Intelligent Machines

3-D Opera Glasses

Over the years, 3-D movies have tended toward the cheesy. What can you expect from an entertainment medium requiring a room full of viewers to watch through cheap cardboard-and-mylar glasses just to get some illusory sense of depth? As a medium for art, might as well try playing classical theater to an audience wearing funny hats.

Then again, Monsters of Grace, a self-styled “digital opera in three dimensions,” does make use of those goofy cardboard polarizing specs, albeit designer ones donated by l.a. Eyeworks, combining them with the latest in computer animation technology to create a distinctly high-art multimedia event. This historic production-now concluding a 28-city tour of North America-reunites designer-director Robert Wilson and composer Philip Glass, whose 1976 collaboration Einstein on the Beach is a cultural landmark.

Though much praised abroad, Robert Wilson’s theatrical meditations on space and time have seldom been seen by American audiences-partly because of the huge expense of mounting them. Producer Jedediah Wheeler suggested a 3-D digital animated film as a more portable means of disseminating Wilson’s vision. Live performances by Glass and his musical and vocal ensemble accompany the 78 minutes of visuals, which constitute the first ever feature-length movie using stereoscopic, 3-D animation.

This story is part of our March/April 1999 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

Why work with something as gimmicky as 3-D? Attending a performance of Monsters of Grace at the beginning of its current tour at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (an incomplete version made its debut last April in Los Angeles) provides the answer. The procession of surreal imagery in 13 tableaux-which this April will be seen again in Los Angeles and then in Portland, Sacramento, Berkeley, Ann Arbor, and finally Toronto-is positively Wilsonian. Still, the high-resolution, 70 mm film provides a reach even grander than the stage-front-to-stage-rear palette of lighting effects and dream-like pantomimes for which Wilson is known.

A computer-generated child pedals a bicycle seemingly out among the glasses-wearers at an impossibly slow pace. A pure white ball of texture hovers above the audience and mutates into a dozing polar bear. A giant synthetic hand juts out beyond the proscenium, appearing to originate just a few rows ahead of the viewer. In this truly remarkable piece based on the 13th century mystical poetry of Jalaluddin Rumi, the fingers floating this side of the theatrical arch are digitally transcendent, in every sense.

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.

Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Listen in as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.