When we began planning our wedding, we knew we had to decide how it would be documented. Of course, we knew we wanted to have a photographer, but we also loved the idea of our guests contributing in a unique way to the memorabilia. We thought about providing disposable cameras, researched renting a photo booth (it’s very expensive), and even considered buying some old video cameras and some 8mm film to allow our guests to get some moving images. Somehow none of it felt quite right (or affordable).
On top of that, of course, was the fact that we were aiming for a Gatsby-esque, garden party vibe to the affair. It wasn’t the strictest of themes, but we did want people to feel, even for just a moment, that they had stepped back into another era.
Finally, in a “why didn’t we think of that before!?” moment, it hit us: We’d build a 1920s-style paper moon backdrop, set up a camera with a remote control, and let people take dreamy, starry photos of themselves!
A paper moon
While information is a bit hard to come by (on the internet, anyway), it seems that paper moon pictures were popular in the early part of the 20th century – especially in the 1920s and 30s. To achieve these floating-in-space images, a painted background and set were created in a photographer’s studio (or a circus tent or a booth on a boardwalk) and an individual or group would be arranged to look as though they were sitting upon the crescent moon. Some settings were simple, barely realistic, with nothing more than a moon painted on canvas (or perhaps paper, I suppose) while others included multiple layers of clouds and stars.
We had intended for our paper moon to be a self-serve, photo-booth-style affair, but when we asked our photographer for some advice on setting up a camera, flash, and remote, he loved the idea so much that he offered to take the photos himself!
With the photography logistics in very capable hands, we were able to turn our attention to designing and building a paper moon. For the sake of anyone wishing to have a paper moon at their wedding too, I will go into some detail about how we did it. You CAN do it yourself with not much time or money spent. If you have questions that aren’t addressed here, please get in touch and I’ll be happy to help if I can.
Paper moon drawing (shown without the grid or dimensions; both are important)
First, as with most aspects of our wedding planning, we spent a good deal of time doing internet research. We collected a number of vintage photos and decided what we liked (or didn’t) about each. From that exercise we had a pretty good idea of what we wanted our moon to look like.
Next, I set to work sketching the construction details — first on paper and then on the computer. I created a fairly simple construction drawing for us to work from, then I created a grid (not shown here) over the image and printed it to scale to make the transfer from paper to plywood more accurate.
Plywood with grid layout and the moon taking shape
Our first step was to transfer the shape of our moon. On a sheet of plywood, I created a series of 6-inch squares to create the grid to match the one on our drawing. Creating a pencil mark at each point that the outline of the moon crossed a grid line gave me the initial shape. Then, using a bit of freehand drawing, I connected those points, matching the drawing as accurately as possible.
Our moon was rather large and so required two sheets of plywood. Before drawing the moon on the wood, I lined up both sheets and created reference marks (the arrow at the right in the photo) to be able to line up the pieces later. Make sure that your reference mark(s) land inside the moon and not on the scrap portion of the plywood.
Cutting out the moon
Once the moon’s outline was transferred to the wood I simply followed the lines with a jigsaw and our moon’s shape was complete! (Please use proper safety equipment when using power tools — in this case, eye and ear protection are a must).
Obviously, a simple moon-shaped piece of plywood will only get you so far. You’ll also need some sort of seat upon which the photo subjects will sit.
Assembled moon with the front of the bench attached
I’d devised a bench that would be built along with the moon, but because we needed to transport the moon in a car (it just barely fit into our rented SUV it turned out – whew!) it needed to come apart and be re-assembled on site. In order to keep the number of pieces to a minimum, I opted to permanently attach the front portion of the bench to the moon. I built this out of 2×4 legs attached with 1x3s held together by trusty drywall screws.
Because our moon was created out of two pieces of plywood (try to use one if you can, it simplifies things) we needed a way to connect the two pieces. We accomplished this using rectangular steel plates and screws. It was a little wobbly, but it did the trick.
Assembled bench framework
To finish the bench framing, I cut two more legs from the 2×4 and screwed it all together with the 1×3 cross pieces. In hindsight, this bench could have used some diagonal bracing, so, if you build one, I’d recommend adding that to the design.
As you can see in the photo, I labeled all parts carefully as I constructed them to ensure that we’d be able to get the moon back together properly at our wedding venue.
In order to make things a bit more comfortable, we added an upholstered seat. We cut another piece of plywood, some batting, and some faux leather cloth to size, and stapled it all in place. We cut the batting and cloth large enough to overlap the plywood to ensure splinter-free edges and allow us to staple it all to the bottom of the seat. After these photos were taken, I added another, smaller piece of plywood to the bottom of the seat that was notched in the corners so that it fit inside the bench frame and we could secure the seat from sliding sideways.
The [bottom of the] finished seat
At this point, our moon was complete — structurally. Now all we needed to do was to make it look like a moon!
Applying muslin to the rough plywood edge
In order to create the illusion that a person is sitting in the moon, the seat needs to be behind and slightly below the moon itself. The only problem with this is that the seated person’s legs, draped over the edge, will touch the rough edge of the plywood. Knowing that folks would be in their finery, we decided we’d better finish that edge somehow. To start, we sanded the edge (in fact, we sanded all of the edges as well as the front face of the plywood to create a smooth surface for the paint). Then we applied strips of cotton muslin over the edge with watered-down white glue. This created a safe (and also paintable) edge at the bench.
Priming the moon
Next we smoothed out the face of the plywood for painting by filling all of the holes, cracks, and gaps with Spackle and sanding everything again. Once the Spackle was dry and we’d brushed all of the sanding dust off, we applied two coats of primer to the moon’s face in preparation for its final paint job.
At this point, our work was done so we stepped back and let the primer dry. Alessandra’s cousin (an illustrator and puppet designer who currently works for Sesame Workshop) had agreed to do the final paint job of the moon — which, as you’ll see below, was an incredible gift.
Cousin Matt came by a few days later with his paints, brushes and some reference material and set to work.
After just a short amount of time, the real moon began to appear.
The moon emerges…
Soon the finishing touches were added and the moon was complete!
The completed moon
One thing that we loved about the paper moon photos we’d seen is that no matter how well executed they are, they still look a little phony. To embrace that, we decided to cover our black cloth backdrop with planets, stars (both shooting and stationary), and the occasional rocket ship made of cardboard painted silver. These we pinned haphazardly to the cloth and we were set to go.
Most of our guests posed with the moon and had fun with it. Not only did this give us a unique set of photos of the day (in addition to our “traditional” photos), but we were able to print and frame many of them and give them as thank-you gifts to all of the friends and family that helped to make our wedding perfect.
Sitting amongst the stars…
Photo by Toby Morris, tobymorris.com/weddings/
We printed and framed ours as well and it hangs in our house as a happy reminder of the day, the fun we had researching and creating elements that felt very much “us”, and the handiwork of so many people who helped us put the day together.
UPDATE: We just learned that our excellent wedding photographer, Toby Morris, has started a new venture: Fantabulous Photobooths. Check out his new website at www.fantabulousphotobooths.com.