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Tuacahn's 'Aladdin' brings 3-D magic to live stage in Utah

Published June 19, 2012 2:38 pm

Tech • Theater turns to California effects company to give Disney musical new level of depth.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Thanks to state-of-the-art 3D technology employed in a live theatrical production, Tuacahn's "Aladdin" takes theatergoers on an especially dazzling magic carpet ride.

The production, which started more than a week ago at the Ivins theater in Washington County, utilizes a 3D process developed by a former Disney imagineer. It was created specifically for Tuacahn's version of the animated musical.

"When he [Aladdin] goes into the Cave of Wonders to go get the lamp, I thought wouldn't it be fun if we went beyond the realm of the stage and put the lamp out in front of everyone," said Scott S. Anderson, Tuacahn's artistic director and director of "Aladdin." "In London and in the Orient, they were doing things similar to this [3D on stage]. I thought, why couldn't we do it?"

So Anderson began Googling for special effects houses and came upon EffectDesign Inc., a San Rafael, Calif., company that produces projection and digital media effects for live events.

Anderson wanted the Cave of Wonders scene to blend live actors with three-dimensional images when Aladdin enters the cave to retrieve the lamp. But what may be easier to do in a movie theater for films such as "The Avengers" or "Avatar" is more complicated for live theater."The only way we could do it was using [digital] media. But instead of using a flat projection, they [the play's producers] asked us, 'What can you do that hasn't been done before with media?' " said EffectDesign CEO and founder Geoff Puckett. "We thought why not blend the live-action elements with the 3D elements?"

So the production designers created a Cave of Wonders set in which a specially made rear-projection screen was positioned along with other parts of the set.

During the scene when Aladdin walks into the cave, the audience is asked to wear a special pair of glasses, and the backdrop of the cave is projected from behind in 3D (projecting the images from the front of the screen — the way a movie theater does — would have produced shadows from the actors).

At another point, the lamp and a spider hover in front of the audience. The 3D effect also was used in another scene where the genie instantly changes the backdrop from a restaurant to a palace, then to the set of a television game show.

"The real trick is combining the virtual world with the real world," said Puckett, who used to be a special-effects designer for Disney resorts in Paris, Tokyo and at EPCOT before forming EffectDesign. "We have a real Aladdin interacting with the real world where he enters a virtual world and interacts with the virtual world."

Puckett sees this kind of 3D application as a possible new frontier for live productions in much the same way green-screen effects are used in moviemaking. Theater producers can create backdrops of any kind without spending huge budgets for physical set pieces.

"We can actually expand directors' potential," he said. "We're literally bringing the magic of Hollywood to live stage productions."

All told, the 2.5-hour production, which runs through Aug. 31 and from Sept. 3 to Oct. 19, uses about 11 minutes of 3D effects with custom animation made by EffectDesign. The resulting effect is "something the children would love and the adults would eat up, as well," Anderson said.

"I have followed theater for a long time — for 40 years. I watched all the phases. We went from lights and old boards with levers. Then I saw video come to stage. Now everyone has gone to LED [light-emitting diodes] images. That is the new hottest thing," he added. "But this [3D] takes us to a new part of that. It's an extension. And you have to wear the glasses right now, but I can see at some point not wearing glasses and it becomes a natural thing."

vince@sltrib.com

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'Aladdin' at Tuacahn

Where • 1100 Tuacahn Drive, Ivins, Washington County

Tickets • $23.50-$79.50, at 800-746-9882 or 435-652-3300, or visit tuacahn.org for more information.

Shows • Through Aug. 31 and Sept. 3-Oct. 19; call the box office for start times.

Running time • Two and a half hours, including 15-minute intermission