Stage and Scenery (Performance)

Digital techniques associated with this section largely overlap with the types of tools mentioned in relation to ‘The Performance Space’, but it may be of use to briefly mention some specifically relevant techniques. Mark Reaney (University of Kansas and i.e.VR – the Institute for the Exploration of Virtual Realities) has extensively explored the use of virtual reality for designing stage sets, starting with a production of ‘The Adding Machine’ (1995). Following this foray into integrating screen-based representations with live action, Reaney’s next project (1996) was a version of Samuel Beckett’s ‘Play’, which required audience members to wear semi-translucent head-mounted displays (HMD’s) in order to fully appreciate all aspects of the production. Pre-recorded 3D video footage of the actors was superimposed over a 3D navigable virtual environment with the audience’s attention being directed by a live actor - visible through the non-opaque displays of the HMD’s – who appeared as a ghostly figure amongst the digitally created imagery. The latest project featured on the ieVR website is a 2003 production of Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’ which places great emphasis on the use of CGI enhanced characters and mobile projection equipment for dynamic placement of scenographic elements.

The use of stereoscopic glasses is another method for introducing a sense of depth to an image and derives from techniques that precede the invention of photography. Binocular images that were designed to be viewed separately by the left and right eyes existed in the sixteenth century and the modern equivalents of the small hand-held wooden stereoscopes that isolated respective eye-views are called 3D Liquid Crystal Shutterglasses. This technique involves showing alternate left and right images onscreen at higher than normal refresh rates which are then viewed through shutterglasses with a liquid crystal blocking mechanism in both lenses that flickers on and off in synchronisation with the screen refresh rate, allowing each eye to only see the appropriate alternate image. This technology can be used very effectively in conjunction with wide rear-projected displays such as Fakespace Systems’ Powerwall™ product, or a CAVE (CAVE Automatic Virtual Environment) immersive system where three walls and the floor of a designated space are capable of displaying stereoscopic images.

For early phases of projects where it is only necessary to block out movements within roughly designed sets, free or inexpensive software is available. Visual Assistant is a freely downloadable tool that is aimed at creative rather than technical users and enables rapid visualization of stage settings using an intuitive toolset. Output is in VRML (Virtual Reality Modelling Language) format rather than the more current iteration of that standard which is now maintained by the Web 3D consortium and is called X3D. VirtualStage from DakineWave is more recent software that provides users with a way of creating entire 3D animated plays and dramas involving characters that can be chosen or imported from model libraries along with sets and locations that can be similarly selected either from within the programme or from other appropriate systems. Another offering is openStages authored by Chris Dyer which offers the user options to build stages and then manipulate and light custom or generic pieces of scenery in very plausible looking theatrical spaces.

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