Melding Dance and Panoramic Visuals to Immerse Audiences in “Humanity”

by Michelle Gallina

posted on 07-08-2019

Technology is everywhere in our modern world, changing the way that we bank, shop, communicate, and do business. It’s also changing how we experience art. Interactive installations, 3D visuals, augmented reality, and projection mapping help art break loose from frames and traditional stages to immerse viewers in multisensory, creative experiences.

batwin + robin productions specializes in merging technology advances with art to create multimedia experiences that excite the imagination, the intellect, and the senses. The agency’s award-winning work has been featured in museums, events, sports arenas, and stages on and off Broadway.

“Every project is completely different, whether we’re doing the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall or producing animated fundraising screens for a charity gala,” says Linda Batwin, principal and creative director at batwin + robin. “We challenge ourselves to stay on the forefront of technology to bring creative ideas to life.”

A common thread across many batwin + robin productions is using large-scale visuals, whether it’s video projected onto the walls of a concert hall, animations displayed on a massive LED screen, or cinematic show openers projected on the ice at Madison Square Gardens. batwin + robin can spend months or even years collaborating with partners to brainstorm new ways of presenting visuals and supporting the performance or content. Throughout the production process, Adobe Creative Cloud apps including After Effects and InDesign, and Adobe Stock, play a key role in helping batwin + robin execute on its vision for creating compelling multimedia experiences.

Premiering a new hit

One of the latest projects batwin + robin worked on is the show Humanity, which premiered December 2018 on Holland America Lines’ newest Pinnacle class cruise ship. Developed in collaboration with RWS Entertainment Group, a full-service production company in NYC that creates award-winning custom entertainment, live events and branded experiences worldwide, Humanity is a new type of live entertainment experience that combines dance with 270-degrees of panoramic visuals. Visual effects and motion graphics display across a two-story tall, 250-foot long LED wall and seamlessly extend onto the stage using projection mapping.

The unique visuals allow the Humanity dancers from Step One Dance Company to interact in a way that audiences have never seen. In one segment, a dancer appears to play with light as an object, first holding it in his hand, and then sending it soaring around the theater. In another act, a single performer dances across the stage followed by her shadow. As the dance progresses, she breaks away from her shadow mirroring her and challenges it to a dance-off.

“It’s probably one of the biggest hits in the past decade for Holland America Line,” says director John Charron of RWS. “I’ve heard that they’ve never failed to receive a standing ovation. It’s not just dancers in front of wallpaper, it’s the visual effects and graphics that play a role too. The effect is stunning.”

The making of Humanity

RWS Entertainment Group brought batwin + robin in early in the production process. Linda and Adam Casini, a producer with batwin + robin, eagerly took up the task of creating a wholly unique interactive show. “Humanity started with a lot of meetings with RWS and Holland America Line to get an idea of what they wanted to do for the show, what has been done with interactive dance, and how we could go beyond that to make it an even more amazing experience for a live theater audience,” says Adam.

As with most batwin + robin projects, Humanity began as a series of storyboards and concept boards created with Adobe InDesign. Producers pulled together sketches, photographs, and image assets into InDesign files to create a strong outline of the proposed production.

The team at batwin + robin has found that Adobe Stock serves as a helpful source of inspiration for concept boards. Working directly through InDesign, producers can search through millions of stock photographs, video clips, and graphics to help illustrate the types of visuals that the producer wants to use.

“The concept boards are the backbone of our production process,” says Linda. “We share the concept boards with music producers, lighting directors, choreographers, and anyone else involved on the project. The back-and-forth collaboration helps us to further develop ideas.”

After finalizing the storyboards for Humanity, RWS workshoped the performance at their studios in NYC. batwin + robin then used this workshop footage to create a 3D previsualization model of the show using Adobe After Effects and MAXON Cinema 4D.

“It’s important that every audience member walks away from Humanity with a fantastic experience,” says Linda. “The previsualization helps us understand how people see the performance from different seats.”

The bulk of the show’s visuals are built using After Effects to create animations, add motion graphics, and incorporate 3D elements created in Cinema 4D.

“We’re generally creating full-resolution assets using After Effects and Photoshop at the same time as the previsualization,” adds Adam. “It means that we can move quickly to finalize and render assets once they’re approved.”

Prior to the show’s launch, batwin + robin joined the RWS production team aboard the Holland America Line ship for final adjustments to visuals and programming. If there were any changes needed, batwin + robin adjusted and re-rendered the After Effects file and then encoded the final master files using Adobe Media Encoder.

With Humanity already a big hit on the cruise, batwin + robin is already working to adjust the show for other ships. Not all ships have 250 feet of LED screen, so the team needs to rework visuals and adjust the choreography to meet the needs of every stage.

“It’s hard to pick a favorite moment from the show,” says Adam. “For me, it might be one scene where the dancers are surrounded by rain. You watch as the rain takes on different qualities, until it becomes a complete abstraction with umbrellas and flowers. The show is full of beautiful little moments and unexpected touches. It never stops being fun to see the amazed reactions from audiences.”

Topics: Creativity, Video & Audio

Products: After Effects, Photoshop, Creative Cloud