Dinosaurus!

Redman, Bridgette/Encore Michigan/Oct 23, 2014:Online

     Dinosaurs! is a show designed to be unlike anything you’ve seen before.

     It takes virtual reality and adds in live actors to create virtual theatricality.

     It takes three dimensions and adds an additional sensual experiences to make it 4D.

     The story itself takes you below the surface of the earth to where two humans stumble upon a lost colony of dinosaurs while looking for oil.

     “This is not a movie or a cartoon, it is Virtual Theatricality,” said director George Popovich of the show that opens Nov. 1. “You have live actors interacting with 3D animations: The synergy created is amazing. It is a physical and emotional experience.”

     It is a children’s show designed for grades one through five, and Popovich said the emphasis on beauty and young audiences is a direct reaction to the most recent Virtual Theatricality show that Popovich created with the VTL (Virtual Theatricality Lab) at Henry Ford College.

     “It is my apology play for The Skriker. That was the ultimate horror story – the destruction of the world. The world gets destroyed in the end. It’s a crazy show that is dark and horrific,” Popovich said. “I felt kind of bad after I did that show. I wanted to do something fun after that – more cartoons, Saturday morning. Forgive me, save me, help me. I’m sorry.”

    The work that Henry Ford College has done with Virtual Theatricality under the leadership of Dr. Popovich has won national honors. The Tempest, done in 2003, was selected as a regional winner in the Kennedy Center’s American College Theater Festival.

      Popovich and his team began working on Dinosaurus! five years ago. They first experimented with doing motion capture for the dinosaurs, but the physics just wouldn’t work right.

     “It doesn’t work when you’re a biped like us and you’re trying to transfer into four-legged things. The arm extensions didn’t work,” Popovich said. “We tested everything, and we scrapped it and said, let’s go back to animation, to the traditional Disney, to the roots. We’ll have the actors perform these dinosaurs, and then we’ll give the videos to the animators for them to base their animations on, back like Snow White in 1939.”

     Once the animations were done, voice actors came in and voiced the dinosaurs while watching the animations. The result is that you sometimes have actors who are on the stage in three different ways at the same time – as a live actor, as the inspiration for the animation and as the voice of the dinosaur. They even interact with themselves a few times.

     Popovich says what transforms the performance from mere technology to art is the way the actors connect with each other and with the animated figures on stage. They rehearse so that there is a spontaneity in their reactions to each event so that they are in the moment and not simply following a script. It is in those moments where the actors connect with the images in a kinetic way that things change, Popovich said. “That’s where the magic is here. That’s the art. Otherwise, you’re just playing background videos, and it’s silly.”

     “We’re not doing that. The art form of this is to synergistically connect with the images, and when that happens, there is a new image. In a simplistic way, if a dinosaur is moving in a counterclockwise direction and the actor is countering and they’re looking at the eyes of the dinosaur, that creates that moment. You give yourself the screen image and you imbue it.”

     You don’t hire actors with these skills, Popovich said, because what they are doing is so new. “We teach them and we learn together. We say we want to do virtual reality with dinosaurs, and no one knows what that means until you start to explore it. We create the aesthetics of the acting style, and it has taken us a long time to do it.”

     Each show is limited to 80 people because of how the space works for the projections. The audience is seated on stage and is surrounded by the physical set that matches the virtual set. Audience members wear 3D glasses, and there is a 20’x36′ 3D projection screen. The dinosaurs will appear to be 20 feet tall and 6 feet from the closest spectator.

     As for the 4D effects? Audience members are warned that when the T-Rex sneezes, they should duck. “We’ll spray water on them,” Popovich said. “And I’m not going to tell you what happens when the Raptors come out.”

     There are two separate sets of performances: One is open to the public, and the other is performances for public schools. Popovich said they’re trying to educate their students at the college, but they also want to introduce kids to visual effects and live theater at the same time.

     “A lot of time they go to these movies and they don’t know how they’re doing this stuff. They’ve got some basic ideas of special effects.  Some of the places (we reach out to) are underserved areas. Forty-eight different counties in Michigan are underserved as far as the arts go. We try to hit some of these school districts.”

     While the run is only for the first three weeks of November, it will be the culmination of five years of experimenting and effort, all to create something different from what anyone else is doing – and using new technology to tell stories in new ways.

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