3D technology brings the stage to life

A stage production called Mr et Mme Rêve uses 3D projection technology to create a "virtual-reality room" in which the actors perform.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
3 min read

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

A stage production called Mr et Mme Rêve (Mr and Mrs Dream) uses 3D projection technology to create a "virtual-reality room" in which the actors perform.

On a darkened stage, a pair of actors — ballet dancer Marie-Cloud Pietragalla and Julien Derouault — dance through a storm of words, leaping from cloud to cloud in a night sky, in a vaulted, gothic building with stained-glass lancet windows. They're performing Mr et Mme Rêve (Mr and Mrs Dream), a surreal story about two characters who have escaped the mind of their author — absurdist playwright Eugène Ionesco — and are on a journey through his plays.

What makes this particular production unique, though, is its stage: a projected virtual-reality environment created by Dassault Systèmes, a 3D design, modelling and simulation software company whose products are usually used in industrial design. With its pop-up design, the stage can be transported anywhere, and its cloth walls and floor provide an excellent screen for the six projectors (three on the floor and three at the sides of the stage) that project the moving images into what Dassault Systèmes calls the "magic box".

Dassault Systèmes actually began what it calls its "Passion for Innovation" program eight years ago. The company wanted to take its industrial and product design technology and make it accessible to researchers, educators and artistic creators.

"When the Passion for Innovation team met with Marie-Cloud Pietragalla and Julien Derouault in the Dassault Systèmes Virtual Reality Center (theatres usually used by industrial companies for design review and co-creation in immersive mode), they intuitively and immediately felt that adapting this room for the performance would be really exciting," Dassault Systèmes' Mehdi Tayoubi explained to CNET Australia. "This room, the 'magic box', allows for a 3D world to be projected in real time by software that handles the display on the four surfaces of the cube, consisting of three walls and the ground. Using the 'magic box' for a performance allows the dancers to appear as though they are completely immersed in a virtual world when on stage, interacting with the set as though it is a third character."

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

The stage can also track the movement of the actors through the use of Kinect sensors so that the set can interact with the dances in real time, creating a sense of reality and depth.

Tayoubi said that he felt the project was perfect for a collaboration with Dassault Systèmes. He met with Pietragalla and Derouault about a year after they had started choreographing Mr et Mme Rêve and knew that this was a partnership that would shine a light on the work of all involved.

"We wanted to create a new theatrical language and give legs to the imaginary world through the collision of arts, dance and technology," he said. "Dassault Systèmes' Passion for Innovation program got behind their story and immediately began helping the two dancers visually translate their ideas, designing sets for each scene. We saw a lot of similarity between Eugène Ionesco and what we do at Dassault Systèmes every day. Working on interdisciplinary projects like Mr et Mme Rêve ignites innovation and pushes limits, requiring the need to solve problems you didn't know existed. This is important when you claim to be an innovative company — you must continually step outside your comfort zone to keep moving forward."

In all, the "magic box" and the scenes that would take place therein took about six months to design, with the biggest challenge being the box itself: designing it so that it would fit inside each of the theatres on the global tour of the production. And the virtual-reality system needed to be versatile: able to achieve the complex visual effects required by the production but also simple enough for stage hands to set up in various locations and in a limited time frame.

The next step, of course, is bringing the production, in all its absurdist 3D glory, to the world. "The Mr et Mme Rêve performance will eventually be on tour, showcasing this collision of art and technology in other places around Europe and then the world," Tayoubi said. "We look forward to seeing the reactions of global audiences to these performances — and in seeing what new technological advances this show might inspire."