Entertainment & Arts

Brian Cox creates pioneering 3D show for Manchester festival

Prof Brian Cox Image copyright BBC/Emile Fjola Sandy
Image caption Prof Brian Cox was recently seen presenting Human Universe on BBC Two

TV physicist Brian Cox and the visual effects team behind the film Gravity will tell the story of the universe using cutting-edge augmented reality technology in a live show next year.

Prof Cox, effects wizards Framestore and film director Kevin Macdonald are using a system called Magic Leap.

Magic Leap has not been seen in public, but reports suggest that its headgear projects images onto users' eyes.

The show will be part of the Manchester International Festival next July.

Titled The Age of Starlight, it is one of the first three productions to be announced for the 18-day event.

Also on the line-up are a ballet created by choreographer Wayne McGregor, musician Jamie xx and artist Olafur Eliasson, and a family show telling the life story of children's TV favourite Mr Tumble.

'Transformative technology'

In October, Magic Leap made headlines when it received $542 million (£346 million) from investors led by Google.

Promotional videos suggest the technology will allow users to "see" computer-generated images in front of them as if those objects were really there.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Framestore's Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk and Neil Corbould shared an Oscar for Gravity

Now the Magic Leap team are working with Prof Cox, Framestore visual effects director Tim Webber - who won an Oscar for Gravity - plus Kevin Macdonald, who directed The Last King of Scotland and State of Play, and Manchester designer Peter Saville.

Their show will address "the deepest possible questions" about the origins of the universe, Prof Cox said.

"It's the premiere of a technology that allows you to put digital images into your field of vision directly," he said. "I saw the prototype in Miami a few months ago and it's stunning.

"It is going to be transformative technology, there's no doubt about that."

The experience will "disturb" audiences and put them "off balance", he predicted. "That's what it did when I saw it demonstrated."

Prof Cox has presented TV documentaries including Human Universe and Wonders of Life.

'Disorientating' effect

"Whereas in television documentary you're attacking these ideas from a scientific perspective, in this case it's much more of an emotional experience and I think it should be disorientating," he said.

"I want people to stagger out and have to have a sit-down for a long time before they go home.

"Don't forget, it's an art installation. That's what the Manchester International Festival does.

"It's supposed to be beyond what you would get in a documentary. It's not a science lecture, it's not a science documentary. It's a piece of art."

Festival artistic director Alex Poots described Magic Leap as "a way of introducing 3D CGI imagery into your field of vision" without the need for a screen.

At least 50 people at a time can watch each "show", though the numbers will depend on how many headsets are ready by July.

'Risk worth taking'

Mr Poots said it was the most ambitious project the festival had ever tackled.

"There is a quite significant element to the show which is being invented as we speak," he explained.

"Will it be ready in time? We've made the decision that it's a risk worth taking. We're about commissioning new, ambitious work."

Magic Leap inventor Rony Abovitz has previously said his system goes "beyond the current perception of mobile computing, augmented reality, and virtual reality".

He added: "We are transcending all three, and will revolutionise the way people communicate, purchase, learn, share and play."

MIT Technology Review, which examined Magic Leap's patent and trademark requests, described a semi-transparent display called a Wrap - which stands for 'waveguide reflector array projector' - that uses tiny mirrors and magnetic liquid to create 3-D patterns of light rays.

Image copyright BBC/Simon Duncan
Image caption Children's TV star Justin Fletcher will trace the story of his most famous character, Mr Tumble

Also in the festival line-up, Tree of Codes will be a collaboration between Wayne McGregor's Random Dance, Jamie xx from Mercury Prize-winning band The xx, and Olafur Eliasson, best known for putting a giant sun in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall.

The ballet, based on Jonathan Safran Foer's novel of the same name, will also feature dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet.

"It's thrilling to have that quality of dance and that combination performing this new work," Mr Poots said.

Meanwhile, Justin Fletcher - aka Mr Tumble from CBeebies - has created The Tale of Mr Tumble, which, like Tree of Codes, will be staged at the Manchester Opera House.

The full line-up for the festival, which runs from 2 to 19 July, will be revealed in February.

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