Block: An XR Scenographic Tool
Imagine being able to design and build a theatrical set at the touch of a button, and see it appear instantly. This is exactly what Sheffield-based company Megaverse are working on with academic partners at the University of Leeds. Together, they are building Block, an XR scenographic tool, which will allow theatre practitioners and live performance creators to co-design spaces and scenes with the help of Augmented Reality (AR) technology.
In the world of theatre creation, an initial step for a director is to ‘block’ out a scene. Similarly, 3D modelling uses the same process – creating basic structures and forms to test placement and movement. Block will act as a translation tool between technical and non-technical creative teams, and give power to design back to the creative team.
Using the latest Apple AR devices, directors and theatre makers will be able to collaboratively create the foundations of a 3D set using the tool, and see their design in the real world with AR. The app is designed to be simple enough for anyone to pick it up and start to build structural forms right away. The sketched out scene can be edited and reshaped in real time, providing flexibility and allowing for the spontaneity of the rehearsal process. Finally, the scene can be exported for 3D modellers to develop into a full scale 3D model.
The current process of briefs and design iterations is slow and costly. Block will speed up this workflow – directors can quickly block out a scene, and actors can start interacting with the space and testing sightlines before committing to a particular design. Set designers will also be able to communicate their visual ideas early on in the rehearsal process. This will significantly reduce production development time and enable teams to stick to tight budgets.
Block will allow teams to be creative with architecture, and encourage a sense of play with shape and form. The tool will allow teams to experiment with set design and explore the ways in which architecture can affect the development of narrative. By removing the barriers of ‘real world’ limitations and harnessing the flexibility of AR, the tool will enable greater scope for innovative storytelling.
Block could have wider uses outside of theatre too, with other potential applications to be explored such as in 3D game design, architecture and exhibition planning. Megaverse will also lead exploratory workshops in collaboration with Dr Joslin McKinney from the University of Leeds. The workshops will explore production challenges, key wishlist functionality, and inform development to ensure the XR scenographic tool is fit for purpose and meets the needs of theatre practitioners and industry professionals. Dr McKinney is an Associate Professor in Scenography, with expertise in theatre design, audience experience and embodied spectatorship.