Live Animated Theatre at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival

- by John Luxford

Pixels was a live animated improv show by the internationally acclaimed improv duo Stephen Sim and Caity Curtis. They used Flipside Studio to create an animated show in real-time in front of a live audience, wearing HTC Vive headsets to perform the characters while the audience watched on screen.

It was also the first public test of our upcoming cross-platform multiplayer that's going to completely change the way we make animated shows forever.

They sold out 9 out of 10 shows at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival 2018, and the response was incredible! The opening night of the festival experienced severe thunderstorms, so a big thank you to those who braved the weather to see the show that first night.

Stephen and Caity had a dozen different characters and a dozen different locations they could choose from, as well as any of the characters and sets created by our community, which resulted in some hilarious moments.

The sets were simple photograph backdrops, and the characters were all ordinary people, but it became immediately apparent when the first live audience members gasped at the opening of the show why this was something truly different.

There are several things that real-time animation makes possible, whether for live theatre audiences, live streaming audiences watching from home or anywhere, or both.

Location, location, location

Virtually unlimited locations you can jump to at a moment's notice enables you to take your show anywhere, including to dynamically react to the audience's suggestions and reactions.

Locations can also be dynamic themselves, like the driving scene shown above. As you can see, we've barely scratched the surface of what storytellers are able to do now as a result this technology.

Instantly be any character

Just like locations, an actor can instantly become any character of their choosing to augment the experience of the show. 

Improvisers have always had to inform the audience through verbal or physical clues as to what their character's role was, but now for the first time they can become that character in an instant.

Creating instant immersion like that frees improvisers to go deeper and explore new directions that were only previously possible through elaborate stage design and costume work.

Real-time directing and editing

The director can also dynamically affect the production as it happens. With the power to control cameras and more, the director can present the audience with something more akin to an edited TV show or movie with dynamic shots that theatre could never do live before.

Picture not just actors as part of the stage performance now, but also virtual camera operators getting close-ups and otherwise impossible shots, and still others animating environmental elements of the scene like lighting changes, sounds, moving props, or animals.

Improv is brought to life by real-time animation

Real-time animation gives superpowers to improvisers and sketch comedy troupes, turning them into real-time immersive storytellers. With the democratization of motion capture brought about by the combination of consumer-ready virtual reality hardware and software like Flipside Studio, real-time animation is going to explode both online and off.

All of this also brings a level of audience participation to animated content that only live theatre could do before. Suggestions can come to life right before the audience's eyes, and audience members can even be invited "on stage" (live or online) to be part of the experience.

And as computer graphics continue to make leaps and bounds over the coming years, real-time animation is also going to grow to encompass every style from the Simpsons to Toy Story, and even photorealistic animation like Planet of the Apes or Avatar.

There will always be new worlds and new stories to bring to life, and for years that's been getting faster and faster to do.

Now, it's instant.