Technology Brings Added Dimension to HFCC Stage

Iori, Robin/Dearborn Press and Guide/17 January 2006: C16

     Virtual Reality entertainment has become a reality at Henry Ford Community College (HFCC), thanks to Dr. George Popovich, HFCC’s director of Theater Arts. The works he and his students are creating are cutting edge and not currently being developed at this level on any other U.S. campus. The works require a demanding multi-artistic technological creative environment common to films and motion pictures, yet Popovich’s theater students find a way to make it all come together on stage.

     “They’ve been doing some types of digital scenery productions at the University of Kansas”, Popovich said “but we’re also involving the actor in our 3-D work as a creative agent.”

     Popovich is referring to his group’s newest tool called “motion capture.” Motion capture is defined as the “three-dimensional representation of a live performance.” In HFCC’s next production, “The Skriker,” a play by Caryl Churchill, monsters and demons will be created through motion capture using an electronic suit that various actors will wear.

     “In 2003 when we produced “The Tempest” using 3-D, we had a lot of scenery effects in 3-D. Actors performed backstage and stereo images of their faces were projected in 3D stereo on a screen in front of the audience,” explained Popovich. “The Skriker” will allow an actor to wear a suit so the audience will not only see a face but an entire digital creature in 3D stereo”

     Putting everything together is difficult, time-consuming work. Productions are a combination of film, television, and stage techniques. “Our shows are more like live productions common to the early era of TV combined with cutting-edge visual effects current in films today, such as ‘King Kong,” Popovich said.

     The troupe received a regional award at The Kennedy Center’s American Theater Festival at Illinois State University in January 2004 for its work on “The Tempest.”

     At the moment the suit is hooked up to a life-size skeleton, borrowed from the biology department. It is made of strips of black nylon that have small points up and down the legs and arms that pick up the body’s movement. Facial dots are also worn to give shape to the face through the motion capture process. Motion capture allows the production company to work in real time.

     Auditions for “The Skriker” were recently conducted, and Popovich auditioned seasoned actors as well as those who have never worked on a play before. He said it will take a year for the show to be completed.

    “We have seven dialects to master,” he said “So sometimes it’s not just the technology that takes time. It’s making it believable as possible in more ways than one.”

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