Friday, February 14, 2020

Set Design: Camouflage is as old as show business

Above Here are the sheep. But what has become of the shepherd? Can you find him?


Daniel Dillon, STAGE SETTERS IN US FORCE in World War History (New York), August 11, 1917—

Indicative of the thoroughness and extent of preparation the American troops are now undergoing in occupying the trenches, is the fact that a large number of “stage setters” and “scenic painters,” architects, constructive engineers, etc., are now on the French and British fronts, learning the art of camouflage, that is, screening the artillery and concealing the observation points.…


ART OF CAMOUFLAGE OLD AS SHOW BUSINESS in Cincinnati Commercial Tribune (Cincinnati OH), June 16, 1918, p. 17—

The art of camouflage, which has recently received widespread publicity because of its application to military operations in Europe, is really as old as show business, according to Blanche Evans, one of the pretty girls on the summer vaudeville bill at Keith’s [a major theatre at the current location of Fountain Square on Walnut Street] this week.

According to Miss Evans, theatre folks deserve full credit for developing and nursing this art of deceiving the eye through the ages, and of perfecting it to such a degree that it has become one of the important factors in modern warfare.

“Why, the very spirit of the stage is that of camouflage,” declared Miss Evans recently. “This stage makes believe, makes things appear what they are not, and that is camouflage in spirit and reality. Stage scenic artists are expert camoufleurs. They take a bit of canvas and with brush and paint transform it into a parlor, woods, or palace with ease. A series of costumes can change a single actor into a king, a beggar, a policeman, or a man of society. What is that but camouflage?…

The real relation between stage camouflage and military camouflage is perhaps best emphasized by the fact that hundreds of former theatre scenic artists are now engaged on the European battlefronts in creating illusions to deceive the observations of the enemy. American scenic artists are beginning to serve their country in the same way and before long we will have contributed hundreds to the same cause. Military camouflage is saving the lives of hundreds of soldiers every day and the theatre should be given full military credit for its patient and untiring development of the art.”


Melvin M. Riddle, CAMOUFLAGE! Concerning one of the Major Arts of Motion Pictures. Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta GA), October 24, 1920—

…camouflage is an art without a knowledge of which, one of the greatest industries of today—the motion picture industry—could hardly exist.

The art of camouflage is a vital factor—in fact, it might be said, almost a prime factor in the production of motion pictures…

It is the general impression, perhaps, that the war first developed the art of camouflage. This impression, however, is erroneous. For long before the war began, the art had been developed to a high degree by the industry of motion picture production, but as developed by the industry, it was an unidentified art because it was an art without a name. The truth of this assertion is proven by the fact that when America entered the war, men from the motion picture studios, who had gained a knowledge of the art of scenic deception, formed an important part of the ranks of special camouflage corps which were sent over there. This was because these men had already a practical knowledge of this great study and had only to adapt this knowledge to the particular requirements of defense in war.

The one great difference between camouflage as practiced in motion pictures and as practiced in war is that war camouflage, although deceiving to the human optics, is readily detected by the camera, while in motion pictures the camouflage is especially arranged and prepared to deceive the eye of the camera, although it sometimes also deceives the human eye, unless a very close-up view is obtained. Primarily, it is the camera lens upon which the deception is practiced, however, for the eye of the camera is ultimately the eyes of the motion picture audience.

Motion pictures, before the beginning of the war, did more and are doing more to develop the art of camouflage on a large scale than any other industry or even possibly could do. Camouflage is the very life of a motion picture—a vital necessity. Of course, the art has been employed from time immemorial in the theatrical profession—in the dressing of stage settings for legitimate productions, but camouflage, as used on a stage, is very limited in its scope, and is admittedly camouflage, and for this reason loses its very effectiveness. It is when camouflage is mistaken for the genuine and the delusion is unquestioned, that it really serves the purpose for which it is intended.…


See also theatre designer