A new collaboration between the RSC, Intel and The Imaginarium Studios is revolutionising 21st Century theatre by bringing an animated character to life on stage, live, for the first time ever.

A new collaboration between the RSC, Intel and The Imaginarium Studios is revolutionising 21st Century theatre by bringing an animated character to life on stage, live, for the first time ever.

Intel technology is changing the way we see the world. You may think that means we are staring more at hand-held, or desktop screens, but in fact it means the opposite. Computer-generated imagery is now transcending those devices and becoming a part of the real, tangible world and creating possibilities we never imagined before.

One of the areas at the forefront of the development is entertainment and live performance. Just consider the use of hologram-like technology to bring to life mythical characters, such as in the Gorillaz 2006 Grammy performance, or resurrect our favourite stars, as with Tupac at Coachella in 2012. Incredible as those feats of technology might have seemed, they were always pre-recorded and integrated in a predetermined way. That is, until now.

For a new project to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) is joining forces with Intel and actor Andy ‘Gollum’ Serkis’ motion-capture company, The Imaginarium Studios, to create a live animation of Ariel the sprite for its revolutionary new adaption of The Tempest.

The technology works in much the same way as it did for creating a character like Gollum, who Serkis played in the film The Lord of the Rings, sensors are attached all over an actor’s body and they transmit data to a computer to capture the kind of natural movements that bring an animated character to life.

Previously, the process has taken filmmakers months — or even years. But for the first time RSC, Intel and The Imaginarium Studios are making it happen in real-time. So the sprite can genuinely react to its surroundings — even to the audience — and improvise, or adapt, its performance depending on changes in the environment. It can do all the things that stage actors bring to a live performance that makes it so thrilling.

Creatively, the live-animation character allows the theatre company to transport the audience somewhere otherworldly – as inspired by the masks of Shakespeare’s time, RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran says. Technologically, it’s a masterpiece. The animation has 336 joints, one for every joint in the human body, and is powered by a PC that has 50 million times more memory than the one that put man on the moon.

The Tempest is being performed at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon until January 21, 2017, and will transfer to the Barbican Theatre in London to play from June 30 to August 18 2017. The play will also be broadcast as part of the RSC’s ‘Live From Stratford-upon-Avon’ programme to cinemas in the UK and Europe on 11 January 2017 and in encore screenings worldwide.