What does Pro Cyc’s patent cover and why is it important?

In the simplest of terms, Pro Cyc’s patent covers the use of a “non-parabolic” corner system in which the vertical radius (the distance of the transition from the vertical wall to the floor) differs from the horizontal radius (the distance of the transition between the two walls that meet in the corner). This is absolutely critical and gives Pro Cyc systems a HUGE advantage over traditional parabolic corner transitions in which the vertical and horizontal radii are the same (Pro Cyc’s “expanded corner” configurations take full advantage of this ability). Non-parabolic corners are much better for both sound dispersion AND light distribution. Parabolic corners tend to bounce sound directly out of the corner which can cause significant problems when shooting video and capturing audio in your studio. Furthermore, a non-parabolic corner allows for a wider and more “seamless” transition in the corner, enabling overall softer and smoother lighting on the background. This is absolutely critical since one of the main benefits of having a cyclorama studio with one or more corners is being able to position your talent directly in front of the the corner and have the ability to shoot from multiple camera angles without fear of shooting off either side. Having a perfectly seamless and well-lit corner transition makes shooting into the corner so much more effortless, and will ultimately lead to a better key when shooting against a green screen.

How big a cyc (or cove) do I need?

It really depends on what you are shooting against the cyc background. If you are shooting small products, you only need to cover the area that is included in the camera’s field of view. If you are taking photos or shooting video of small objects like toys or books, you may only need a tabletop lightbox and can do what you need to with a very small radius. At the other extreme, you may be shooting very large products like furniture, cars or even trucks. For this type of work, you will want as large a radius as is practical with the space you have available. The best cyc for shooting large products like that would be our 5′ radius system Super 5EZ.

In the way of further explanation, the farther the lens is from the product in relation to the background, and the more area that is included in the background, the larger the radius you need. You need the larger radius because you do not want to see a shadow line that will tell the viewer where the floor ends and the wall begins, or where the corner is. Another factor in deciding how big a radius you need for your cyc is the type of lighting you plan to use. Smaller radius Cycs are fine if you generally shoot with full technical lighting. If, however, you will be using mood or graded light, you may need to consider going with a larger radius.

I have a small space, so shouldn’t I use one of your smaller radius systems?

That is actually a common misconception. The size of the cove radius you should use is best determined by what you will be shooting against the Pro Cyc background, not by the size of your room. Our System 1.5 has an 18″ radius, but it was not originally designed for small studio spaces. Rather, it was designed specifically for the Orad Cyberset system that used Pattern Recognition Technology, which required a small cove radius. In normal shooting, unless you are blazing the subject with full technical lighting or are shooting very small objects, you will see a shadow line where the wall meets the floor or in the corner when using such a small radius.

Consider this: if you are shooting talent or a product, against any background, you will almost always have that talent placed at least 3-5 feet from the wall, because you don’t want your lighting to cast a shadow on the wall. If you use Pro Cyc System 3 EZ, Super 3EZ or any of our System 4 modules, you can put the product at the beginning of the curve and still be 42″ from the wall. If you use System Super 5EZ, your subject can stand at the very beginning of the cove and your subject will be 5 feet from the wall! One more thing: smaller does not necessarily mean cheaper. The price is roughly the same per linear foot for System 1.5 EZ as it is for System 3 EZ. One has a radius of 18″ and the other has a radius of 42″.

Always keep in mind this simple rule: the larger the radius, the easier it is to light!

What is a ‘radius’?

A radius is technically half the diameter of a circle. In cyc terms, it is the straight-line horizontal or vertical distance from one connection point of the cyc module to the wall or floor to the other connection point. Because the desired effect of a cyc background is to obscure the floor to wall, wall to wall, or wall to ceiling intersection, you need to have a quarter of a circle or radius connecting them. It NEEDS to be as perfect as possible so that shadows don’t show up when you are lighting the object(s). For example if you use paper or cloth, you cannot hold a true radius and imperfections in that radius will show unless you blast it with light. The larger the radius the farther back you can go and the more area you can have in your field of vision without the curve or radius showing up. In addition, the larger the radius, the less the amount of light required to obscure the curve of the cyc.

For a quick visual aid, imagine a 1 or 2 inch radius (you can demonstrate this with a curved piece of paper). How far back can you view the area before you see the curvature? Now use the full sheet of paper to form the curve. As you can see, you can be further back before you see the shadow line caused by the radius.

How do I determine whether or not I should get a Freestanding System?

Ahhh…this is an important aspect to consider when choosing the right system for you. Let’s start off by saying that if you already have existing walls that you can use, built-in systems are generally less expensive. If your walls are straight, then it is very simple and cost effective to add Pro Cyc to the walls and create a professional cyclorama.

However, as you consider how you will be using your cyc on a regular basis, you may have some special needs that would be best served by a free standing cyc. You will want to consider a free standing cyc when:

  • you need new walls, or your current walls are not straight
  • you need to use space behind the cyc for storage, grip work, or hallway access
  • you will need to move the cyc at some point in the future, or if lease restrictions will not allow you to build into the existing walls
  • you want to move the cyc periodically, or even daily
  • you are doing motion picture work [for motion picture work, we have just engineered a free standing system for System 5 (max. height – 29 feet). Please contact us for more details)
  • in some areas it will be less expensive to use one of our free standing systems than to hire contractors to install one of our built-in systems (this is more common than you might suspect). Please call us for a comparison quote.
How do I know if I need to use a corner?

Again, it really depends on what you are going to be using your cyc for. If you are always shooting your subject straight on, you probably do not need a corner – one straight wall should be sufficient. But if you are going to shoot from several angles, or if your subject moves (such as in fashion photography or videos), then you should consider either a longer wall with lots of lights, or more likely a corner. The biggest advantage of a corner and incorporating two walls is that you and your subject have more flexibility to move around and still stay within your infinity background. REMEMBER, the field of vision of your lens must always be considered; if you are shooting in a corner one or both walls are projecting towards you, which means it covers the camera’s field of view sooner.

What if I just need a corner module – can I just buy that?

No. We used to sell corners individually, but almost every person who bought one had problems properly matching the corner up with the other coves on a home-made cyc. Even though they are expensive relative to straight coves, they are very expensive to manufacture, and we actually make very little money on corners. They are basically a loss leader.

Wouldn’t it be cheaper to make our cyc out of wood and plaster?

We love this question! Basically, that would be like using a homemade camera; it might be cheaper on the front end, but the results will more than likely be sub-par (and that is an understatement). When weighing total cost, don’t forget to consider what your time is worth (consider that closely before answering). It takes far longer to construct a cyc out of typical construction materials than to assemble a made-to-order Pro Cyc system. Believe us – we’ve been there! (see About Pro Cyc to read more about our early days…and mistakes).

In most cases, buying and installing a Pro Cyc system is less expensive than hiring a skilled carpenter to make one by hand. We are frequently told this exact thing by those who have thought they could get it done cheaper by hiring out “skilled” carpenters. Moreover, the end result will be far superior by using Pro Cyc; all Pro Cyc parts are formed on precision molds and each individual part is shaped to exact measurements in order to match every other part in the system. What’s more, Pro Cyc studios can be used, moved, and re-installed as often as you move or change your mind, and the parts are virtually indestructible. Another bonus is that all Pro Cyc cove modules are recyclable.

If you think we are biased (of course we are), just ask around in your trade. It is rife with war stories about the ‘cyc from hell’ that was warped, fell apart, was stepped through, melted when it got damp or wet, or far exceeded the original cost estimate. Usually it is a combination of those. And that doesn’t even take into consideration maintenance, which is basically zero with a Pro Cyc system.

Another potential factor to consider is that the cost to build your studio can be either a capital expense (Pro Cyc), or a materials cost (standard construction). A capital expense can be depreciated over time on your taxes (thank you to our CPA firm for that little tidbit).

Can Pro Cyc systems be built outdoors or on location?

Yes! One of the beauties of Pro Cyc is that water, normal temperatures and sunlight do not hurt it (please note the word “normal” – extreme amounts of any of the above will harm anything). As long as you have a relatively flat area, you can put up Pro Cyc just about anywhere. We recently set up a system in a rock quarry for a heavy equipment photo shoot! With proper treatment, you can even have it underwater. If you have special needs that you are unsure about, please talk to us. Remember, it is also re-useable! Whether freestanding or built-in, you can use your Pro Cyc studio over, and over, and over. The original Pro Cyc studio (a System 5 in downtown Portland) is still frequently used as a rental studio. It has over 400 coats of paint on it’s surface, and still looks as smooth and even as the day it was installed!

How do you ship your Pro Cyc systems?

VERY CAREFULLY.  A special shipping crate is custom built for each order. It is just big enough to hold exactly what you ordered. We do this to save you money on shipping. Too large a crate results in a higher shipping cost. Many shipments costs are determined by DIMS. DIMS are the dimensions: (length x width x height = cubic inches = cost to ship.) Also, sometimes it is actually cheaper to ship by air. When you order your system, we will work out the most cost effective shipping method for you.

You may also choose the option to arrange your own shipping, or if you are feeling adventurous, you may also pick up your order at the factory to avoid all shipping costs. A vacation to the Northwest is not a bad idea during the summer months, and if you combine your vacation with picking up your order, you just might be able to deduct many of your travel expenses!

You mention Pro Cyc conquers inconsistencies in painting and corners – how does the Pro Cyc material stand out as a surface for receiving the paint and maintaining color integrity?

Chroma keying (also referred to as “matting”) is a process that enables the camera and computer to remove the background whenever the camera “sees” the encoded color that is being used for the matte. For example, if you have selected chroma key green as the background color, whenever the camera sees that green, it mattes it out and selects that area to be blank. The computer then adds the desired background into that “blank” area. To achieve the best results, the painted green background must be even and consistent in color, or the matted area will have streaks and inconsistencies. In other words the background must be smooth and even. The lighting also must be even and not have light or dark areas.

Even worse than lighting or painting inconsistencies are corners. Walls meeting other walls or floors make it impossible to provide a smooth, even background. This is where Pro Cyc comes in. Our products provide smooth, seamless transitions which, when properly lit and painted, give a smooth and completely seamless background which render the horizontal and vertical transitions invisible to the camera. It becomes impossible to tell where the wall ends and the floor begins, and where one wall intersects another. Some studios even cove the ceilings.

Almost any evening you are watching TV, you are at some point watching Pro Cyc. In addition to being heavily favored for chroma key applications, our systems also get painted white to provide an “infinity” background, which is why we introduced Cyclorama White Studio Paint. White cycs are often used in automobile as well as clothing commercials, just to name a few. Please refer to our extensive user portfolio for a list of some of the many companies that use Pro Cyc; you will certainly recognize some names of companies whose ads you have seen using a Pro Cyc studio that has been painted white or grey.

Can foot prints be cleaned off of the painted surface? If so what do you use?

Unfortunately when you wash off or otherwise remove footprints etc. from painted surfaces, a mark is left where the area was cleaned. It is not too big a problem on coves and walls because they do not get marked up as much the floor. The only proven method known is to repaint the entire surface that was marked. Unfortunately that means the entire cyc and wall would need to be repainted.  If your floor is painted, then you need to repaint the entire floor, walls and cyc to have a good undetectable surface. Sometimes, if you have the same batch of paint, you can get away with just repainting the floor if that is the area that was marked.

That is why we developed Pro Matte™ Virtual Green™ Flooring.  Pro Matte™ is an impact-modified plastic flooring that complements Pro Cyc’s Virtual Green™ Paint and Primer System. When our flooring gets dirty, you simply wash it clean with soap and water or a cleaner such as “Fantastik®”. The flooring can be cleaned daily or even after each use.

Why are the seams on my cyc starting to crack?

While this is not a common occurence, there are several factors that could contribute to cracking at the seams where you have joined to cyc pieces together. The following list of helpful tips should help you fix and avoid this problem in the future:

  • Do not cap off the ends of the cyc unless you install vents on the end caps. This is because it is important to keep the temperature in front of and behind the cyc the same. If your cyc is installed against an exterior wall, the temperature of the cyc can become quite a bit warmer or cooler depending upon the outside temperature relative to the inside temperature. Our systems do not come with end caps because without them there is a built-in natural air flow allowing the cooler air in at the base while the warmer air is allowed to escape through the top of the corner.
  • Make sure the joint area has been made very rough before taping and mudding. This allows for better adhesion. In addition, make sure to clean the rouged area thoroughly before applying tape and mud.
  • Use only fiberglass mesh adhesive tape. Paper tape is more prone to air bubbles, whereas fiber tape allows the mud to completely fill the void.
  • Use only 90-minute or 40 minute mud. Do not use the “easy sand” variety. “Easy sand” varieties have very low tacking qualities.
  • Allow each coat of mud to dry thoroughly before applying the next coat. Because Pro Cyc is made of high-impact ABS plastic which is non-porous, all moisture has to come out from the front surface and will not dry from the back. All coats of paint must also be thoroughly dry before applying subsequent coats for precisely the same reason. if the cyc has not dried thoroughly, cracking may occur after a month or so because the moisture has finally evaporated out the front. If you feel that may be the case, I recommend that you sand the cracks down a little bit and apply regular sheet rock mud into the cracked areas. After the mud has dried simply, then simply prime and paint. (Note: if you look under our ‘helpful hints’ area on our web page, you will find that this is an occasional maintenance issue that is entirely normal. This is especially true on new buildings that may be settling or in areas where small earthquakes occur).
What’s the best way to eliminate cracking at the joints?

There are several things you can do to minimize or completely eliminate cracking in Pro Cyc joints. If you follow each of the following suggestions, your joints will be extrememly tight, smooth, and durable. Believe me, a lot of trial and error has gone into this, so be wise and follow these instructions:

  • Grind the edges before bolting modules together
  • Bolt the joints together as close to the face of the cyc module(s) as possible
  • Create a very rough grind to the surface where joint mud goes
  • Use bonding agent in joint area: This helps mud bond to the cyc module
  • Use Hamilton 90-minute or Durabond 90-minute sheetrock joint compound for the first two coats of mud. DO NOT USE EASY SAND” OR ”LIGHT” VARIETIES
  • Let dry 24 hours between each coat
  • On the top coat (third coat), use topping mud or regular wallboard compound
  • At the floor, use spray foam insulation being very careful not to use too much as it will cause the cyc to buckle OR, we prefer sweeping dry mortar mix several inches behind the floor modules and then misting the backside for hardening.
How important are the steps in the instruction manual? Do I have to follow them exactly?

No, it isn’t absolutely critical to follow the instructions to the letter, but if you don’t your cyc won’t turn out as good as it could be. The manuals were written and re-written after many, many installations and refined whenever possible. They were not written by some pencil pusher in a back room, but by on-the-job contractors. Therefore, each step is critical.

When you decide to order a particular system, go to our web-site and download and print the schematics and installation instructions, which are both in PDF format on each product page. Show them to your installers, and make sure they understand what you want and what we want. DON’T LET THEM TAKE SHORTCUTS! No, they don’t know best. WE DO! And please don’t hesitate to contact us at any time. We WANT you to phone us all through the installation process if you have questions. We are here to help and to help insure that your studio is as perfect as possible. Feel free to make as many copies as you want, for you, your contractor, your boss, your mother, your dog, or whoever might help you in building your cyc.

Will we need a lot of special tools to install our cyc?

No. Pro Cyc was specifically designed to be ultra easy to install and require as few tools as possible. In fact, our System 4QS requires only two different size wrenches, a drift pin or Phillips screwdriver, and a mud knife and sandpaper. Our built-in systems will require basic carpentry tools as well. The most specialized tool needed for our built-in systems is what is called a “roto-hammer, ” which is basically a vibrating drill. In fact, many standard drills have that feature built into them. They are used to drill through Pro Cyc into concrete. If your floor is wood, you won’t need one.

Is maintaining a cyc difficult?

Actually, a properly installed cyc requires almost no maintenance! It can be painted as often as you need. The floor area of the cyc requires by far the most upkeep. For this reason, I highly recommend taping or wrapping anything that rests or rolls around on the floor to avoid unwanted marks. I also suggest that plastic be on the floor when moving autos, furniture, or other large equipment around prior to shooting. For people traffic around the cyc, I also recommend that every person on the set wear a set of disposable surgical booties over their shoes. It may seem a bit strange at first, but it will significantly improve the wear on your floor!

Why are there no prices for Pro Cyc parts on your website? How much are the parts, and why can’t I just order them from your website?

We used to post prices on our website, but we found that most people didn’t really understand what they needed and therefore usually either thought they needed more than they did, or they ordered the wrong system. That’s why the best way to get prices is to use our Get a FREE Quote form and we will give you a no-obligation quote on the best system for your needs. This will ensure that the studio is as low-priced as possible in your situation. In that quote the individual prices of all the parts will be listed.

One common assumption is that a smaller radius means a lower price – this is not necessarily true. Additionally, a corner isn’t always the cheapest way to go, and a built-in system is not necessarily less costly than a freestanding system. There are a lot of factors to consider and we want your studio to be as perfect as possible. We also want you to be happy enough to recommend us to other professionals in your field. When you do that, we know we’re doing it right.

I have an existing wall made of drywall and a concrete floor. I would like to attach the cove only running 16′ with no corner.

What you have described is exactly what our System 3EZ is designed for.

First things first: make sure that the wall you are attaching the system to is not an outside wall. If it is, make sure that the wall is wellinsulated. This is to prevent cracking due to the temperature difference between the room and the back on the cove. If there is a problem, you might want to put a small fan at one end of the cove that will move the air through to the other end. You should not block either end of the cyc from the free movement of air. Failure to do this may cause small cracks to appear at the seams.

Having said that, I would venture to say that you should be able to completely install your system, (4 pieces of 4′ System 3EZ  cove sections within the first day).  You simply install the wood strip as per the instructions, sand and attach all the parts together, tip it up to the wall and attach them with sheet rock screws along your chalk line. Then, drill through the holes into the floor and secure with concrete screws. Finish by placing a dry mortar mix to the area where the cove meets the floor.

To finish the cove, tape and mud the joints as well as the area the cove meets the wall and where it meets the floor. Use the proper mud. After two or three coats of mud, paint and enjoy your new cove. The area where the parts meet both the wall and the floor is approximately 3/16 of an inch thick. The taper of the mud should extend into the flat plane about 4-6″.

We are installing a cyc as part of a sound stage. What can we do to make it as quiet as possible?

That is a great question.  If you are using this as a sound stage, you SHOULD use two layers of sheetrock. When you install the first layer, integrate the wood furring strips into the wall. Then, for the second layer of sheetrock, put it on top of the first layer from the floor up to the height of the wall.  Now you will have a perfect wall with no seams. You will also have a wall that meets or exceeds all fire codes.  Most importantly for you, you will have a wall that will not “drum” or echo. You now have a sound dead wall.

When we did the studio for Fidelity Investment in Boston, one wall had two layers of sheetrock and the other wall had three layers of sheetrock. That was the quietest studio I have ever been in.

Can your freestanding systems support a cove piece at the top?

Yes, the freestanding systems will all support a cove at the top of the cyc.  NIKE has a 12′ tall freestanding Pro Cyc system with a cove at the top and they love it!  Great question.

My boss says we need a cyc and wants me to research them. I’m too embarrassed to ask him what he means – what is a cyc?

Great question! You can find a detailed explanation of exactly what a cyc is on our What is a Cyc? page.

What’s the best way to light a green sreen cyc? We have a full lighting grid, but we heard that fluorescent or LED lighting was the way to go.

Cycs need adequate light output, usually measured in lumens or “foot candles”, on them to create a smooth and even green color to give the proper rendering to the chroma keyer (such as an Ultimatte unit) which removes the green background and replaces it with the virtual background. With your existing lighting, can you get a good separation between your subject(s) and your background? It is important to light the cyc walls separately from your subject. The cyc background needs to be evenly lit from top to bottom and you need separate key and fill (and accents if desired) lights for your subject. The distance the lights should be from the wall is approximately half the height of the cyc (so if the cyc is 12′ tall then the lights should be 6′ away from the wall) and aimed down at approximately 45 degrees to evenly wash the wall and avoid hot spots at the top. This is assuming you are using at least a four bulb bank of lights. Once the walls are properly lit, you can then work on the lighting for your talent.  Your subject needs to be far enough in front of the cyc as to not cast a shadow on it unless you WANT a shadow.

If you can do all of this with your current lighting grid then you are fine. Fluorescent or LED lighting is good because it is a relatively diffused source and will give an even light if it’s placed properly. LED lighting has been slowly replacing fluorescent lighting and offers benefits such as the ability to change color temperature without changing bulbs, and requires less energy to put out the same amount of light. However, fluorescent lighting is still very acceptable and if you have already invested a significant amount into a fluorescent lighting rig, then there is probably no need to replace them with LED unless you absolutely want to.

Basically, one light source is just as good as the next as long as you are getting the quality of light that is needed to light the cyclorama walls, which is soft, even and spread out as opposed to hard and focused light which should be avoided at all costs. You can even mix light sources as long as they are the same color temperature.

Where is Pro Cyc located?

Pro Cyc is located in Clackamas, Oregon, about 10 miles south of Portland. We used to be in downtown Portland, but we prefer the country and moved our offices in mid 2003. We have three plants that manufacture our cyclorama products, all within 25 miles of our office. All of our products are proudly made in the USA.