Mohammed Ali has been working with Guidhall Live Events on our latest theatrical production entitled “Waswasa” that will be presented at the Birmingham 2022 Festival. Filming was led by Mohammed who directed the Guidhall Live Events team and Guildhall students to record film sequences shot against an extended reality (XR) set for use as part of the Waswasa Production. This footage will be inserted into the show and promises to be a truly immersive experience that disrupts the parameters of convential theatre.

Lighting design, and video students supported in creating visual backdrops for the live performer of the show who also appears in cinematic and artistic sequences during the show. From a technical perspective, Guildhall School was supported by IMAP (with the use of their huge XR screens) – a 180 degrees wrap-around LED screen often referred to as the future green screen!

This type of technology often seen in high end films and tv series like the Mandalorian provided a rare opportunity to tell this story in brilliant form, never been seen before.

Our actors were placed in 3D set designs that Mohammed refers to as a ‘Spiritual Gotham City’ and ‘Muslim Prayer Bladerunner 2049’ style were created especially for the shoot.

Guildhall School is one of the main supporters of Waswasa and we are proud to have such a powerhouse in theatre/drama production team on board with us.

It’s not often we see expressions of Muslim prayer filmed cinematically in an Extended Reality (XR) wrap-around digital screen – the type used in the Mandalorian series. Thanks to Guidhall School of Music & Drama, we have exclusive access to film parts of ‘Waswasa’ with this extraordinary technology. We place our performers in imaginary worlds, from Arabian Desert to Dystopian Neon-Cityscape. We’re throwing everything we’ve got at Waswasa!

Mohammed Ali, Artistic Director @ Soul City Arts

So what exactly is XR?

XR stands for Extended Reality. It is a progression from AR and VR.   XR describes the process of extending the virtual set beyond the LED volume. In an XR studio, there is a volume, or cave, constructed from LED tiles. These screens show environments that have been created in realtime. To create a whole world beyond just an LED backdrop, it combines camera tracking and real time rendering. This technology enables the content on these screens to be rendered dynamically from the point of view of the camera. So when the camera moves, so does the content.

Our actors were be placed in the XR stage within a computer-generated world, creating the illusion of a real environment. Unlike with a green screen in which you can’t see your surroundings, the background can move with the camera, and the actors do not have to imagine the place they are in, they can actually experience it directly. Just some of the incredible technology being used for Waswasa.

Dan Shorten, Creative Director at Guildhall Live Events said, ” It was both a pleasure and a privilege to work on Waswasa. The project is at once visually beautiful and narratively engaging and informative. As a non-Muslim I found the invitation into this story wonderfully welcoming and fascinating”.

Visit Guildhall Live Events website.

Talking to Dan, he explained that Guildhall Live Events have been working with immersive technology for several years – this has included a broad range of projects and activities using sound, video and lighting to augment physical spaces. Techniques like projection mapping have evolved. Now augmented reality is becoming more widespread as creative technologists like ourselves develop more ways for these tools to be incorporated into our projects.

The propagation of real-time graphics engines has facilitated another crucial step forward in the evolution of the creative tools, particularly in live events and live presentation scenarios. Therefore, artists are now experimenting with many new ways to create and deliver their work.

XR is the culmination of these various tools and production processes coming together to enable efficient and creatively liberated production workflows for camera-based artists and producers. It is clear that the creative freedom, flexibility and financial benefits of virtual production have been embraced by broadcast and film industries.

Dan noted, “We firmly believe that access to these technologies must remain open to the artistic community beyond those early proponents in order for it to achieve its maximum potential. This is why we were so enthusiastic to be working with Soul City Arts in this way, as it brought Mohammed and his team into a creative environment that was different to his normal process. It is when new technologies and new practitioners come together for the first time in this way that evolution happens, on both sides, as this situation produces both opportunities and limitations – two essential components of innovation”.

“We hope to establish our own CreaTech hub in the future where cutting-edge technologies will be used and tested by leading industry partners as well as our own in-house research team. It will be extremely important to make that facility accessible to talented artists who push the technology forward while creating interesting and important work. We certainly hope that we can continue to work with Mohammed and the team at Soul City Arts in the future”.

We are excited to announce that our two actors for Waswasa have been selected and we begin by filming with them for our first film sequences.  Mustafa Chaudhry and Hamza Ali have joined us and will be working closely with Mohammed Ali for the coming months as we prepare for the ‘Waswasa’ show.

Guidhall Live Events, which is a part of Guidhall School of Music & Drama, invited us to work with their departments to develop some of the scenes.  3D environments were created especially to place our actors into.  We continue to be supported by Guildhall School.

Innovative and bold technology along with deep community narrative and immersive elements make this show one not be missed.