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Pixels: animation, with a twist

Improv meets world-class computer technology

Pixels, created by Stephen Sim and Caitlyn Curtis, blends improvisation with emerging VR technology to create live animation.</p>

Pixels, created by Stephen Sim and Caitlyn Curtis, blends improvisation with emerging VR technology to create live animation.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/7/2018 (716 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A new improv show at the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival that uses cutting-edge animation technology has sparked a dispute over who owns the innovative concept.

Stephen Sim and Caitlyn Curtis, who reproduce the comedy of George Burns and Gracie Allen at the Pantages Playhouse Theatre (Venue 4) in Burns & AllenA Loving Tribute, also rise to the challenge of doing a second fringe show, Pixels, at the Platform Centre (Venue 24).

"It’s real-time animation," said Sim of the latter show. "We’re both on stage, we’re talking to the audience, getting inspiration.

"And then we have (virtual-reality) helmets and the VR joysticks," Curtis said. "Those are all motion-capturing us, so our bodies are puppetting the cartoon characters that are being projected.

It is the virtual-reality aspect of Pixels that has raised questions from Bucko, another Winnipeg comedy group, which feels Sim and Curtis took the virtual-reality concept from a project they are working on.

Aaron Merke, one of the performers behind Bucko, came forward with plagiarism accusations in a news report on Thursday, but later that day sought to defuse the growing controversy, posting a statement on his Facebook account.

"Are we mad? Yes. Are we insulted? Yes," Merke said in the Facebook statement, adding later, "We don’t want people blacklisted, or people to participate in any kind of protest in our name."

Sim said they got the idea for Pixels while working with Flipside XR, a Winnipeg software developer. Bucko had also worked with Flipside XR on a fringe play they chose to postpone prior to the festival.

"Flipside XR is the name of the local software developer that invented this platform and this software," Sim said. "We’ve been working with them and they’ve been recoding and remaking this software for this show, so it’s that new, to be able to do it live."

Pixels is, Sim and Curtis assert, an improv show.

"We have a dozen different characters, different avatars that are designed that we get to embody and about a dozen different locations," Curtis said.

"But the content, we don’t know," Curtis said. "That will be inspired by what we get from the audience."

The process was an exhaustive one. The usual allotment of tech time for a fringe show rehearsal is about four hours, but Pixels went far beyond that, Curtis said. "I think we’re close to 100 hours of tech rehearsal," Curtis said.

On Wednesday, Curtis said, "we finally had our big breakthrough, and everything worked in the venue consistently as we needed it to.

"It was the last chance and the breakthrough came and it worked. There were literal tears of relief."

"Because it’s a BYOV (bring-your-own-venue), we were able to get 24-7 access," Curtis said. "They were recoding software while we were rehearsing."

"Technical stuff is not our thing," Curtis said.

"We have an amazing team of technical geniuses."

randall.king@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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Updated on Saturday, July 21, 2018 at 11:51 AM CDT: Edited.

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