Kingston gets animated about opera

Thousands of opera fans across the globe will be able to enjoy six short films inspired by two famous operas this summer

The films, which have been created by Kingston University illustration animation students, form part of the Royal Opera House’s BP Big Screens project.

The prestigious venue tasked 13 final-year students with creating animations inspired by either La traviata or La bohème and, after six months of intense collaboration, four of the resulting films have now been uploaded on to the Royal Opera House’s YouTube channel, with the remaining two scheduled to appear online in the coming weeks. 

The budding animators will also be crossing their fingers that their films are among the select few chosen to be shown during the Royal Opera House’s BP Big Screens events. Beginning this month, these events will see both operas broadcast live from the iconic Covent Garden stage to up to 15 locations across the country including London’s Trafalgar Square, Castle Square in Swansea and the Millennium Square in Leeds.

Click here to watch all the films by Kingston University students currently on the Royal Opera House website.

Ellie Pritchard, Alice Stewart and Luisa Crosbie, all 22, worked together to bring the story of La traviata in to the 21st Century and were thrilled to find their short film was the first to be posted on the YouTube channel for the Royal Opera House. Shot from beneath a computer desk, the film shows protagonist Alfredo typing a series of messages on his keyboard and mobile phone to arrange a meeting with the love of his life, Violetta. It goes on to chronicle the frustrations he experiences while waiting for her response. “We wanted to explain the context of this opera to a younger audience and, after we discovered that these days one in five relationships begins online we decided to use screen-based interactions to communicate part of the story,” Ellie explained. “It was a tricky film to make due to the fiddly camera angle but we’re really happy with the finished product and very excited that it’s going to be watched by so many people.”

The second film in the series, called The Opera Machine, was created by 22-year-old Doug Hindson who had wanted to find a visual way to portray the sound of an opera performance. He constructed a device, similar to the children’s drawing toy Spirograph, which sat on top of a rotating record player. 

“It tracked slowly across a piece of paper on the turntable while two ink brushes translated the vocals in to spiralling lines of varying widths,” he said.

Doug admitted that the most difficult aspect of the project had been working out the mechanics of the device. “I had no experience of robotics or engineering so in the end I turned to Lego to help me create the machine,” he explained. “It worked brilliantly and O Soave Fanciulla from La bohème was the perfect track as the male and female vocals could each be assigned a different brush. My hope is that this project helps create a better appreciation of opera among people like me who have never really experienced it before.”

Minhee Cho, 30, and Estelle Woo, 22, were the duo behind the third animation to appear on YouTube. Their film was based on the Brindisi (drinking song) from La traviata and shows Alfredo strolling through the colourful world of Violetta’s hair – representing his feelings towards his lover. Michael Parkin, 27, Ed Byrne, 24, and Jacob Read, 22, have also seen their film published online. Based on La bohème, their animation focuses on the immediacy of the love between the opera’s two main characters, Rodolfo and Mimi, as seen through the eyes of a window cleaner who saves a falling woman and is then transported to another world with her.

The final two student films scheduled to feature on the Royal Opera House website include 22-year-old Gus Scott and 23-year-old Sam Stobart’s piece which was inspired by the ‘sound showers’ installed at Norway’s Oslo airport where people can stand under a speaker to escape the bustle of the busy terminal. Alice Cui, 22, and 23-year old Dahye Kim complete the group who worked on the project. Their short film depicts the opera characters’ silhouettes as sound waves. 

Geoff Grandfield, associate professor and course director for BA illustration animation at Kingston University, said the Royal Opera House had approached the University last September having been impressed by films created by Kingston students for the Channel 4 series Random Acts. “These new animations will be watched by people around the world which is absolutely fantastic for our students,” he said.

“To be able to demonstrate work produced for such a high-profile client before they even graduate will be invaluable to them. They have carried out this project on top of their coursework and their enthusiasm and dedication has been tremendous.”

Associate director of opera at the Royal Opera House John Fulljames said he had been fascinated by the creative process that had taken place as the students created their animations. “Some of the films are about a specific opera while others are more generally about the art form but they all exude a refreshing and playful enthusiasm for opera’s potential to tell transformative stories,” he said.  

Picture credit: Royal Opera House by Rob Moore, courtesy of the Royal Opera House