Animating Ancient Theater Through Computer Graphics

A conversation between
Sallie Goetsch, University of Warwick, England
and Stefan Didak, Animagic, Netherlands

>When I first saw Animagic's proposal for a 'designers'
>toolkit' (see Listings: Conferences and Resources) I was struck not
>so much by its obvious usefulness to scene and lighting designers
>but to its potential as a tool for teaching and research in ancient

The above idea gave us the idea to extend the basic features list of
the toolkit to include more features dedicated to 'overall view'. Meaning
that you can move around stage props, parts, etc.

> Practitioners of the Greek and Roman performing arts work
>primarily with simulation, speculation, and reconstruction, given
>that the evidence of performances in antiquity is so fragmentary. The
>two-dimensional models and archaeological plans which are
>currently used by lecturers are often visually confusing--though not
>as confusing as the extant remains of, say, the Theater of Dionysus
>in Athens. And hypotheses about the operation of stage machinery
>such as the crane and the *ekkyklema* have gone largely untested
>due to the lack of funding for experimental building.

One of most important uses of computer graphics is of course the
simulation and visualization of subjects that can't be tested under
normal circumstances due to (as you already stated) lack of funding.
There are numerous cases in our field where computer graphics have
convinced prospective investors to make funds available for
projects. The simulations done (for offshore companies mainly)
showed new ideas for construction vessels in both global and high
detail. The designs we made then were exported to another file format
and processed by another company which specialized in structural analysis.
This company then tested the stress factors on the design and
construction to see if it was a safe design (by standards set for
that industry) and if it was viable from a builders viewpoint.
I could see the same thing happening for reconstructing ancient

>'High-quality professional 3D animations with support for file
>exchange with systems like AutoCAD' could change all that.

True. And the AutoCAD format is one of the best-supported industry
standards for file exchange when it comes to 2D and 3D models.

>We could input the (hypothetical) dimensions of the TDA and create a
>three-dimensional model which we could rotate to show the actors'
>and audience's perspectives and test the sight-lines of different
>positions in the *cavea*. We could re-create the original logistics
>of choral performance.

This is one of the features we will not be implementing in the
toolkit since the packages such as AutoCAD and 3D Studio already
have provisions for them.

> If the Toolkit incorporates sound,
>we could synthesize *aulos*-music and its interaction with the
>acoustic properties of the space.

There is no way we could add sound to the toolkit. It is possible from
a technical standpoint, but would make it so much more complex. The
toolkit will work under 3D Studio which has no direct support for
audio. It would however be possible to add sound in the post-production
phase when simulations are stored on video tape. Also the audio aspects
of theater (ancient or modern) are enormous when taking into account the
acoustics of settings. This is a completely different matter where
people are still actively doing research when it comes to computer-
generated simulation of audio settings.

>In short, software of this sort would allow all of us to work with
>and in the Theater of Dionysus, or the Theater of Epidavros, or the
>Theater of Thoricus, or indeed any theater which has been excavated
>and published, without risking damage to the sites or incurring
>enormous expenses for building materials and personnel.

You're absolutely right. Any scene or location can be visualized as
long as data is available on the design and construction of those
scenes and locations. The only time invested would be the time to
create the models (scene, props, etc.) and once that is done it is
possible to navigate through it easily and efficiently, adding
lightsources and shadows wherever they are required. If new information
is found on a specific theater it would mean building the models and
adding the data to the scene. It would also mean that a lot of
reconstructions can be made of one particular theater or even to
reconstruct any theater that has enough published information to
work with. This will give you the oppurtunity to visualize anything
you would like to without having to go through the process of
raising funds for each and every project for materials, etc. A one-
time investment in computer hardware and software would do the job.

>The ability to animate and to digitally record productions means escape
>from the confines of slides, which, while better than no illustration
>of such an intensely visual art, reduce theater to a set of static images
>and deprive it of its vitality.

A picture already says more than a thousand words, but just imagine those
images being animated. Now that will surely keep people glued to the
displaying device, keep them interested, and will even convince
prospective investors to fund projects.

I can imagine that after reading our discussion, people might have
questions about what it takes to create those animations and simulations
and what possibilities there are at this point in time to get started
with these tasks and even more important what the costs would be that
are involved in setting up a system like that.

If we stay focused on the PC platform primarily, there are a number of
choices that one can make for software. A single copy of Autodesk's
3D Studio and a 486/66 PC with 16MB of RAM would be a good start at
about $3500-$4000. In the case of a complete production system there
are a number of issues involved that have to be addressed. These are
the video standard to be used (ie. VHS, sVHS, or professional broadcast
quality like Betacam-sp) or if there is to be recorded and played back
digitally from disk (like DSP's PAR). A system with sVHS recording
capabilities like that would be somewhere in the neighborhood of about
US$6000-$10,000 depending on the video hardware. For professional
broadcast recording and playback anything from US$10,000 and upward is
possible, again depending on the hardware of choice.

Sallie Goetsch

Stefan Didak

Stefan Didak is a computer graphics expert with seven years of experience; Sallie Goetsch is learning HyperText Markup Language.