Evolution of the Cyc Wall

‘Cyc’ (pronounced “sike”) is an abbreviated term for Cyclorama, also referred to as a cyclorama wall or cyc wall. The Webster dictionary defines a cyclorama as “a curved wall used as a background of a stage set to suggest unlimited space.” When done properly, it is virtually impossible to discern where the floor ends and the wall begins.

Webster also defines a cyclorama as “a large pictorial representation encircling the spectator and often having real objects as a foreground.” Cycloramas were very popular in the late 19th century, when circular and hexagonal-shaped buildings were constructed in almost every major US and European city to provide a viewing space for the cycloramas. Hundreds of cyclorama displays were built but only 30 remain intact today.

One of the most enduring is a 132-year-old hand-painted work of art that stands 49 feet tall, is longer than a football field, and weighs 10,000 pounds. In the 1880s, The Battle of Atlanta cyclorama painting was an immersive experience—the equivalent of virtual reality today.

This painting is one of only two cycloramas in the United States — the other being the Battle of Gettysburg cyclorama — making Atlanta home to one of America’s largest historic treasures. On February 22, 2019, Atlanta History Center opened Cyclorama : The Big Picture, featuring the fully restored cyclorama painting in the brand-new Lloyd and Mary Ann Whitaker Cyclorama Building.

An extension of this concept into motion pictures was pioneered with the invention of the Cinéorama that debuted at the 1900 Paris Exposition. Cinéorama was an early film experiment and simulated hot air balloon ride over Paris. It represented a union of the earlier technology of panoramic paintings and the recently invented technology of cinema. It worked by means of a circulatory screen that projects images helped by ten synchronized projectors. These evolved into such formats as IMAX and Circle-Vision 360°.

In theatre, Cyclorama backgrounds were used to cover the back and sometimes the sides of the stage and used with special lighting to create the illusion of sky, open space, or great distance at the rear of the stage setting.

Moving into the 20th century, cyc walls became popular with photographers and film production crews. This curved surface seamlessly blends the floor and wall together so that anything you put in front of it — an object, a person — will appear to float against a simple, clutter-free backdrop.

A White Cyclorama — a fully white curved wall used as a background of a studio set to suggest unlimited space — is the perfect choice when you need a fully white background. In essence, a cyc wall gives the perception that nothing exists behind the subject, often magnifying their presence. Filmmakers also use green screens with cyc walls so they can further manipulate the shot with special effects.

A professional cyc wall can cost tens of thousands of dollars to install. A DIY version can cost “just” $5,000, assuming you have the tools, expertise, and a few helping hands to build actually go build it.

Fortunately, photographers and film production crews don’t have to build their own cyc wall. They simply hire cyc wall studio space, such as the 32’x32’x16’ white cyclorama wall with lighting grid at Studio 135, which is conveniently located on Krog Street in Atlanta, Georgia.

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