With over 250 million books sold – including The BFG, James and The Giant Peach and The Twits – few writers have made more impression on the world’s children (or their parents) than Roald Dahl. He is, however, perhaps best known for a title he didn’t write: the 1971 movie starring Gene Wilder Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was, of course, based on Dahl’s original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (Dahl fans perhaps rejoiced when the movie was remade, starring Johnny Depp, with the ‘correct’ title in 2005).
Remarkably, Charlie was first published in 1964, and it is a testimony to its enduring appeal that it continues to thrive. A case in point: last year, Charlie opened on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. It featured one of the movie’s most memorable tunes, with the evocative line: “Come with me, and you’ll be, in a world of pure imagination”.
Creating such a world on the stage is notoriously more difficult to do than in a movie – which is why the musical relies heavily on staging company WorldStage and its well-established mastery of the technologies that can help turn a designer’s vision into a theatrical reality.
As well as providing an ambitious, custom-made Unilumin LED wall to tell the story of how the Golden Tickets were won, WorldStage also deployed a range of Panasonic projectors, media servers from disguise (formerly d3 Technologies), and a BlackTrax real-time tracking system.
BlackTrax technology has long been favoured by WorldStage’s Lars Pedersen, VP of Innovation and Technical Solutions, being quick to see its potential and becoming an early adopter. Lars continues to provide invaluable feedback to the BlackTrax development team.
Ask anyone who has seen either of the movies what they remember most vividly, and the response will invariably be “the Oompa-Loompas”. The BlackTrax motion tracking system is instrumental in making their appearances no less memorable in the Broadway musical – especially in one scene.
If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll recall the television-obsessed Mike Teavea, with the Oompa-Loompas imploring children to throw their TV sets away and replace them with bookcases. For the musical, real TVs were too cumbersome to use, so monitor-sized foam core placards were used instead for the Oompa-Loompas to wave around.
The idea was to use projection mapping/edge blending to deliver an appropriate image to each placard to make it look like a real TV. The problem, of course, was that it would have been impossible for the projectors to precisely track the placards’ movement – destroying the illusion. Impossible, that is, without BlackTrax. By fixing BlackTrax sensors to each placard and integrating BlackTrax with a disguise media server which was in turn connected to the projectors, tracking was automatic – and the wonder of the scene was maintained.
“We put together a fully-staged and choreographed number for the director, writer, and composer to get their approval,” said Jeff Sugg, whose history with WorldStage goes back 20 years. “This was a great example of technology serving the art and not vice versa. Once I knew we were going to use BlackTrax then using d3, with its tight integration of BlackTrax, was a foregone conclusion.”
For the audience, BlackTrax helped create something that happened, but they didn’t know how it happened – perhaps the real definition of magic. To return to Pure Imagination: “We’ll begin, with a spin, travelling in the world of my creation. What we’ll see – will defy explanation”.