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Ship Theater Shows

Over the course of 8 months I worked as the lead animator on a series of musical theater shows. I created visuals for the large-format LED screens placed on and around the stage, all synchronized to music and dance.

I took care of the more challenging numbers and designed most of the pipeline for getting visuals from concept to screen.

The shows were installed on several classes of cruise ships with differing LED panel configurations and dimensions.

Some panels were motorized while others were fixed in place. The largest screen was about 14,000px wide, surrounding the audience. 

All of this had to be accounted for in the video design.

Our team size ranged from 2-5 depending on the needs of the current show. Because of the short timeline much of the choreography, lighting, and music was developed in parallel. This meant we had to iterate quickly and keep our setups as flexible as possible right up to opening day.

Thankfully Houdini was well suited for this, and it became my main tool for most of the 3D work.

Some Breakdowns:

One of the numbers involved strings of glittering gems flowing, forming and disintegrating into shapes matching the performers' movements on stage.


I made heavy use of instancing and Henry Foster's motion operator nodes to drive the animation using masks, paths and noise. 

This non-destructive approach allowed for changes to the overall motion and geometry of the gems well into production.

The rendering was done in Blender using Cycles, distributed on several machines all linked to our NAS server.

I took advantage of Houdini's TOPs to multi-thread and dramatically speed up the Alembic sequence export. In order to give the gems some variation I also included a color attribute per-gem which I then accessed in a Blender shader to drive material properties.

This number began in an industrial-looking tunnel which transformed into a sort of "mirror ball", evoking skyscraper windows and glittering sequins.


The size and density of the panel grid had to remain flexible, so I once again drove most of the animation using procedural noise and masks independent of the tile geometry to accommodate changes down the line.

The entire setup was driven by a grid which defined the number, width, and height of the panels, as well as all of the scaffolding and structure in the tunnel. To simplify things, I animated the panels flat then wrapped them back onto the tube further down the pipeline.

This number was also rendered in Cycles, and because most of the animation consisted of rotations and translations I was able to export the geometry as an Alembic with packed transforms, resulting in much smaller file sizes. :)

This show, "Song and Dance" required a series of virtual sets which were intended to resemble a film studio backlot, with animated  transitions from one set to the next, moving through different times of day with animated lighting setups and fog, particles, etc.

The set elements were built with a typical poly modeling workflow, then laid out, shaded, and animated in Blender using Cycles.

Because of the size of the screens and their position relative to the actors, special consideration had to be paid to the camera and the relationship between set elements and the stage.


For example, we opted to remove any vertical vanishing points, because the size of the screens was enough to create a more convincing natural perspective.


This was a big project and there is more to share... but this page is long enough already.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions!

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