December 2012

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December 2012

Conference & Stage Expo

Designing in the Virtual World

Richard Finkelstein Scene Design & Technology Commission

The designs for this production of Anna in the Tropics, directed by Ricky Martinez in November 2012 at James Madison University, above, were created in just a few hours using the tools of SecondLife. The image, below, shows the stage as designed.

Images/R. Finkelstein

Today, there is a renewed trend toward ever more hyper-realistic, mesh-based, ray-traced design methodologies. Unfortunately, each move forward has either been somewhat of an illusion or hindered by the loss of other traditionally valued aesthetic sensibilities. High-end systems demand years of training and still force collaborators to merely look at screens as someone else does the work. What has been needed is something to democratize new design methodologies and to bring the collaborators into the screen as equal partners in creation.

A new avenue will be discussed in Using Virtual Worlds for Performance & Design scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, March 23 at the Milwaukee 2013 Conference & Stage Expo. The session will be presented by Autumn Casey and Richard Finkelstein.

The world of Second Life affords this very opportunity. Second Life is an ideal environment for virtual collaboration, research, design, experimentation, and training. Second Life is a research and prototyping tool for the masses. Its users include such diverse groups as the United States military and intelligence services, NASA, the medical professions, and educators and artists from around the world. Major filmmakers are using it as a real-time animation engine (with one such project earning an Emmy award nomination last year) .There's even a contingent of Broadway and West-End performers, directors, and others working on virtual performance projects.

This USITT session is designed to introduce participants to opportunities for full collaboration in education, research, development, and creation of both real-life and virtual performance from within this immersive tool.

To learn more or to begin an exploration, with a personal introduction Just download the free software at, move through the simple orientation, and then contact Mr. Finkelstein’s virtual self, Leko Littlebird. He can be found "inworld" most evenings at 10 p.m. Eastern time. (Or write through more traditional means at

Production photo from the 2011 premiere of Archidance, presented in SecondLife by Ballet Pixelle, the first virtual dance company in the world. The virtual dancers are controlled simultaneously by dancers at computers in eight different countries from Bahrain to Portugal as the performance is presented in real-time to audience members, themselves viewing from a host of additional countries. The process of creating such work is quite exhilarating.