Becker Scores Another Virtual Opera
Published on: October 16, 2020
Imagine Lewis Carroll’s infamous character—Alice—no longer in wonderland, but in a modern environment. As in Alice in Wonderland, she undertakes a challenging journey. But in this updated version of the classic story, she is a nurse who needs find her ailing mother in a new normal world.
Alice in the Pandemic, A Digital Opera is the latest virtual opera from Boston-based White Snake Projects. It’s described as a “deep dive down the rabbit hole into the elasticity of time, the unmooring of life, the heroism of doing one’s job, and the reconciliation of mother and daughter.” Created by Libretto Cerise Lim Jacobs, with music by Jorge Sosa and art by Anna Campbell, the live production uses new technology that makes it possible for remote singers to perform together in real-time as their 3D avatars interact in CGI environments.
Performances will be held on Friday, Oct. 23, at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 25, at 7:30 p.m.; and Tuesday, Oct. 27, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available for Becker College students at no cost.
“Alice” represents another digital opera that has benefitted from Becker students, alumni, and professors. The tech side was led by Professor Curvin Huber and Adjunct Professor Pirate Epstein. Sarith Sun and Gage Domhoff, graduates of Becker, and Ryan Casey, a current student, worked on 3D animation and effects.
“We’re really proud that we’ve helped create new technology to make this digital pivot possible,” said Paul Cotnoir, Assistant Dean of the School of Design & Technology. “The creative vision of Cerise Jacobs and her team at White Snake Projects is reshaping the face of modern opera, and we are thrilled to have a part in that effort.”
One of the challenges the Becker team worked on was the typical lag that occurs with all things being sent via the Internet. “We’re debuting on a new performance-enhanced platform, Streamweaver,” Cotnoir noted. “Professor Huber and Andy Carluccio, the founder of Liminal and developer of Streamweaver, invented a new facial motion capture system that enables real-time capture from singers in remote locations.”
“We are working with Andy Carluccio, a brilliant developer who created his own facial tracking system,” said Huber. “I then had to integrate his system into the real-time game engine we’re using to send all the CGI digital content to the ‘virtual stage’.”
Huber started working with White Snake Projects about five years and is now the director of innovation for the opera company. Epstein is the CGI producer who works with Elena Araoz (the director), Cerise Jacobs (the librettist), Huber, and 3D artists to ensure the CGI matches the overall vision for the opera.
Epstein noted that the element he’s most proud of is the White Rabbit’s “poofing.” He explained: “One of the most time-consuming parts of this project was animating the characters, especially if they’re doing intricate movements. The first scene we started working on was a train scene, when Alice first sees the White Rabbit, which called for a ton of custom animations—the White Rabbit running all over the train car, dancing, jumping, swinging on the bars, and more. To get this scene and the opera finished on time, we came up with the idea of the White Rabbit ‘poofing,’ or teleporting short distances.”
Domhoff, who used the animation principles and practices from his time as a student at Becker, said he was proud of the amount of assets he had to animate. “Animating 12 baby bunnies was not easy!”
White Snake Projects and its 2020 programs are supported in part by a grant from the Boston Cultural Council and administered by the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture. Alice in the Pandemic is made possible in part by a CARES Act grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
For tickets and more information, go to https://www.whitesnakeprojects.org/productions/alice-in-the-pandemic-a-virtual-opera-fall-2020/ Through the Ticket Access Program, Becker students can obtain free tickets by following the ticketing link and filling in $0 when asked for payment.
To see a promo video, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgqN2-NzJYY&feature=youtu.be