Moving 20,000 People to Tears

by Cindy Davis

Not a dry eye remained in an audience of more than 20,000 at the University of Virginia (UVA)’s Bicentennial Launch Celebration in 2017.

A combination of 2D and 3D images danced across UVA’s iconic Rotunda, transporting the audience through the university’s and the country’s history — accompanied by readings and performances by the Martha Graham Dance Company, Hamilton star Leslie Odom Jr., former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove, singer Andra Day, the Goo Goo Dolls, and more.

AVIXA TIDE Case 1 UVA PaintScaping mapping

An ID chart is distributed to all vendors and clients, so that the teams can communicate clearly.
CREDIT: Image courtesy of UVA & PaintScaping

Images of Virginia presidential sons Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe gave way to shattering scenes from the American Civil War, the conflicts of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, and the inspiration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Ten months prior to the multimedia celebration, UVA Vice Provost for the Arts and Director of the Virginia Film Festival Jody Kielbasa engaged with film and stage director Mitch Levine to tell the 200-year story of UVA through the use of the arts.

AVIXA TIDE Case 1 Blue Sky Render

Rendering created by the Bruce Rodgers team to provide UVA with a simulation of what the projection mapping would look like the evening of the performance.
CREDIT: Bruce Rodgers - Tribe

Kielbasa challenged Levine to tell a complex story beginning with the conception of UVA by Jefferson, through deep social conflicts in American history, to celebrating milestones, and providing a hopeful look to the future. “You have to figure out how to tell all of that,” Kielbasa told Levine.

Framing the Story

Of the dozen projection mapping proposals to transform the university’s Rotunda into a canvas, Levine chose the PaintScaping team led by Philippe Bergeron, the company’s president. “It's not just that they could razzle-dazzle us with the quality of their imagery, but more important was their ability to be great storytellers and collaborators,” says Levine.

AVIXA TIDE Case 1 Union Confederate AVIXA TIDE Case 1 Presidents

A combination of 2D and 3D images danced across UVA’s iconic Rotunda, transporting the audience through the university’s and the country’s history.
CREDIT: Images courtesy of UVA & PaintScaping

The process between Levine and the PaintScaping team included script development and storyboarding. “They would send us scripts, early iterations of the imagery and animatics, and we'd go back and forth,” says Levine. “It was a beautiful collaboration in that sense.”

Connecting with the Audience Emotionally

UVA’s history is tightly woven with American history. “As a storyteller, to have the founding fathers as the progenitors of the story was fascinating,” says Levine. Moreover, the projected images inspired visceral reactions that supercharged the historical narrative.

The 3D projection mapping paired with virtual and live actors, sparking many poignant moments. The Rotunda displayed scenes of slavery, then a quiet background as descendants of enslaved laborers at UVA and the nearby presidential estates of Monticello, Montpelier, and Highland shared their ancestors' tales.

AVIXA TIDE Case 1 UVA Rotunda Fire

A combination of 2D and 3D images danced across UVA’s iconic Rotunda, transporting the audience through the university’s and the country’s history.
CREDIT: Images courtesy of UVA & PaintScaping

At one point, a virtual fire engulfed the Rotunda, recreating the blaze of 1895 at UVA. “We had a combination of virtual actors you could see from the windows inside the building interacting with live actors who broke through the scrim onto the stage as they tried to save books,” says PaintScaping’s Bergeron. “The projection mapping was so good that when the Rotunda catches fire, people actually felt warm, and that was totally psychological,” notes Levine. “People thought the building was on fire.”

The Rotunda was later transformed into the Lincoln Memorial as a backdrop for an actor to reenact Martin Luther King Jr.’s, I Have a Dream speech. “In that moment, PaintScaping did not exist anymore. People were in the world of MLK and Civil Rights from 1963 and that was incredible,” says Bergeron. “That was probably the most powerful moment in PaintScaping history.”

AVIXA TIDE Case 1 Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration

A combination of 2D and 3D images danced across UVA’s iconic Rotunda, transporting the audience through the university’s and the country’s history.
CREDIT: Images courtesy of UVA & PaintScaping

Out of This World

Throughout the program, the storytellers created many unforgettable experiences. The Rotunda started to melt during the “summer of love,” then spun during the introduction of rock and roll.

The show ends with the future. “The Rotunda almost literally takes off and we travel through space together to a future auxiliary of the University of Virginia out there somewhere,” Levine explains. “We went way, way out to the cosmos and then came way back in.”

AVIXA TIDE Case 1 UVA Lasers AVIXA TIDE Case 1 Jefferson

A combination of 2D and 3D images danced across UVA’s iconic Rotunda, transporting the audience through the university’s and the country’s history.
CREDIT: Images courtesy of UVA & PaintScaping

Such story sharing through projection mapping created a powerful experience. “That was extraordinary to me,” Levine says.

You could even say it was an epic breakthrough in storytelling and technology. Together the audience and storytellers made history by recreating history.

AVIXA TIDE Case 1 UVA Enslaved Build

A combination of 2D and 3D images danced across UVA’s iconic Rotunda, transporting the audience through the university’s and the country’s history.
CREDIT: Images courtesy of UVA & PaintScaping

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