3D adds depth to The Flying Dutchman in Melbourne

Computer-generated 3D set pieces could one day make opera easier to tour, says Deakin Motion.Lab director, Kim Vincs.

<I>The Flying Dutchman</I> in 3D opens at St Kilda’s Palais Theatre in Melbourne on 14 February 2015.

<I>The Flying Dutchman</I> in 3D opens at St Kilda’s Palais Theatre in Melbourne on 14 February 2015.

Victorian Opera seeks to revolutionize performance theatre by using movie-style 3D visual effects in its upcoming Melbourne production of Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman.

It’s one of the first times 3D has been used in a full-length, mainstream opera, according to Kim Vincs, director of the Deakin Motion.Lab, the research group designing the visual effects.

“Technology in performance is usually used in more experimental, more avant-garde works, but this is a very deliberate attempt to bring this kind of visual ability to engage and to inspire into a mainstream opera,” she told Computerworld Australia

Opera is a fitting place for 3D, she said, because “opera is all about scale, all about being epic, and all about visual effects.”

The opera is part of a three-year research project funded by the Australian Research Council that commenced in August 2014 and will include three operas.

“The goal of the project is to investigate the possibilities of 3D imagery both for creating exciting visual environments and also about the potential to make opera more easily toured through reduced costs since you don’t have to drag huge sets across the country,” said Vincs.

In the future, Vincs said 3D imagery could completely take the place of heavy traditional sets, she said. While work on The Flying Dutchman is focussed on exploring the visual possibilities of 3D, the next two operas in the project will take a closer look at creating a more portable opera, she said.

“One of goals is to see whether we can create an opera that is light in terms of what you need to carry with you to put it on, but just as rich if not richer visually than what you would see in the city.”

In The Flying Dutchman, 3D enables the production to create massive fjord and ocean scenes behind the performers.

“What 3D imagery lets us do is create the illusion of the depth in the theatre that isn’t really there,” she said. “I think epic is probably the word.”

In addition, using motion capture, Deakin Motion.Lab is able to add extra people into the background, including the ghost crew of the opera’s haunted ship.

The imagery is run live in a videogame engine. “We literally create the world of The Flying Dutchman and drive around it as the opera progresses.”

While the scenery does not respond in real-time to the people on stage, careful attention has been paid to ensure that performers are positioned to blend into these 3D environments, she said.

To actually project the images, Deakin Motion.Lab uses two stereoscopic projectors with polarized filters – the same technology used for 3D movies. In addition, images will be projected on the sides of the theatres to further the sense of immersion.

People in the audience must wear 3D glasses in order to see the effects, but Vincs said this does not get in the way of enjoying the opera.

“People don’t notice that they’ve got the glasses on after a while. You just get used to the fact that you’re seeing the people and the imagery.”

“But that’s also in the craft of it,” she noted. “If we put 3D imagery that doesn’t make spatial sense with where the performers are, then people will get uncomfortable very quickly.”

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Vincs has a core team of about five working on the 3D scenery, and when they are finished the design process will have taken about six months, she said.

The Flying Dutchman is not Vincs’ first foray into mixing 3D imagery with live performance. Her most recent work was a large dance performance at the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne.

“Stereoscopic technology is not new, and of course stereoscopy itself is really not new – people were doing that in the mid-1800s,” she said.

“But I think combining it with performance in this kind of big, theatrical environment is something that hasn’t been done very much.”

Vincs said she’s not heard any resistance to 3D from traditional opera lovers.

“This is the first, so we don’t know how that will happen, but in the dance works that I’ve done, the reaction has been the opposite … People really enjoyed that added sensory experience.”

The Flying Dutchman opens at St Kilda’s Palais Theatre in Melbourne on 14 February 2015.

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

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Tags operaDeakin Motion.Lab3dVictorian OperaThe Flying Dutchmanperformance artsRichard WagnerAustralian Research CounciltheatreMelbourne

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