The University of Kentucky Center for Visualization & Virtual Environments

Innovative Technology Goes on Stage with UK Opera

The Vis Center’s new innovative high-definition projection technology, originally developed for non-theatrical use, will be used for the first time in a theatrical setting for the UK production, followed by the Atlanta Opera production.

The technology was originally developed at the Vis Center through a partnership with Fort Knox. Its initial application was for the military with the goal of building rapidly deployable, high resolution screens to be used in training or battle. Other potential uses include any environment that needs the mobility and convenience of a display from schools to museums and medical applications.

The projectors are mounted to the scaffolding in a system that also frames the screen.

While front and rear projected backdrops are nothing new to theatre, they can cause problems for the set design and for the performers. Normal front projectors can cast shadows and images onto the performers, and most rear projectors must be placed very far distances behind the screens to create a large enough image of scenery, which can limit the stage space. With the Vis Center’s new rear projection system, only four and a half feet separate the 54 projector units from their attached movable fabric screen units, which are an impressive 24×30′ and 24×15′.

The technology, coined by the Vis Center as SCRIBE (self-contained rapidly integratable background environment), utilizes a software system that blends the projections into one image, which will include still images and video related to the various scenes in the production.

This project grew out of the synergy that is possible through multi-disciplinary research collaboration. The Director of the Vis Center, Dr. Brent Seales came into contact with UK Opera Director, Everett McCorvey, through a chance meeting when they were both speaking at a luncheon hosted by Mrs. Patsy Todd. Both quickly grasped the possibilities of collaboration and over the next year the idea of using this technology as part of the opera production emerged.

A model for the screen stage design.

Dr. Seales states that this type of multi-disciplinary research is the goal of the Vis Center. “We plan to see more of these type of real applications of our technology continue to take place as we work with other researchers across the University in the future. The possibilities are amazing if you consider what research can do when people step outside of their regular environments to interact with those with a distinctly different background.”

Bill Gregory, lead engineer for the Vis Center, reflected on the value of applying his technical ability to the theatre production, “It’s been fascinating to work with the theatre crew. Being an engineer I am focused on the practical results and never look at the artistic aspect while they didn’t realize the technology that could be used to achieve their artistic ends. We didn’t know what problems existed for them and they didn’t know what to ask for until we collaborated.”

The images will depict real locations in Charleston, SC and the islands off the coast of North Carolina that were taken and edited by the Vis Center team. Actual hurricane footage from The Weather Channel will be used as well. Combining these projected images with a minimal amount of three-dimensional pieces of scenery will create a vibrant and exciting production.

A scene from the UK production of "Porgy and Bess"

The use of this projection system has already been drawing interest from other opera and theatre companies from around the country.

Read more about the production:

UK Opera
Herald Leader
UK Now

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