Cirque du Soleil Brings Avatar to Life With BlackTrax Technology

The entertainment company’s TORUK – The First Flight performance leverages BlackTrax’s realtime tracking technology to transform the stage into an immersive and captivating re-enactment of the tales of the inhabitants of Avatar‘s alien world, Pandora.

CI Staff
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Cirque du Soleil is perhaps one of the most impressive entertainment companies out there, with performances that constantly wow audiences with performers’ incredible acrobatics, costumes and overall talent.

In addition to talented performers, part of what makes Cirque du Soleil’s shows so impressive is the tech behind it.

Premiering in December 2015, Cirque du Soleil brought James Cameron’s Avatar to life in TORUK – The First Flight with help from BlackTrax technology.

With Istvan Fazekas, assistant head of lighting for TORUK – The First Flight, supervising the project, and in conjunction with video specialists Solotech, BlackTrax technology tracks the video and lighting elements of the performance, transforming a simple 85 by 162-ft stage into a visually stunning re-enactment of the tales of the inhabitants of the alien world Pandora.

PHOTOS: TORUK – The First Flight

BlackTrax is a realtime tracking system that uses beacons with stringers and LEDs that turn into tracking points, cameras and software that is used to track people and moving objects on stage in real-time with pinpoint accuracy.

As a performer moves across the stage, nearly invisible LEDs attached to their costume will transmit their movements to a camera and software. In turn, they direct the lights or creative visuals to essentially follow them around the stage.

According to a CAST blog. BlackTrax was initially utilized to track 5 performers, however over the weeks of rehearsals that number grew to 17 performers, 15 props and two 80 feet wide by 40 feet high ‘Home Trees.’

“My goal was not to use follow spot, even though we had four on standby in the first two months of our creation. However, using the BlackTrax tracking system on the show is more stable and more precise than having local follow spot operators every week. We are using 12 Clay Paky Sharpy Wash’s and 12 Sharpy Spots,” says Fazekas, in the CAST blog.

The Sharpy models are able to keep up with the speed of the movements and are bright enough for use on stage. These models were also hung sideways to prevent them from flipping if the performer traveled directly under the fixture.

See TORUK – The First Flight in action by viewing the video below.

One challenge Fazekas faced with the tracking beacons was ensuring they were not visible on the performers’ costumes.

“Every time I found a good place for the BlackTrax stringers or a beacon on the artists, the creators of the show or the costume designer changed something on the costumes or their movements. Now most of them have stringers on their shoulder and on top of their wig, some of them have an extra sleeveless unitard which they put over their show unitard just for BlackTrax or a chest piece wired for the act they are tracked in,” says Fazekas in the blog.

The multimedia projections in TORUK – The First Flight  helped create a stunning environment for the performers and the audience. Video projections created large scale effects from Avatar‘s storyline, such as the earthquake and volcano eruption, the rivers of lava rising from within, and the Shaman’s visions projected on a huge floating, ethereal veil.

Video projections can even over flow beyond the set and right into the audience, creating an immersive experience. For example, waves start in the audience before washing up on shore on stage; in another scene, a starry sky is projected all over the arena, virtually turning it into an upside-down planetarium.

The CAST blog says that the total projection surface, excluding projections that reach out into the audience, is approximately 20,000 square feet, more than five times the size of a standard IMAX screen: 12,750 for the stage, 3,600 for the two lateral screens, and another 3,600 for the two columns of ‘Hometree’.

There are 40 video projectors in all: half are 30,000-lumen each, the other half, 20,000-lumen. Twenty-two video projectors are used for projections on the ground; six projectors send video images on Hometree; two projectors are dedicated to the two lateral screens; and eight projectors are used for immersive projections into the audience.

View this gallery to see photos from TORUK – The First Flight

“Solotech provided the 40 Barco projectors which are driven by 8 4x4pro d3 media servers. BlackTrax is the magic tool that, in this installation, combines these technologies to track two large ‘tree like’ huge inflatable structures that are 40-feet in height,” explains Sebastian Cousineau at Solotech, in the CAST blog.

“In front of a captured audience, whilst the ‘trees’ move on stage, the tracked video projection stays perfectly aligned and looks astoundingly real in movement and texture. We designed the system, which renders live particles around artists and puppets to create effects that follow them while they are tracked with BlackTrax.”

“We also use BlackTrax positioning to focus 28 of the 40 projectors in the media server’s 3D environment, it is a fast way to calibrate the projectors ensuring their real-world position is matched within the virtual file that controls the projection mapping.”

CAST BlackTrax CEO Gil Densham adds,  “We are very proud to have contributed to this thrilling event. The continual development of this technology means that they will continue to be used in creative projects such as TORUK – The First Flight and we are very excited to see what else BlackTrax will be used for.”

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