Modeling and Animating the Audience

In addition to recreating the vaudeville acts themselves, the Virtual Vaudeville project is simulating the responses of the 19th century spectators. Our virtual Union Square Theatre has 800 spectators, all of whom are animated during the entire performance. Spectators respond differently to each moment of each acts depending on factors such as their age, gender, class, ethnicity and proximity to the stage. For example, when Frank Bush portrays his Irish character, the Irish spectators in the gallery— a notoriously boisterous group — respond very differently from the WASP characters in the boxes.

However, to create 800 distinct models, with 800 distinct animations, would not only be an awesomely onerous task, but would be impossible for the program to handle in real-time. Our solution has been to define 32 basic audience groups, for example, one group of upper class WASP men, and another of middle class African-American women, and to script and animate responses for each of these groups. We then created from three to five physical variations for each group (i.e., three to five different faces and costumes), so that there is a total of approximately 120 different spectators, each of whom is repeated several times. We produced even more variation by adding and subtracting hats and facial hair.

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