paint you can easily get your hands on.
For painting a green screen, the industry standard is Roscoe 5711 Chroma Key Green. If you’re not near an industry supplier, you might see if your local hardware store will stock it. They may be able to get their hands on it at a reduced rate.
You can blast the cyc with light stands positioned outside of the frame, but the easiest position to light from is the ceiling, so you’ll probably want to look into how to build an overhead lighting grid. If you’re planning to record video, you will also want to pad all the walls outside the border of your cyc with black soundproofing to record sound without echoes or outside noise. And if you’re planning to work with traditional, tungsten-based lights, you will most likely want to install an industrial-sized AC in the ceiling with an easily accessible switch or remote control, so you can turn it off for silence when you need it.