Radium Girls – Set and Projection Design

It’s been five years since I’ve designed a theatrical production with UCA Theatre. My last design was The Bacchae that was both a set and a projection design project. This time around it’s Radium Girls and again I designed the physical scenery and projected imagery. Radium Girls was directed by my colleague, Chris Fritzges.

About Radium Girls

From wikipedia – “The Radium Girls were female factory workers who contracted radiation poisoning from painting watch dials with self-luminous paint at the United States Radium factory in Orange, New Jersey, around 1917. The women, who had been told the paint was harmless, ingested deadly amounts of radium by licking their paintbrushes to give them a fine point; some also painted their fingernails and teeth with the glowing substance.

Five of the women challenged their employer in a case that established the right of individual workers who contract occupational diseases to sue their employers.”

The play, by D.W. Gregory, tells this story through one of the girls, Grace Fryer, and the president of the U.S. Radium Corporation, Arthur Roeder.

Design Process

The design team, which was made up of myself and theatre faculty and students, met several times to discuss the play including what the story means and what our production goals were. One of the big goals scenically was to include projected imagery. The main reason for projections was that the play has many scenes in different locations and it shouldn’t be staged with a lot of traditional scenery. The thought was that projections could quickly change and help inform the audience of where the different scenes were taking place. Another overall goal was to use scenery that was abstract and allowed for interesting staging, such as multiple platforms at different heights, rather than being realistic looking. Realism is best used for costumes and properties (props) – the things that are closest to the characters want some authenticity, while the playing space can be more abstract or symbolic.

Chris started the process of developing the design by discussing different themes he saw in the story. The following are a few of the larger themes:

  • The Corporation vs. the Worker
  • Masculine vs. Feminine
  • Science vs. Business
  • Fighting time
  • The media

Some visual themes/motifs included clocks, gears, and flowers.

Design Influences

The next step in the process was to do some research. The play’s time period was the 1920s and it recounts actual events so the team, including a student dramaturg (one who is dedicated to researching the play in detail and making his research available to the rest of the team), looked for pictures and articles about the girls, Marie Curie, the U.S. Radium Corporation, radium products and research, and general 1920s trends in clothing, art, and architecture.

I was ultimately most influenced by the work of Hugh Ferriss, the U.S. Radium plant, and timepieces of the era.

U.S. Radium Corporation plant and dial painters

Set Design

Sometimes the set design will just come to me and I quickly work on about three variations of an idea. Not for this play. Instead, I drew sketches of several different ideas and shared them with the design team. The gear and clock influences are a thread throughout the ideas as well as the factory windows, which are referenced in the play. What I was unsure of, was the actual projection surfaces – how integrated should they be into the playing spaces? Also, should we project flat on typical screens or consider other shapes for projection surfaces?

The sketches for the Radium Girls set design

The sketches for the Radium Girls set design

After looking at sketches for a couple of weeks, we decided that we liked three levels of platforms and that they should be round (more feminine shape, clocks, gears, radium symbol). We also worked out the size of each platform. The projection surface ended up taking a little longer, but we finally worked out a projection mapping-oriented wall that had an industrial skyline silhouette at the top. The projection mapping aspect of it was that the screen was not just one plane stretching across the back of the platforms. Instead, it was broken into multiple planes at different angles. Doors through the projection surfaces were the last pieces to go in.

Radium Girls set design front view

Radium Girls set design front view

Radium Girls set design side view

Radium Girls set design side view

We made some last-minute changes to the heights of the platforms for time and cost savings, which ultimately made the set work better. You’ll notice that the doors are above the platforms in the renderings because I was trying to show the change in height as fast as I could… Also, since it had been awhile since I had done a theatrical set, and I was preoccupied by the projected imagery, Shannon Moore, the theatre Technical Director, was instrumental in dealing with some finishing touches like steps and platforms on the upstage side of the set through the doors.

Lastly, I created a painter’s elevation for the platforms. Two platforms were clock faces and the third was a watch/industrial gear.

Painter's elevation

Painter’s elevation

The Set

The Set


Pre show and Intermission look


After the set design was done we moved onto the projection design. I primarily worked with Chris rather than working with the whole design team. The cast also had some input on projection ideas. Chris and I met three times to go through possible imagery for each scene. In the early meetings I discussed imagery ideas that were documentary-like. Imagery would be based on period photos, actual photos of the characters portrayed, newspaper clippings, etc. As we got into discussing the imagery and getting ideas from the cast I felt that the documentary idea wasn’t working with the production style and ideas. The final overall design concept was experiencing each location using either symbolic imagery and/or closeups of objects that would be in that particular location.

In the scenes that were in character’s homes I tried to focus on fireplace mantels because I wanted to feature some style of clock. I included enough clocks that Chris mapped out the time that should be on each clock face starting at 1:00 and going to 11:45.


The doors didn’t quite work with the concept of closeups and symbolism so I had to come up with a way to change the apparent scale of the spaces depicted in the imagery. During an early rehearsal I attended I saw the problem and came up with a solution almost immediately. I chose to use as much of the screen as possible to do the closeup objects, such as a fireplace mantel, and then change the scale around the door to make it more realistic. I used the scale of the objects and wallpaper pattern to show that if one were to really bend their head around what I created that they could rationalize the different sized objects. I imagined what a door across a room would look like if I were standing close to the fireplace. The fireplace objects would be large in my view and the door small due to its distance away from me.

There were a few places where I tweaked this concept. In the exterior porch of the Roeder home I chose to keep the door in scale, but the house’s siding and eve would be large and out of scale. In the health department I created oversized filing cabinets that dwarf the door. In Grace’s home both doors are used so I couldn’t use the same technique so I made the props, like hanging lights and the mantel clock oversized.

Technical Stuff

Figure 53’s Qlab was used to playback the imagery on an iMac. A VGA signal was sent to two 4000 Lumen projectors at 1920×1080 pixel dimensions. Both projectors got the same image so they were overlapping each other to increase the overall brightness. Qlab was used to warp the image to counteract the warping from the angled screens (projection mapping!).

Blender was used for almost all of the imagery. I used as many pre-modeled objects as possible to save time. There are some recurring scenes with two newspaper reporters and most of those images were created in Photoshop. I used two computers concurrently to stay productive. My main computer is an iMac and I used it to do the modeling and setup lighting and materials in Blender as well as Photoshop work. I then moved over to an older Linux computer I have with two Nvidia graphics cards. Blender’s Cycles renderer can be accelerated using Nvidia cards (AMD cards are almost ready to accelerate too BTW) so I finalized the shading and lighting and did final renders with it.

Oh yeah, I also made some tables for the show

Radium Girls Tables

Radium Girls Tables

Final Thoughts

The show’s overall production quality was amazing. The set, projections, costumes (Designed by Shauna Meador), lighting, props, sound, and performances went together so well. We often talk about a unified production, but sometimes there is one element or another that just doesn’t seem to fit. Not in this case. The show looked really good and was well directed and performed. I can be very critical especially of my own work so I am surprised at how good I feel about the work.

There were problems of course.

  1. I started making the images way too late. I literally did 85% of the images in the last weekend before it opened (it was UCA’s fall break so that last weekend was several days…).
    1. There were 50 images – the most I’ve made for a single show
  2. Because I was so late I didn’t give Chris very many opportunities for feedback. I think he was happy with my work overall, but we should have been able to work together more.
  3. I wanted some of the imagery to be animated, such as spinning newspapers, smoke or dust in the air, subtle movements of objects, etc. There were no animations.
  4. We either started our whole process a little late or took too long to design the set – maybe both. Construction on the set should have started at least a week earlier than it did.
  5. The way I setup the projectors was lame. They were sitting on an angled board in the theater’s 2nd catwalk. Because they were not locked down by any kind of rig they had to be touched every night to make sure they were aligned to each other.
  6. The projectors were not perfectly aligned. Cheap projectors don’t have the tools to do fine adjustments aligning the images of multiple projectors so I got it as close as I could. The image looked out of focus toward the bottom left side (as seen by the audience) and overall had a soft look due to the slight mismatch.
    1. A workaround would have been to send individual signals to the projectors and used Qlab to do the final alignment by giving each projector a custom warping. Instead, I sent a signal to one projector and used the loop-thru to get the signal to the other projector. Sending two signals would have meant using a different computer too.
  7. The projections needed to be brighter. Dr. Greg Blakey, the lighting designer, did a lot of last-minute changes to the lights to try to keep as much illumination off the screen as possible. The only way we could have gone brighter would have been renting a large-venue projector (10K or greater Lumens) and that would have blown the budget unfortunately.

Some of the projections:

The images below are a mix of photos and actual projection images. The photos are untouched jpegs from the camera. When I have more time I’ll work on the raw images. The screen in these photos looks a little darker than it actually was live.

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Shopsmith ER10 to Drill Press

I restored this 1950s-era Shopsmith ER10 about 12 years ago and since then have used it for a wood lathe, disk sander, drill press, and horizontal boring machine (fancy way of saying drill press on its side).


Shopsmith ER10

About four years ago I purchased an early 1960s Shopsmith Mark V for $50 and since then the two have been sitting side-by-side in my garage. I bought the Mark V because it has a stronger motor, better speed control and it has a rolling base. This one happens to be a “Goldie,” which was only sold for three years.

Goldie - needs restoration

Goldie – needs restoration

Two Shopsmiths side-by-side is dumb. The idea was to make the ER10 into a drill press and possibly a milling machine, but year after year it wasn’t happening – until now. I was inspired by this found with Pinterest,

but felt a base would be better than trying to attach it to a wall. The new base is 1-1/2″ angle iron welded and a 1-1/2″ pine top (with linseed oil and wax finish).

Now it’s time to get that Goldie running. It really just needs cleaning and repainting.


Cutting 45deg angles (miters)


Everything’s cut


Layout for welding


Finished base


Prep’ing for permanent mount


Base and upper support


Everything’s on and bolted down


All together

3D Printing: an update

It’s past time for a 3D printing update so here it goes:


Though I’ve used a few different apps to model printable objects and control the printer, my go-to pipeline has been: model to scale in Blender > export STL > use Repetier Host/Slicr for layout, slicing, and printer control. I supported a Kickstarter campaign for AstroPrint and have used it once since it shipped, but at the time I did not like the lack of slicing control. I can control whether the object should be hollow or filled (and how much infill), as well as how many layers I want on the walls, bottom, and top of the printed object using Slicr, whereas AstroPrint had presets for quality and that’s it – it’s probably changed by now, but I haven’t looked yet. If I change anything in my pipeline I might layout and slice the model using Repetier Host/Slicr and then upload the gcode to AstroPrint to control the printer. BTW, AstroPrint runs on the Raspberry Pi and can provide updates and some control via a web browser and iPad/iPhone app so there is good reason to consider it.

Blender is great for modeling and even does a good job at modeling to scale. The biggest issue I ran across was getting Blender’s scale to match real scale. It hasn’t been a problem in the past with Sketchup models in Blender (1 foot in Sketchup was 1 foot in Blender), but exported STL’s were 1000 times smaller than they were supposed to be. I learned that I needed to change the world scale to .001 instead of the default 1.0 and all was well. Whenever I need to model something to print, I open up a template blend file I saved and it is ready to go for printable sizes. Until I learned about changing the world scale I was scaling the models in Repetier Host 1000x.

So far I’ve only printed with PLA plastic. I’ve got at least one project I need to do ASAP that I think will work better with ABS.


The first big project for the MakerGear M2 was phallus costume pieces for UCA Theatre’s production of Lysistrata. I helped design and printed three different looks for the phalluses. They were modeled in Blender, exported as STL files, and then printed. They were larger than the M2’s print volume so I designed them in two pieces with flanges that were big enough to hold some epoxy to adhere them. Theatre students then filled them with polyurethane foam, sanded them, and painted them. We then adhered metal strips and magnets to them so they would stay on the actors, but the actors could take them off on-stage.


UCA Theatre’s Lysistrata

I had only one issue printing the phalluses. On two print runs, a phallus top section was loosened from the print bed and did not finish printing. Luckily it was only the last 1/8 to 1/4 inch so we just filled them. I believe they lost adhesion with the bed because the extruder (“print head”) was moving rapidly between pieces, which made them shake just enough for the extruder to knock a piece over rather than aligning properly to extrude the next layer of plastic. I lowered the speed the extruder travels when not printing and did not have anymore issues.

Printing old man phallus

Printing old man phallus


Printed and polyurethane filled

One character had a unique phallus that was larger than the other men’s and was lighted from within. It was printed in four sections so I could have access to the interior. The idea was that the phallus could change color and/or intensity during his scene. Not having much time or experience with LEDs, we purchased a strip of remote controlled LEDs. The expectation was that it would not need any programming or special wiring. It was already battery powered and remotely controlled with control over color, blinking, intensity, etc.

I cut the LED strip into sections that would fit in the phallus and soldered them together with short wires. Once soldered, I taped them together and fit them into the phallus halves. Then epoxied the whole assembly together. “In the lab” it was working well. On stage, however, it wasn’t going to work. The remote control was infrared, which requires line-of-sight to control the LEDs. It was impossible to control the LEDs from off-stage so we scrapped the idea. I learned a lot about LEDs though and am glad I went through the process even though they were not used on-stage.

Printing LED phallus

Printing LED phallus


Halves epoxied

Soldered LED strips

Soldered LED strips

All wired up

All wired up

Into the phallus

Into the phallus

Fully assembled

Fully assembled











I also designed and printed a few badges for the play’s police characters.


Ghost of Christmas Past

A few weeks later I had another 3D printing and LED challenge. I made a necklace for the ghost of Christmas Past for A Christmas Carol, produced and directed by Jim Harris for the University of Arkansas Community College in Morrilton (UACCM). Jim and I decided to model the look off of a Swarovski Christmas ornament and install an array of LEDs in the necklace. The actor would need to turn on the LEDs at a certain moment. I modeled the necklace in Blender in two pieces (front and back). Modeling and printing the necklace was easy at this point. I did print a low-resolution version to make sure the LEDs would fit. Otherwise, no printing issues.

Blender model

Blender model

Printing the star

Printing the star

Having learned lessons in LEDs from the phallus, I grabbed some programmable LEDs and a wearable controller so I could control the whole assembly and programming. The LEDs were Neopixels and the controller was a GEMMA, both from Adafruit. I also got a power supply and switch from Adafruit. The first miracle was getting the LEDs wired. After reading a couple of tutorials on Adafruit’s site, I hooked up the LEDs with some solid-core wire. The solid-core wire was great since it can be bent and shaped as needed and it will keep its shape. The next miracle was programming the GEMMA. It is a simple form of an Arduino and Adafruit has some tutorials to help get one going. I finally got it to light up in a pattern, and then lightly pulse randomly. There is one glitch that I did not have time to fix, but I doubt anyone noticed…



Wired up

Wired up



Coming together

Coming together











I’m proud of the necklace. My original plan was to disassemble the wiring and re-use the LEDs for another project, however, I love the look of the wiring so I’m working on using it as-is.



3D Printed LED Necklace from Scott Meador on Vimeo.


This summer I changed my blog subtitle from “Artist | Technologist | Educator” to “Artist | Maker | Educator.” For a while I was reticent about the Maker moniker, but there now seems to be some legitimacy to the name. A maker is one who makes or produces something. In pop culture a maker is one who makes something using DIY electronics, but it’s obvious that makers go way beyond that. For instance, there’s been an indie-DIY maker movement in film for some time where filmmakers build production gear at a significantly lower cost than commercial products. This Newsweek article describes the maker movement as:

…a global community of inventors, designers, engineers, artists, programmers, hackers, tinkerers, craftsmen and DIY’ers—the kind of people who share a quality that Rosenstock says “leads to learning [and]…to innovation,” a perennial curiosity “about how they could do it better the next time.”

June 18, 2014 was an official National Day of Making in the U.S. The maker movement is seen not only as a form of personal expression and flexing curiosity muscles, but also as a potential economic engine. Makers could bring invention and manufacturing back to the U.S. The only issue I have with the proclamation is the emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). While the STEM movement in education is important, I prefer the STEAM movement, which adds Art to the mix.

Being a maker requires a balance of creativity and logic. The creative side poses a problem or challenge and guides it with an aesthetic. The logic side provides the steps needed to implement a solution to the problem and then both sides evaluate the solution to see if it succeeds. Making a film, a piece of interactive art, a painting, designing a kitchen gadget, or a prosthetic hand is as much creative as it is technical, thus requires active thinking and experience from both creativity and logic. I think it is very interesting that the western world has put people like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Benjamin Franklin on pedestals as “Renaissance Men” or polymaths, yet we compartmentalize our education system in a way that allows us to choose between the sciences or the humanities/arts with a total lack of balance between them. General education (GE) requirements in college attempt a balance, but students are trained early (even in high school) to see the GE as a chore to get through rather than something that can actually help them understand the world from multiple points of view and gain thinking and manual skills that will help them throughout their lives.

Who’s not a maker? Most white collar workers and low-skill laborers.

I’m one of those cliche makers. As a kid I disassembled my toys, figured out how they worked, and mixed them to make something new. I had an erector set. I had Lincoln Logs and some Legos. My father was an engineer and he grew up having to fix his cars, home, appliances and be self-sufficient. My mother learned to paint and make crafts completely on her own. I learned early on to fix cars, I learned to drive a manual transmission car at the age of 10. I was taught to build and repair things, use a myriad of tools, and to not be afraid to experiment (or of change). I also learned to draw and paint at home before finally taking art classes in school.

In Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soul Craft, he discusses the demise of shop class from American high school and college curricula during the 1990s. Luckily, I grew up on military bases in the 70s and 80s with amazing shop facilities both in the schools and for the base residents (the original maker spaces). I helped my father work on cars and made ceramics with my mother in the shops and then took industrial arts courses from the 6th through 9th grades and then got into making theatre sets and props starting in the 10th grade though graduate school.

Since the late 1990s, I’ve been building my own maker space (aka “shop”) that’s moved a few times and unfortunately resides in my garage and home office. Someday I’ll consolidate my spaces in a single building, but I think that’s going to happen in a different residence than where I am now.

I make a lot of different things with different materials and using a lot of different tools. A few recent examples are in a previous post. My work is often traditional using wood, metal, glass, paint, and drawing, while other projects live in the ether like projections or computer graphics/film projects. I also make beer, which is its own sub-set of the maker movement called the craft beer and home brewing movements.

To get into making I suggest that one look at his/her activities that get handed over to someone or something else and see if it could be done on one’s own. For instance:

  • Cook your meals. If you haven’t done it before then try starting with something like chili. Find a recipe (the logic), and then spice it and add other ingredients to your liking (the creative).
  • Filmmaking students – make your props and design your costumes beyond what’s in the actor’s closet.
  • Change your car’s oil. BTW, another idea from Crawford is that one should stay away from the “time is money” point of view when considering tasks that could be done by someone else for a few bucks. I heard this years ago and it made me go back to changing my own oil and doing basic maintenance like I did before getting a job back in 2000.
  • Get a Dremel and do some projects.
  • Make some Christmas or birthday presents
  • Learn to program using Python, Javascript, Apple’s Swift, Java, or C. And/or HTML, CSS, and Javascript.
  • Follow stories in Make and Instructables. Try something out that intrigues you.
  • Customize your bicycle (replace the seat, bars, pedals, or whatever makes you uncomfortable when riding)
  • Learn to make 3D models using Sketchup or 123Design or Blender so you can 3D print them.
  • Fix a leaky faucet or constantly running toilet
  • Change the oil in your mower and sharpen the blades
  • Make a lamp including doing the wiring from scratch
  • Fix a lamp
  • Mend a piece of clothing. Sew a button back on
  • Buy a Raspberry Pi or Arduino and teach it to do tricks
  • Carve a pumpkin for Halloween and/or Thanksgiving