A century-old opera is getting a revamp in the UK after swapping dusty wigs and curtains for augmented reality overlays and Snapchat filters.
Adding augmented reality and games alongside a musical recording of "The Cunning Little Vixen," the Welsh National Opera is ensuring that younger audiences will be able to follow along with the classic tale.
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The free interactive digital art installation, called "A Vixen's Tale: An Augmented Reality Experience," is currently available in the foyer of a performance venue in Cardiff, Wales, where it can pique the interest of audiences as they walk in for other shows.
Curious visitors, limited to groups of 10 at a time, access the experience through an installed iOS app, created by digital production company Arcade Limited and only available via venue-provided iPhone XR smartphones paired with wireless headphones.
As users walk through elaborately colored, woodland-styled arches on a scene set, they point their phones at pictures of animals (really AR markers) that are logged by the iPhone's camera so that the scene tracks accurately, triggering the sounds of opera music and forest soundscapes.
"What is unique about this installation is it is physical as well as digital," Jon Meggitt, the CEO of Arcade Limited, told Next Reality. "We deliberately designed it that way so even people who don't engage with technology can get enjoyment out of the piece."
Each user follows their own pink 3D vixen to each AR marker, with the user controlling the timing by clicking on her and launching a new mini-game. Once they complete a mini-game, she'll move to a new zone.
At the end of the story where (spoiler alert) the vixen dies, she then transforms into particles that swirl around the user. Through this augmented magic, the user "becomes the fox," i.e. the iPhone camera flips to show the user wearing a vixen face filter before flipping back around to show a bigger overlay of the woodlands.
The team has also made a publicly-available, Snapchat version of the pink vixen face filter, so opera-lovers everywhere can try on their themed mask.
"The Snapcode is also on the vine running along the floor. There are a lot of people who use Snapchat anyway, so we thought we'd go to where they are," said Meggitt.
Performers dressed as foxes, butterflies, and dragonflies are a more traditional casting choice for this nearly century-old operatic comedy.
But don't worry, no costumed actors have been put out on the streets in favor of 3D animals: the launch of the experience in Cardiff runs alongside the Welsh National Opera's traditional, non-augmented version of the opera.
This augmented reality experience from the Welsh National Opera isn't the first to take an old-meets-new approach to the marketability of historical content.
One theater company known for showing the classics, the Royal Shakespeare Company in England, has previously partnered with Magic Leap to deploy its spatial computing technologies for audiences. Earlier this year, the theater also hosted a Magic Leap fellowship to give university students the chance to design experiences using the Magic Leap One.
But this immersive trend isn't limited to Magic Leap, some theaters are using the HoloLens as well. Back in 2017, a collection of 80 HoloLens wearables were put to work to show portals and whirlwinds around dancers performing at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.
So while augmented reality often makes for flashy entertainment at tech conferences, today's patrons of the grand old stage are less likely to get the chance to experience the technology unless theater companies like these make the choice to innovate using the new tools of today.
The Welsh National Opera's actors will be performing the live version of "The Cunning Little Vixen" at venues across the United Kingdom until Nov. 28, and the immersive experience will be available until Nov. 3.
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