Monthly Archives: September 2007

Great video on Cirque du Soleil Ka

CNN has posted a video going behind the scenes of Cirque du Soleil’s Ka production. It’s a fantastic look at some of the high technology that makes Ka possible, including the moving stages. Another tidbit: The video doesn’t mention it, but each performer’s costume is embedded with an RFID and linked to a computer, which generates real-time 3-d visuals that are projected into the performer’s environment. For example, as performers “scale” one of the stages as it becomes vertical, ripples are projected onto the stage as the performers bounce across it. The visuals are complicated by the fact that the stage is moving; the computer is synched with the exact automation of the stage, and adjusts the perspective of the visuals accordingly. You can see this effect several times throughout CNN’s video.

A performer “climbs” the stage as the stage moves. As the performer’s feet make contact with the stage, real-time video projections are projected onto the stage, simulating puddles. Photo from CNN.


Other productions have used RFID’s embedded in costumes to perform automatic spotlight tracking, but Ka is the first production that creates a dynamic lighting environment with complex, real-time visuals tied directly to the performer’s actions. Photo from CNN.

Located at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the Ka theater alone cost $165 million to build, making it the most expensive theater ever built. Despite all the high technology, some of the best moments in the show require little technology at all. One of my favorite scenes involves two characters making hand puppets against a light, telling a story against a “campfire.” For a brief and captivating moment, all of the technology except for one light vanishes and the entire focus is placed on the talents of these two performers.

The $165 million theater is enormous and full of technology, but the theater becomes intimate in some of the simpler acts, such as this recreation of campfire storytelling. Photo from CNN.

Uh… Yeah, that will work.

I was a big fan of Sony’s Aibo robot and the talented engineers who made it (before they got axed by Sony’s management), but when Sony killed their robotics group, most of the engineers left for greener pastures (e.g., Toyota, Honda). It seems Sony found something to do with the few who stayed. Today, they finally unveiled their new Sony Rolly SEP-10BT “Sound Entertainment Player,” which, surprisingly, the media is not terming an “iPod Killer.” (Has the media lost their passion? I thought every new MP3 player was termed an “iPod Killer.” Remember the Zune, anyone?)

Check out the Rolly video at the end of this Engadget story. I don’t mean to be mean, but the actor family showcased in this video is — in a word — pathetically easily entertained (OK, that’s three words). The video is hilarious, although it isn’t meant to be.

I like to see companies being innovative, but I really don’t see a market for this. People don’t watch their music, they listen to it passively. Watching the Rolly move around to the music would be fun for a song or two but then quickly tire. It’s just like the visualizer in iTunes — when that first came out I had fun watching it for a few minutes, but I haven’t used it since.

Now, if Sony and Microsoft could get together — merging the Rolly and Zune into one complete product — then we’d really have an iPod killer on our hands. Imagine: the new Zollies would be able to roll to each other to squirt songs back and forth, which could then be played up to three times before the user would be prompted to purchase the song, using a powerful combination of Microsoft and Sony DRM technologies. As the brown Zollies roll around the ground, they would also be camouflaged, making it more difficult for humans to compassionately stomp them out of existence. I’m telling you, the Zolly — it could be big! Well, until the battery runs out. And — I really don’t want to plant ideas in Sony’s head or anything — but if the Zolly detected music that did not have extensive DRM, it could simply roll away from its owner, heading straight for a freeway or something. This would please NBC immensely.