fbpx

“Cursed Child” Projection and Video Designer Talks Making Digital Magic

The use of digital media in live theater productions has become more prevalent in recent years. Video and projection art provides opportunities to expand beyond the physical set onstage and take a theater audience to new realms. That’s the case for audiences at all three (soon to be four) Harry Potter and the Cursed Child productions.

“I’m very interested in the interaction between the video media, and then human being, and then the environment in which they sit in, and then how that all comes together to create this complete world,” says Finn Ross, the projection and video designer on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts One and Two.

MuggleNet sat down with Ross at the Digital Media Symposium in Binghamton, New York, where he was a keynote speaker. The symposium was hosted by the United States Institute for Theatre Technology and preceded the LUMA Projection Arts Festival, which transforms the city’s downtown buildings into animated works of art.

Ross has been creating digital components for live entertainment for about 15 years and has an extensive résumé. His Broadway and West End credits include The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mean Girls, Frozen, and of course, Cursed Child.

You may not have even realized there was a video designer on Cursed Child. If that’s the case, Ross says he “would have done [his] job really well.” He explains that video wasn’t originally part of the plans for the play, with the creators wanting to exude a sort of old-school theater vibe.

“I think the idea of video, to begin with, was not really part of Cursed Child because that wasn’t what they wanted their world to be, but the effect that video delivers in Cursed Child was the only way that they could think of delivering that effect,” Ross explains.

 

 

Ross says he was tasked with making “video that didn’t look like video” and hiding the evidence. The technology used to deliver the video effects is hidden away and disguised within the theater’s architecture. If you’re like me and stand up at intermission with the sole purpose of finding out where the projectors were, you may see them, but if you’re not looking, they’re not immediately obvious.

“It’s creating a palpable sense of magic by hiding your tricks,” says Ross.

When Cursed Child first took over the Palace Theatre in London’s West End, Ross mapped the surface of the set. He says this process involved getting ahold of the engineers’ 3D models to make sure everything lined up perfectly over the top of the physical setting. It’s a process that has now been repeated four times, most recently at the Curran in San Francisco, where the play opens this October. Every theater’s set looks the same but has different dimensions that mean a whole new video has to be designed to fit them.

“It takes two to three weeks to do all the modeling but then actually three days to do the animation, which is the hilarious thing, that actually, the prep is very extensive,” says Ross. “And then if your models are good, if your plans are good, then you arrive on-site and it works – in theory.”

Adhering to the tagline “Keep the Secrets,” we didn’t badger Ross to reveal everything behind the show’s effects. To find out more about how video is used to create magic onstage, you’ll just have to experience it yourself.

You can watch our full interview with Ross or read through the transcript below.

 

 

Full Transcript with Finn Ross, Friday, September 6, 2019

Finn Ross: I'm very interested in the interaction between video media, and then the human being, and then the environment in which they sit in, and then how that all comes together to create this complete world, and I really relish the challenge of making that world.

Amy Hogan: Can we talk a little bit about Cursed Child and how you got involved in that project?

Finn: With Cursed Child, I think the aim was to create a very exciting show for an audience made out of all things theater does really well in a really honest theater way. By using actors and scenery and movement in an incredibly creative fashion rather than relying on extensive automation, complicated, expensive tricks. Almost like an old theater way. So I think the idea of video, to begin with, was not really part of Cursed Child because that wasn't what they wanted their world to be, but then the effect the video delvers in Cursed Child was the only way that they could think of delivering that effect. So we came in to basically try and do video that didn't look like video, so... I mean, I almost consider it a lighting effect because it's at that intersection between video design and lighting design and you just don't quite know who is doing what, which is the perfect thing about it, that if someone were to leave that show not realizing there was a video designer in it, weirdly, I would have done my job really well because it's creating a palpable sense of magic by hiding your tricks. Within the architecture of the building, for example, the kit that delivers the video is very hidden and very built in and absorbed, so you don't walk into a technological space when you walk into any of the Cursed Child theaters. You walk into a theatrical, magical space. And then everything just comes out of thin air.

Amy: Did you have to remap each theater that the show went to?

Finn: Yeah.

[Amy and Finn laugh]

Finn: Obviously, the scenery does not stay the same; it gets wider, it gets shallower. But the look and the feel is absolutely the same. It's the same design but a bit thicker, a bit narrower, a bit taller, a bit shorter. But that doesn't mean... Because everything - the whole process of making the effect - is so reliant on highly accurate 3D models, we need to dig right into engineers, 3D drafting... It's a very complicated thing to model. It takes two to three weeks to do all the modeling but then actually three days to do the animation, which is the hilarious thing, that actually, the prep is very extensive. And then if your models are good, if your plans are good, then you arrive on-site and it works - in theory.

Amy: Digital components have become a much bigger thing in Broadway shows in the past few years. What realm does that open up for set design and really bringing these stage plays to life?

Finn: I think the increase of digital technology, digital scenery, whatever you want to call it, projection [on] Broadway and [in the] West End has opened up new possibilities for the designers and also for the audiences, so we can create worlds that can shift and transform and change in ways that just wouldn't have been possible beforehand, and I think it can make a theater space that's really one of the mind or in the imagination, not just a room onstage but a psychological space for drama to unfold in, which - I think - is a very natural thing for a performance space to be.

Amy Hogan

I was 9 years old when I discovered the magic that is “Harry Potter.” I am a proud Hufflepuff and exceedingly good at eating, reading, being sarcastic, and over-thinking small tasks. Since I spent too much time worrying about the correct way to write this bio, this is all I was able to come up with before the deadline.