Cirque du Soleil has brought James Cameron’s Avatar to life in TORUK – The First Flight through the near-magical technology of BlackTrax. Under the supervision of Istvan Fazekas, Assistant Head of Lighting for TORUK – The First Flight in conjunction with video specialists Solotech, BlackTrax technology tracks the video and lighting elements that transform a simple 85 by 162-ft stage into a visually stunning re-enactment of the tales of the inhabitants of Pandora and takes the audience on a voyage through a new world.
The lighting design team was headed by Simon St-Louis and Alain Lortie at Lorite Design Lumiere Inc, working with the Toruk in-house design team. “We performed all design and programming for BlackTrax effects starting on the project as early as 2015,” said Lortie.
TORUK – The First Flight premiered in December 2015 in Montreal, Canada, which then kicked off its North American tour. While the inhabitants of Pandora will be brought to life by skilled Cirque du Soleil performers, the show also features large-scale puppetry and lived-in puppets to bring the creatures of Pandora to life. But one of the magical tools that helped tie the whole look and atmosphere of the show together was BlackTrax technology.
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 the performer walks, leaps and runs across the stage, nearly invisible LEDs attached to his costume will transmit his movements to a camera and software. In turn, they direct the lights or creative visuals to essentially follow them around the stage.
The show is full of video illuminations that bring this creative world to life in front of the eyes of the audience, and although BlackTrax was initially just used to track 5 performers, over the weeks of rehearsals that number grew to 17 performers, 15 props and 2 ‘Home Trees.’ These are 80 feet wide by 40 feet high. The structure is equipped with wheels and stands on nine pivots and can be moved by hand.
Istvan Fazekas, Assistant Head of Lighting for TORUK – The First Flight, said: “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.”
The Sharpy models are a good fit for the production as they can 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.
Fans of Cirque du Soleil and Avatar will be able to imagine that the costumes were a very tight fit on the actors, making it a challenge to hide the tracking beacons in inconspicuous places.
Fazekas continues: “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.”
The multimedia projections in TORUK – The First Flight evokes awe-inspiring landscapes – from the Floating Mountains and the Omaticaya Hometree, to the Anurai’s animal sanctuary and the lush jungles where the Tawkami live – create a visually stunning environment for the performers. So do the large-scale effects that come from the 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 sometimes over flow beyond the set and right into the audience, giving spectators the feeling they’re not merely gazing at Pandora, but they’re actually ON Pandora. At one point, 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 total projection surface, excluding projections that reaches 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. 22 video projectors are used for projections on the ground; 6 projectors send video images on Hometree; 2 projectors are dedicated to the two lateral screens; and 8 projectors are used for immersive projections into the audience.
“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,” explained Sebastien Cousineau at Solotech.
“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 said: “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.”
Both Avatar and Cirque du Soleil fans will appreciate the art and technology that have contributed to bringing this cinematic masterpiece to a different stage. It promises to be an evening of spectacular scenery and magical storytelling.
Read more about BlackTrax real-time tracking system : www.blacktrax.ca
About TORUK – The First Flight
Inspired by James Cameron’s AVATAR, TORUK – The First Flight transports you to the world of Pandora in a visually stunning live setting. Experience a storytelling odyssey through a new world of imagination, discovery, and possibility.
Through a riveting fusion of cutting-edge visuals, puppetry and stagecraft buoyed by a soaring cinematic score, Cirque du Soleil applies its unique signature style to James Cameron’s imaginary world and “makes the bond” between two kindred artistic visions that capture the imagination.
TORUK – The First Flight is currently touring North America. For more information visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/toruk.
Contact: Katinka Allender
K-Communications & Associates