Last weekend we put our best shoes on, packed our hand-luggage sized suitcases and boarded onto a flight to Berlin. The event had been almost a year in the waiting. We were off to see the premiere show of the Zauberflöte at the Kömische Oper Berlin. Although it is one of the most performed operas in the world, this particular one promised to be unlike any other.
Since September last year, I had been making my way up to Paul Barritt's studio in Hackney Wick. Paul is the animation master behind the award-winning theatre company 1927, who combine live music, storytelling, performance and animation to create an atypical, exciting and spellbinding theatrical experience.
Looking to tear open the envelope of the world of opera, Barrie Kosky, artistic director at the Kömische Oper in Berlin, had approached 1927, to collaborate on his production of the Zauberflöte.
Given the enormity of the project, Paul asked for my assistance on the animation, which needed to be almost three hours long! For those of you who aren't so familiar with the mechanics of animation, it was an epic task! Considering that the production of an 80 min animated film, such as Snow White, would utilise at least 570 artists to bring their story into life. Luckily technology combined with Paul's knack for 'finding shortcuts' came to the rescue, providing lots of handy tricks to lighten some of the impending load.
Using a combination of stop-motion, hand-drawn animation and After Effects we worked for a year putting together the animation, scene by scene. After much trial and error, Paul cleverly devised a cue system that would create the illusion of an ongoing film, and allow the opera singers and orchestra to best sync with the projected images. Each scene was composed of various smaller cues, which looped seamlessly into each other. It was a completely different way of working, compared to my usual way of composing animation in After Effects. It meant that we had to be extremely organised with our file management and mindful of the mechanics that the live action performance and music presented at every step.
Aside from the variety of animations I made, that you'll find sprinkled throughout the opera, Paul also granted me the opportunity to work on two scenes of my own. This was a fantastic chance for me to not only take some ownership of my work, but also explore the mechanics of what it took to build a scene from beginning to end. The two scenes I worked on were the 'duet' scene, and 'drunken elephant scene'. The scenes themselves took many forms throughout the course of production, morphing along with the wider storytelling objectives that Suze Andrade (1927), Paul Barrit and Barrie Kosky were conjuring.
Over the course of the 12 months the closest that I had come to seeing a person interact with the animation were the odd tests that Paul and Suze had made in the studio. So although I'd seen the animations countless times, it felt like a whole new experience watching them along with the singers and orchestra they had been designed for. The beautifully choreographed combination of the animation, opera and music threw me along with the rest of the audience into a fantastical world. Each part reliant on the other to convey the fantasy, demonstrating in the largest sense that mastery and teamwork combined lead to greatness.