Cirque du Soleil has partnered with Microsoft to develop a way for the acrobatic entertainment company to test out stage setups and choreography in augmented reality using HoloLens. A working version of the technology was shown onstage today during Microsoft’s Build conference for developers.
Chantal Tremblay, the director of creation for Cirque du Soleil, explained that it takes the company about 18 to 24 months to go from choosing a theme for a show to releasing it to the public. Much of that time is spent building the show’s sets at Cirque’s studios in Montreal. But with HoloLens, Cirque scenic designer Carl Fillion said, the company will “be able to visualize the same stage and all the equipment into the same studios at real scale” months before construction. “We are closer than ever to a perfect creation tool,” he said.
“WE ARE CLOSER THAN EVER TO A PERFECT CREATION TOOL.”
During a demo, Tremblay, Fillion, and one of their Cirque co-workers each tossed on a HoloLens headset and started collaborating on a new set using primitive geometric shapes. They were also able to bring a co-worker into the scene using a virtual avatar, similar to the kinds of VR collaboration efforts we’ve seen from Facebook. By the end of the presentation, they were looking at a life-sized version of a potential Cirque du Soleil set, complete with dancers moving throughout it.
“To be able to see that so early in the process is amazing and totally new,” Tremblay said. “Usually we have to wait until we finalize our casting and the artists come to Montreal, but now by looking at it we could even make changes” to the performance, or even change the casting call based on those real-time design choices, she said.
The demo was reminiscent of the NASA one from two years ago, where scientists showed how they could use HoloLens to explore the surface of Mars. This was a glimpse at what Cirque du Soleil hopes to do with HoloLens, because the collaboration is apparently still in its early stages. HoloLens is also still limited in a few ways — for instance, the headset’s field of view is much more limited than onstage presentations like these make it seem.
“What you just saw was a custom solution done in collaboration with an incredible partner,” Microsoft’s Alex Kipman said. And while he said the goal is for Cirque du Soleil to use these tools in “future live shows,” the demo was also clearly meant as a pitch for the developers in the audience. “Imagine the transformative power if these are applications created by you,” he said.