Pacific Northwest Ballet Thinks Out of the Box For Annual Fundraiser PNB Stars with the Help of VR & Pixvana

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OverviewPacific Northwest Ballet turned to Pixvana to create an original VR ballet experience to present at PNB Stars, its annual scholarship fundraiser.

AboutPacific Northwest Ballet, one of the largest and most highly regarded ballet companies in the United States, was founded in 1972.

ResultsThe five minute VR video titled “Silent Resonance”, proved so compelling that the nonprofit shattered its fundraising goal for the event.

HeadquartersSeattle, Washington

IndustryNonprofit

The Challenge

Pacific Northwest Ballet turned to Pixvana to create an original VR ballet experience to present at PNB Stars, its annual scholarship fundraiser. The event attracts a captive audience of devoted ballet supporters, and PNB hoped that the novel experience of viewing ballet in VR would capture imaginations, stir emotions, and ultimately encourage attendees to give generously. As Pixvana Creative Director Scott Squires explained, “VR has the potential to produce a more intimate experience with your audience and create visuals impossible to match on a traditional stage, which can be incredibly powerful to witness. As an added benefit, the performance’s magic is available to those who weren’t able to attend or want to relive the experience after the fact.”

Before they began, Squires and PNB choreographer Price Suddarth met to sketch out a plan. What should ballet in VR look like? How could they use VR to enhance the grace of the dancers’ movements over time? VR brings its own challenges. Zooming in is a classic film technique for increasing emotional response in the viewer, but in ballet, the audience is farther away, and is always free to look where they wish. Could they get close-ups without getting in the dancers’ way or having them travel out of the frame?

The Solution

As they collaborated, Squires and Suddarth settled on a concept that would transport viewers, along with two dancers, from an ordinary dance studio into a celestial void. One set of dancers was duplicated twice, surrounding the viewer in the 360 VR environment.

In VR, strange-looking stitch lines can be caused when objects move from one camera’s vantage point to another. In his choreography, Suddarth embraced this limitation and confined the pair’s movements the pair to a relatively small region. Zooming was avoided during the shoot, with one exception: during a slow section, a closer shot allowed an emotional moment to be underscored while still giving viewers the freedom to simultaneously see the other versions of the dancers from a distance.

The 3-member Pixvana team used the OMNI GoPro to capture the 8k-resolution VR footage over a half-day shoot. Miles Pertl, a PNB dancer and a previous winner of the STARS scholarship, partnered with PNB dancer Emma Love Suddarth to perform the choreography.

To highlight the dancers’ movements in VR , a blue “echo” effect was added in post production on the two duplicate sets of dancers: one version was relatively subtle, and one was more visually complex, with more than 20 sequential images of the dancers superimposed over time.

“I sought out to create a short work that provides the viewer a glimpse into the mind of a dancer, said choreographer Price Siddarth. “In the piece you see the struggle, the conflict, the joy, and the complex beauty that is the heart and soul of a dancer.” In the transition to VR, Siddarth said, Pixvana “stayed true to the original intent and voice, while simultaneously elevating it to a level beyond what one might achieve without the tools and the realm of VR.”

The Results

The five-minute VR experience, titled “Silent Resonance,” debuted at the PNB Stars fundraiser and was met with surprise and delight. The piece is a deliberate, emotive work. Supporters of PNB were stunned by the intimacy and emotional impact of watching the dance in virtual reality. Silent Resonance ignited enthusiasm, generated discussion about VR’s future in art, and most importantly, increased donor support from the previous year.

“We are excited about the doors this collaboration opens,” said Peter Boal, PNB’s artistic director. “We’re seeing one art form enhance another, and the sum total is inspiring. Innovative choreography and exquisite dancers are seen in a new light, through a new lens, and by new audiences.”

“We are excited about the doors this collaboration opens,” said Peter Boal, PNB’s artistic director. “We’re seeing one art form enhance another, and the sum total is inspiring. Innovative choreography and exquisite dancers are seen in a new light, through a new lens, and by new audiences.”

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