Animating a tale of tragic love

Opera Queensland’s production of La bohème, featuring animated sets designed by the Griffith Film School. Photo courtesy of OperaQ.

There is a special touch in Opera Queensland’s stunning new production of Puccini’s classic La bohème, courtesy of Griffith Film School staff and alumni.

The latest production presents a range of sets featuring clever and intricate visuals and amazing animation to bring the most romantic opera of all time to life on stage.

The team of animators was led by Associate Professor Andi Spark, who worked closely with OperaQ’s Designer Penny Challen and Director Craig Ilott, to set the mood for the timeless opera.

Associate Professor Spark describes Ms Challen’s vision as “absolutely instrumental” in the overall production, which allowed for a set to be developed to fortify the highly emotional interplay between performers.

“We discussed a number of different visual approaches and spoke of the need for a very subtle and evocative effect in the sets,” she says.

“The animation was never to overwhelm the audience, but rather to help to support the story and theperformers on stage.”

Associate Professor Andi Spark led the team of animators to create the sets for La bohème.
Associate Professor Andi Spark led the team of animators to create the sets for La bohème.

With this direction in mind, the sets then came together using a “paint under camera” technique.

“This is highly laborious in creating each frame as a painted image and manipulating eachimage to give a semblance of movement,” she explains.

“We used a combination of water colours on paper and some pastels, along with digitally mimicked and drawing effects.

“Each sequence is compiled as a discrete entityto be able to be timed according to the real time stage action on the night according to the director and conductor (and performers) so there is a very strong element of ‘live’ animation in this.”

The animation team included Mr Xin Li and Dr Zhi Ming Su — both sessional staff and graduates from the very same program Associate Professor Spark teaches at the Griffith Film School.

“Both animators created painterly animations as their thesis projects and continue to work in this unique technique, so were ideal for the La bohème project,” she says.

OperaQ Artistic Director Lindy Hume describes the resulting production as intimate, revealing and one that packs a whopping emotional punch.

“Audiences can expect the same thing that audiences have experienced for the past 100 years, a potent mix of romance, drama, passion, laughter and tears that, alongside Puccini’s ravishing and emotive score will reach out and tug at the heartstrings,” she says.

“Penny, Craig and the animation team have created a wonderful world of art, set against a canvas which comes to life in front of the audience’s eyes.

“It is impossible to leave the theatre without being touched by this journey of self-discovery,” Ms Hume says.

La bohème is playing at the Queensland Conservatorium Theatre until 2 August before touring regionally.

Learn more about the production at OperaQ.