Video artist Oliver Feigl shares how he uses 3D scans of historic artworks to enhance modern performances of classical theatre.
I am Oliver Feigl and I work as a video-artist, based in Stuttgart. Lately I have been working on a theatre performance by the Pforzheim Theatre in Germany. The piece is “Requiem” by Mozart and it’s a collaborative production between an orchestra, two choirs, and a ballet ensemble.
The “Requiem” deals, in short, with the process of dying and the afterlife. Mozart even wrote much of the music for it during his own decline towards eventual death! While planning this particular production, we quickly decided to work with Rodin´s “Gates of Hell” sculpture, as a symbol for the border between life and death and as an essential part of the audio visual set design.
We ended deciding to use the sculpture in the second scene, combining it with choreography that was partly also inspired by artworks, the paintings of Hironymus Bosch.
In this scene kind of a battle takes place between angels and demons who wanted to take the female protagonist to their realm. The projected gate in the background represented the possibility to enter hell through its doors.
Deciding on – and then sourcing – 3D
During pre-production we imagined how the figures of the sculpture might move and we fell back to thinking about the gate and the figures featured on it. As result, we decided that the figures of the gate should be choreographed corresponding to the dancers. So I started searching for a way to animate the gate´s figures.
We found that the only possibility was to work with a 3D model. Searching online, it was hard to find any 3D models at all, but I finally bumped into Sketchfab and the photogrammetry model by Thomas Flynn, captured using RealityCapture.
We were very impressed by this very detailed capture, even of small figures and ornaments of the gate. We were planning to animate and zoom into parts of the gate, but we doubted to find a suitable mesh. We were happily proven wrong and Thomas kindly gave us permission to re-use his model for the performance, for free, under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
Animating a 3D scanned sculpture
Having found a 3D mesh, the next step was to use the Open-Source 3D program Blender to animate the figures of the gate. After a bit of testing, we decided to insert bones into the mesh to warp areas of it and get the figures moving:
Now that the production has premiered, it is wonderful to see Rodin´s gate transported to Pforzheim and connected to movement, the re-imagining of a famous historical artwork as part of a live performance about life and death.