Nelsigns creates sensational sign for Moulin Rouge! The Musical - Image Magazine


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Nelsigns creates sensational sign for Moulin Rouge! The Musical

Nelsigns creates sensational sign for Moulin Rouge! The Musical

This article first appeared in the April issue of Digital Image Magazine

A glowing red neon scripted ‘L’amour’ sign provided a prelude to Moulin Rouge! The Musical, scheduled to be held at Melbourne’s revamped Regent Theatre in August 2021. Initially created to dominate the foyer of the theatre as a promotional prop of the production, the sign is reminisent of Baz Luhrmann’s unforgettable motion picture version. But who created it, and how was it done? Research lead us to the door of Nelsigns, a 25-year old company that supplies front of house signage to all the major live theatre shows that come to Australia. In this article we speak with Nelsigns’ Nelson Pollard and find out more about the history of the company, the projects they have completed over the years, impact of COVID-19 on business and of course, how they came to create and install the phenomenal ‘L’amour’ sign.

Q. How did Nelsigns become a supplier of signage for major live theatre shows in Australia?

A. In 2003, I was approached by a good friend and then well-known comedian, Glynn Nicholas, to produce some signage for a show he was putting on at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne called “Certified Male”. At the time I was a small two man operation and was looking to expand my client base so I set up a meeting at the theatre to measure up and was told that as the theatre is on the Heritage Victoria list of historical buildings, we would have to take care not to cause damage to any part of the building. Under the strict watchful eye of the theatre management, we installed the signs and as soon as the show had completed its season, went in to remove them. At this point I was asked if we would like to be included in the list of preferred suppliers as they were happy with the care we took whilst installing and removing the signage. The obvious answer was yes and we started to do a few more shows – “Miss Saigon” was the next big one followed by Monty Python’s “Spamalot”.

We had just invested in a Tekcel router which enabled us to clad the awning facia with printed and cut out aluminium composite panel to make the whole 80m long facia look like a castle. A few months later I received a phone call from a guy called Jason at Marriner Group, and he had said that he got my number from ‘The Maj’ and wanted to set up a meeting as he was looking for something different for a show at the Comedy Theatre across the road. I met with him and soon realised that he was  actually Jason Marriner and the show was “The Rocky Horror Show.” We discussed a few options and I suggested wrapping the whole theatre in a mesh banner and installing some composite panel character cut outs along the side wall. We did the job and were  then invited back to do more signs for all of their theatres in Melbourne which included The Princess Theatre, The Regent, The Forum and The Plaza Ballroom.

In 2011, after a sold out season of Mary Poppins at Her Majesty’s, I was asked if I wanted to do a few shows in Sydney. At this time I was a bit apprehensive on the logistics of making it work so I declined and stuck to the theatres in Melbourne. In 2013, I was approached by The Walt Disney Company to quote on their up coming production of “The Lion King” at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney and was told that they won’t be taking ‘no’ for an answer as they had had a few issues with Mary Poppins there. We ended up installing the signage for the show which included retro fitting two 2.2m x 6.5m high lightboxes to an existing ‘V’ frame on the awning. From there, the management of Foundation Theatres asked me to continue to provide front of house signage for other shows at both of their theatres, The Capitol and the Sydney Lyric.  We have now become the suppler of all front of house signage for all of the major live theatre shows that come to Australia and have sent signage to QLD, WA, SA and Tasmania as well as a few shows in New Zealand, working with a lot of national and international producers and marketing companies. We have a small tight knit team of five and engage a few skilled sub-contractors to handle our work in Melbourne and Sydney.

Q. Tell us more about the Moulin Rouge Sign including the brief and creative direction.

A. Global Creatures, who I’ve had quite a long association with (and are the producers of “King Kong“, “The War Horse” and “Strictly Ballroom”) approached me with the idea of making a big statement for the media launch of Moulin Rouge – it was to tie in with Valentines Day. Working with Kendra Reid from Melbourne based KLR Consulting and RPM, one of the premier agencies in Broadway, New York, we decided on the final look and feel of the final display. The brief was that it had to be a place where people could stand in front of to take photos for social media and had to really embody the essence of the show: “Truth, Beauty, Freedom and Love.” The main theme was to be centred around the word ‘L’amour’ which has become iconic in a lot of Baz Lurhmann’s productions.

Q. What materials did you use to createthe sign?

A. The sign consisted of a modular aluminium frame that was clad in composite panel and then we printed a stretch velvet fabric for the background and painstakingly glued it to the panels, making sure that the Fleur de Lis pattern lined up on each panel. The main text was printed and cut out of 10mm expanded PVC with channels to provide location and spacing for the LED neon flex that was to light up in red. We couldn’t use real neon as the sign was to be in a high traffic area and was within reach of the public. The “Moulin Rouge” title treatment was the only outsourced part of the fabrication. I reached out to Steen Zimmerman at Zimmerman Industries to 3D print the shells for the “Moulin Rouge” letters as they were quite small and intricate. We then filled, sanded and painted them and installed the LED lights before putting the faces of the letters and the windmill that we had cut on our laser cutter and printed on our Mimaki JFX500. The scaffold frame that held the letters together was cut and printed this way also.

Q. What challenges did you face with the project?

A. Part of the challenge was to install it as quickly as possible as we had a very short setup time on the morning of the launch. We only had four hours to install the sign, supply and install the red carpet on the stairs at the Regent and also install lighting to make it look more glamourous than a black box with neon lettering. We called in prominent Melbourne designer Christian Wagstaff to help with setting the scene and the general look of the whole setup. The foyer of the Regent is a beautiful area and we wanted to highlight the surrounding architecture so we used over 200m of festoon lights, suspended on poles around the sign to bring in the atmosphere – the festoons were painted with a chrome gold and sprinkled in holographic glitter and the poles and bases were painted in an antique gold to blend in to the foyer walls. We then flooded the entire space with red LED up lights.

The end result was a very happy client. Unfortunately, however the Valentine’s Day promotion was a victim of the snap five day lockdown we had due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Melbourne and the event on Sunday, 14 Feb was cancelled, but as the sign is modular in design, we will be installing it in a few other promotional locations closer to the opening of the show later this year. We are currently working on transforming the Regent Theatre into “The Moulin Rouge” Theatre when the show hits town.

Q. Any advice to those who plan to work in the signage industry in the future?

 A. The signage industry is a great industry to work in, there are so many opportunities if you are prepared to look and work hard for them – hours can be long but in general it is very rewarding

Q. How has the pandemic impacted on your business?

A. Last year during Covid lockdown, the theatre industry was hit hard  and the ripple effect was devastating for a lot of small businesses that support that industry. We were all set for a blockbuster year and then in March every show was cancelled and we had to look elsewhere for work to keep the business alive. Luckily we own most of our equipment and this really helped by not having the overheads of lease payments every month.

I had planned to expand our facility in Narre Warren, Victoria and at that time taken over the lease of the adjoining factory and cut a large doorway in the wall and basically doubled our floor space. As there was not a lot of work around, apart from a bit of COVID signage and sneeze guards, we took the opportunity to completely set up both factories for better workflow and an improved print environment. All our printers are now set up in climate controlled rooms so that when the theatres opened and the work came back, we would be in a much better position to service our clients by having quicker turnaround times and consistent quality in our work with fewer re-prints.

We also installed a 3200mm wide, direct to fabric, Mimaki Dyesub printer to add to our arsenal! We are extremely happy and relieved now that the theatres are all coming back to life.

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