A Beginning Guide to Designing a Theatre Room AND Star Ceiling

Introduction: A Beginning Guide to Designing a Theatre Room AND Star Ceiling

I have been wanting a dedicated home theatre room for about 15 years. I finally have one now and it is a dream come true. It is not the best or most expensive but  looks like it is a high end theatre room compared to rooms around $50, 000 or more. I have a friend who puts in home theatres for a living. I didn't know him until after the my room was almost finished. He has said this is one of the nicest theatre rooms he has ever seen. I know I did something right when he said that. Anything worth waiting for is worth having. Especially if you have passion for it. The cost of my room was very cheap compared to others like it. Around $4500 but not including the electronic equipment. That was another $3000 and sold my first car that I own since I was 16 years but I now have my projector and Screen. Those are the things thatI needed to do to make the room complete. I did every thing possible to make the room LOOK like a $50,000  theatre but just with out the cost.
It is possible to do this but the research for your room has to be there. Way before I started to build the room I was looking on the internet for a couple of years. I also subscribed to Electronic House and Home Theatre Magazines. Audiophile is another good magazine but I really wanted pictures of Theatre Rooms. Don't pay attention to the $20,000 dollar speakers, projectors, and so on. Keep your eye on just the ideas and don't get discouraged with the cost that you see in the magazines. You DONT need that stuff to make a great Theatre Room. Also, If you have some electronics now then slowly build your electronics as you go and only  get what you need first then work on the other electronics down the road. I was using KLH speakers that I have had since 1995. then finally upgraded the center speaker for a $120 to a Yamaha and also a Yamaha 10" Subwoofer for $100. I am slowly working on upgrading.  (UPDATE..03-01-12. I now have my Yamaha in wall Speakers. They rock!)The best thing is that It all sounds great and will blow your socks of when you hear it. If you own a house you know that there is always something your working on, but you live there and enjoy it while your doing it. That is the same way with a Home Theatre room. I also built a 8' concave star ceiling and designed the light box including a five foot shooting star, twinkling milkway with the constellations. The stars are all aligned in order to an October night sky for my birthday and they face the correct direction compared to the North Pole. If anyone is interested I am selling the light box plans/parts list for the light boxes and or I can build one for you and do it cheaper than you can order off of the internet. I am working on a more compact design than the one that I have in my theatre room. They are home made but very durable. No problems for 2 years now.  The box will have the ability for multiple shooting stars, the milkyway, and constellations, You can individually dim the stars on the milkyway and constellations. Let me know if interested.
My instructable isn't the best but it is designed mostly to give you a nice overview of what you will have to think about and hopefully it will shed some light on the ideas.

Step 1: Making the Star Ceiling!

First You need to build the Star Ceiling. It is the focal point of the room. The Theatre will be built around the star Ceiling. I have 9' Ceilings in my basement. That was a tremendous help in allowing a concave star ceiling.  Because my Star Ceiling is concave, it adds a whole new dimension to my theatre and adds that planetarium, 3D look. It took away 1' of ceiling space. The surrounding ceiling is close to 8' high. Sorry I dont have pictures of the actual steps. I may have some in the future. I did make a very simply drawing of the frame.  The star cieling I built has over 700 stars and over 5000' feet of cable. The idea is to have a light source on one end of the fiberoptic cable and the star cieling stars on the other end.  I cant fully explain the light box that I built. I am planning on selling the plans/parts list and selling the fiberoptic cable. All of the parts you can get from stores in your local area. If interested, let me know. There is some soldering involved along with other small skills when you build these. I may be able to supply parts if you wish. On the star cieling I used  four 1"x12"x8' pine boards, 4'x8' sheet of 1/8th inch mdf board. Its the very flexible dark brown board that you can get at your home imprvement store, and also used 1/4 inch flexible drywall, drywall glue, drywall screws and then taped and mudded the drywall. The dry wall may have to be special order. You will have to wet and form the drywall to the frame. It is tricky to do with out putting your hand through it. If you have no idea how to tape and mud then this will be a huge challenge.
  FIRST___ take all of your 1x12' pine and cut your arches as shown in the drawing that is shown. You will cut 2 of the 8' boards and make 4 pieces out of them. Eventually your frame will some what resemble a "pie" shaped circle. Only 2 of the 8' pine boards will NOT be cut. Notice the "Notches" in those boards on the drawing. You will then glue the two 8' boards together to make a "+" pattern. CAUTION as those boards will be VERY flimsy and snap due to the center section being very thin. You will also need some 2-4 brackets and screw them in to add strength to the center.
  SECOND_ Now add the MDF board around the outside and form a circle around your 8' pine"+" figure. To do this your will take the 4'x8' sheet and cut four 12"x 8' mdf strips with a skill saw. Remember this will be very flimsy. You will then start by taking a 12"x8' mdf strip and forming it around the 8' pine arch frame. Let the mdf bend naturally around the pine frame and help it by forming a circle around the edge. This is tricky at first but go slow and dont rush. Take your time to get it right so you dont have an oblong circle. you will screw you outside mdf to the frame and then add another mdf till you have went around the frame atleast 2 times. You may need another sheet of MDF if your frame is still flimsy. screw and glue all of the pine frame to the MFD.
THIRD____Now take your other 2 pine boards that have been arched and cut them as shown to make 4 identical shorter pieces. I cut mine (I think) around 2-3 feet. The reason why I  didnt just cut them in half is because you dont want 8 pieces of 1" pine coming together at the  center of the star ceiling. This would make it very tough to poke hundreds of fiber optic cable through when you have a pine frame behind it. You want some space at the center.. The thicker the wood and the closer the wood is to each other will be very hard to put hundreds of holes there for stars. Make sure you reinforce every joint with a tube of construction adhesive and also used "L" brackets on most the corners. DON'T used construction adhesive on the drywall/ wood connections. This will make it very hard to push through with the fiber optic cables.
FOURTH__ Now that you have accomplished the EASY part. Are you ready for the hard part??? You will now Take two 4'x8' 1/4 " bendable dry wall and form the concave part of the star ceiling. You will make 4 triangular pieces. Each triangle will cover a 1/4 of the the star ceiling and will fit on the 8' pine "+" frame. 2  convex triangles will be cut out on each sheat. Convex ( If you don't know) is the opposite of concave. If you think of a triangle, it has 3 straight lines with 3 points but a convex triangle has 3 lines curved slighlty outward to 3 points. You need to do this because you are creating a curved surface in a circle. There is quite the geometry going on here with this design. You may be overwhelmed at this point but it CAN be done. What will help you get the perfect cut on the drywall the first time is to make a card board template first. You need something that you can curve and mold first before actually cutting the drywall. Make the template and form it on a 8' pine frame. Curve it around the best you can. do this for all four pieces. You really have to be creative here. You have to fit 4 pieces of drywall on a frame, bend the drywall and fit it on a 1" wide pine board. This is very little room for error. If you dont have a perfect fit,  dont worry to much. That is what drywall glue and drywall mud is for. You will fix your imperfections later BUT you do have to make you star cieling sturdy so try to be as accurated as possible. Now, To bend the drywall you will need to get a spray bottle with water and spray the 1/4 piece drywall as you press it down on the frame. slowly press and hold it down WITHOUT putting your hand through it. This is a very fragile process but IT CAN BE DONE. patience is the key. Keep the drywall wet but dont soak the drywall. When the drywall starts to settle on the frame then it will need to dry. You wont be able to glue it and screw it until it dries. Dont forget when you mud the drywall to tape it with drywall tape. When you mud your drywall keep in mind that the thicker the mud you put on the tougher it will be poke holes in you drywall for the fiber optic cable
FIFTH____ Now that you have your frame set up and you have mudded, taped, and sanded (DON'T paint it yet) then you can now start to design the star field. You are now going to have some really sore fingers and thumbs. Get used to it. I pushed over 700 pins through 1/4" drywall AND wood pine. It wasn't fun. You may spends hours on this. It is a slow process. You will need an art light projector to project the image on to the ceiling. (I bought one at HobbyLobby for $30. Wait for the 40% off coupon on 1 item. It will save you)  Tilt the ceiling up on its end to project the star image. Because the ceiling is so large you may need to project half of the image on one side then the other half of the star field on the second half of the star ceiling. You will have to realign the image and this can be tricky. I have a very detailed star image. PLEASE, Don't waste your time with making up some random stars. I have seen those and to me they aren't realistic.. You will need to buy atleast 3 different color push pins. 1 for the constelations, 1 color for the Milky Way, 1 color for the Shooting Stars. This way, you will know which holes to expose when you insert the fiber optic cable from the back of the star ceiling. You will order 3 different sizes of fiber optic cable.   .25mm, .50mm,  .75mm.   This is the secret to really getting the 3D effect. The other secret is that you need to individually dim the Milky Way and the Costellations. This will give you another 3D effect. My design on my Light box will do all of this. The Milky way uses the .25mm only. The Shooting star uses all 3 starting with the .75mm for the 1st 1.5', then .50mm for the next 1', then .25mm the rest of the run. Each fiber gets a little closer to each other as the shooting star fires across to give the appearance of the shooting star slowing down as it goes through the atmosphere. Since the fiber gets smaller then it also gets dimmer and appears to burn out. The constellations are .75mm fiber cables. When you insert the cable, leave atleast 2" exposed.
SIXTH____It is very easy to pull out the fiber optic cables. Be very careful not to do this or you may waste an hours worth of work. I used ACID FREE tape to hold some of the cables. The cables with need to be glued in with Epoxy glue. DONT use certain glues like superglue. It dissolves the cable. You will then prime and paint the ceiling, then clip the fibers later. DONT clip the fibers all the way to the drywall. This can create a halo effect and if you leave them longer (atleast 1/2") I think it helps with the 3D effect. I just used a really good pair of scissors. Don't buy those expensive tools used to clip the fibers. Mine looks great with out that and the stars are very bright.
SEVENTH___.When you line your shooting star on the ceiling, you will need to keep the EXACT ORDER of every cable IN ORDER other wise it will skip or be out of sequence when you attach the other end to the light box. It doesn't matter what order the Milkyway fibers or the Constellation fiber optics are in the light box, but it does matter for the shooting star fiber optics.

Step 2: The Framing of the Theatre Room

Great thought has to be put in to your theatre room way before you ever set the first nail for the framing. I never made a drawing or had any schematics drawn up with architect. But what I did do is constantly think about what I was going to do for the next day. I would fall asleep at night thinking about my project. I was always thinking and dreaming. The problem with that is if your not careful you will fall into the trap of having to redo something or tare something apart to do it again. You have to know what you going to do now but also plan for upgrading your system in the future. You have to make sure that if your going to have an enclosed projector box like mine then there needs to be proper cooling or you will overheat your projector. I also designed my own fan out of a hair dryer but that is another instructable. You have to think about all of your speaker wires placements but you will also want to run pvc conduit across your room so you may be able to run new wires in an inclosed wall in the future. Even though you might have a projection screen, run an outlet behind the screen incase you want a flatscreen tv there in the future and also conduit for your hdmi cables. Your system will need to be on its own circuit of at least 20 amps from your power box also. This will be a 12 awg wire for 20amp NOT 14awg. ALL of this and so much more needs to be thought about before you start framing the room. Also think of a filtration system for cleaner air. I want mine to be almost dust free with my electronics. I spent 90% thinking and 10% in actual manual labor. Of course, if you hire it done then you won't need to do this but then it will be very expensive also.
When you frame in the room you will want to make sure that every stud is tight and that there is nothing loose. The bass will vibrate everything. Also make sure your air duct are atleast taped around the seems before enclosing your room. There are special sound proofing material that you can buy meant for reducing vibration but I didn't used them. I did however fill every inch behind my walls with openfaced insulations. Behind my 2x4" walls I used 9" thick insulation. Not 4" insulation. If you don't know anything about framing then go to the hardware store and buy a framing book. YOU DONT HAVE TO BE A CARPENTER to do this but you do need to do it right and know the basics. You need to know about framing around windows (like mine) and corners, doorways, Attaching your walls to concrete, etc... Keep in mind that if your drywall every thing including the ceiling then you may want to have an access hole to get to things in the ceiling. Also water proof your basement walls before doing anything and then cover them in palstic all the way to the floor for vapor barrier. Used SOLID wood doors for sound protection. NOT the cheap hollow wood doors. My french doors are solid. Do all of the things now that you can't do later. Don't worry about spending money on the things that can be done later. One more thing, Keep ALL of your 120v ac wiring atleast 1' away from ALL of your speaker wire. If you do have to cross them then cross the wires at a 90 deg angle. Dont run them side by side. It can cause interferince in your speakers.

Step 3: Designing the Electronic Equipment Rack

I originally was going to have that whole section of wall dedicated to an equip. rack but we also wanted a kitchentte when we were finishing the basement. We finally came up with a great idea to share the space with the equip.rack and Kitchenette which is located directly behind the rack. In my kitchenette are to cabinet doors that we special orderd to match the whole kitchenette. They are the access panels to my rack but you would never know it.
When you are thinking about your equipment rack. You want it to look very professional and very organized in the front as well as the back. My equipment rack is absolutely all hand made by me. This is not a professional rack even though it looks like one. The front covers are all cut plexiglass and painted a Satin Black. Dont use gloss. You dont want reflection by your screen. I used a Dremmel to router out around the Xbox. Believe me it wasn't easy and the plexiglass is very brittle. Behind the plexiglass is your standard wire racks that you use in your closet. I was worried about vibration noise but it works great. They are also great for air ventilation. I made my own removable and adjustable wood brackets that the wire racks sit on. I can re-adjust each shelf by 1" intervals. This picture doesn't show it but all of the open spaces are now solid and enclosed with black plexiglass. The rack probably cost me $60-$80. Not the $600-$800 that you will spend. When You build your rack, keep in mind that you will want it large enough to upgrade more electronics in the future. Design it to have a couple of extra empty slots. Some professionals prefer that the rack not be by the projection screen. It creates light and also distracts from watching the movie. I had given it a lot of thought and decided that it would look good. It doesnt bother me at all.

Step 4: Adding a Projector Box

This is the Projector Box. This helps with the quieting the sound from the fan but also hold the heat. I ran pvc conduit to this box. The piping goes to my furnace room where a seperate fan is used to blow cool air into the projector box. Keeping the fan in a seperate room allows for lower noise.  I also am designing a simple filter to keep excess dust from entering the theatre through the cooling system. When running your pvc pipe use atleast a 3 inch pipe becuase it will start to make more noise with anything smaller.  Also I use 2 computer fans in the electronic equipment rack to help cool the electronics. Make sure that you provide "clean power" from a reputable surge protecter. Dont use your $10 surge protection for your $3000 system. Also before you build the projector box make sure you know your dimensions of your projector before you build your box. I knew what I wanted 1 year before I bought my Epson projector. This box is fairly simple to make. I just made the frame out of a 2x3 (Yes, thats correct) then cut a 45 deg. angle on the corner to give it a little design, then used a 1/2" drywall. I taped all of the corners and mudded like normal. I also used outside corner beads. I dont like the metal corner beads.

Step 5: Designing Second Row Step Seating

On the cement floor, I covered with Dry-Cor. Its not cheap but is essential for a warmfloor but more importantly for the sound vibration. I built the step seating high enough so that I could crawl underneath the platform if I needed to, which I have a couple of times already. You will need to sound proof under this space with insulation or some other type of sound proofing material. I built the space underneath for a subwoofer but it turns out that it is not the best place to put a sub. My sub is in front under the rack. Like I said before. DO YOUR HOMEWORK before you build. All in all it is a great hiding spot for the kids. The seats sit infront anyway and I ran some accent lighting underneath for a red illuminescent glow which looks cool. If you do have accent lighting keep in mind that your want your room as dark as possible. Red lighting doesnt interfere with your eyes when watching a movie. Remember to INSULATE the underneath side of the floor. Very important.

Step 6: Upgrading to in Wall Speakers (Custom Boxes)

This is a very recent upgrade (03-2012) from my 1993 KLH speakers to brand new Yamaha In Wall Speakers. The sound is incredible and the movies come to life. Especially with the highs and mid range sounds. I only have a complete picture of the rears, but you will be able to see the unpainted frames for the front boxes.

When you make the custom speaker frame boxes, start by making the front frame for the speaker first. Make a cardboard template first of the front face plate (NOT your speaker), then you will be able to play with and find all of the angles that you will will want for your custom frame.

You will need to attach the cardboard template to the wall. Make sure that it is secure in the position that you want it in. When it is secure then you can make your outside frames around the front face plate. You should make a heavy guage paper template and force the paper into the position that you want it in while holding that edge of the heavy paper  against the corner of your cardboard front face template. Dont worry about exact corners right now. You will figure that out after you get a generic form from your heavy gauge paper template. After you cut it out, then trace your heavy guage template on a new cardboard template. This will be more exact and will allow you to have a better and harder template for tracing on your wood. You will form fit and refit several times before getting it right. Dont cut to much paper off at a time. You can always cut your template down but can never add. If you do make a mistake you can always fix it with masking tape then re-cut it later. Tape all of your template together in one piece then fit it against the wall to make sure everything fits. After you have made your cardboard template then trace and cut you mdf wood frames. All of my angles were very tricky because of multiple compound miter cuts and triangles. After you make your cuts, all of your mistakes can be filled and sanded with a wood putty. That is how I fixed mine.

I also made a template for the back of my speaker. Not all of my speaker went through the drywall and I wanted to make the smallest holes possible in my wall. You can see in my picture that is what I did with the multiple holes.

I attached my frames with screws and different bolts and nuts and wall anchors. You can see in one picture that I counter sunk some screw holes in the front face plate. They need to be counter sunk so as not to interfere with the speaker laying flat against the frame. I also used a Dremmel for this.

Step 7: Adding the Finishing Touches

These are some of my pictures that I have. I have completed my theatre room and will add new pictures soon. All in all it is a dream come true and I did it at a fraction of the cost. I am still slowly upgrading but with my new inwall speakers it is very close to completion. Have been enjoying it for over 2 years now. Bluray is the best ever and cant believe my eyes on some of the movies that I watch. I also have bass vibration under the seats and you cant believe the difference that it makes. It's a whole new experience the audio transducers. The screen is an Elite screen and 16:9 ratio. Cheapest possible and it works great. The seats I got at K-Mart. Yes, K-mart. They are very, very comfortable. That was one way I didn't spend $50,000 on my theatre room.

My Equipment Consists of:

Pioneer VSX-1120 receiver
Epson 6500UB projector
LG Bluray player
Kenwood 100 Disc CD Changer
Pyle Audio PT 1100 Amp
Clark Synthesis TST329 Gold Tactile Transducer
Elite 16:9 Screen
Yamaha NS-IW 960 Center speaker
Yamaha NS-IW 650 Front and Rear speakers
Yamaha YST-SW216BL Subwoofer

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    8 years ago

    You mention that you have the plans for the illuminator available.... Where could one find these?


    Reply 8 years ago

    I was working on a miniature illuminator and could design one but I currently am on another venture not related to theatre rooms BUT here are some detailed pictures of my home built illuminator out of house hold parts. It was about 100 bucks. It does a shooting star, dimmable milkyway and dimmable constellation. You have to stick the fiber optics through the top. Line up the fiber optics for the shooting star and keep them in the right order. I had 75 cables for the shootin star.


    Reply 2 years ago

    Would love the actual design plans for this!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    This is really fantastic! I'm working on my first fiber optic project (fairly straightforward 10' double helix). Can you post some basic info about how you made your illuminator? This is for a specific event so I'm considering renting one, but am considering hacking one together myself.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Very detailed, lots of pictures, 5/5 star job. Thanks for sharing!


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the comment. I hope to add more detail later.