The iDesign project transforms contemporary performance design through the application of novel forms of dialogical aesthetics, i.e. developing the capability for users to create and adjust set models via a touch screen or keyboard and to immediately review them as life-sized virtual renditions. Leveraging the 360-degree AVIE visualisation platform networked to laptops and tablets, users can begin drafting their designs within a detail-rich 3D environment that digitally replicates of the real-life venue their production will be staged at. Using a range of interaction methods, such as gesture, mouse + keyboard as well as voice input, they can sketch or import architectural forms and props, and refine these by adjusting numerous parameters, such as size, colour, texture and placement. An integrated AI system that, for example calculates sightlines and occlusions, can assist in fine-tuning designs to grant audiences the best possible view of the stage action. iDesign’s real-time lighting tools can imbue the virtual model with atmosphere and mood, allowing creative teams to trial and test the capability of a theatre’s lighting grid through direct plug-in with conventional industry software.

iDesign user interface

The system supports virtual collaboration between remotely located creative teams using different digital devices by supplying a visual articulation of design ideas at 1:1 scale, eliminating the need for abstracting from or translating technical drawings, easing communication between different stakeholders. For example, directors, dramaturgs and choreographers in different geographical sites can annotate the digital model, adding notes or placing animated actor avatars into the set and pathing their movements through the object constellations, while multimedia designers can integrate screen clusters or map dynamic digital projections.

iDesign thus rethinks traditional modelling paradigms that have been constrained by sequential mock-up procedures and after-the-fact evaluation by increasing the available means for contextualising and iterating design concepts, which positively impacts their viability. Specifically, the project digitally transforms the traditional physical scale model paradigm known as a ‘Bauprobe’ by streamlining production pipelines and reconfiguring the design process in ways that increase the economic efficiencies of set modelling. Its dialogical framework transforms the set design process into an agile real-time exchange between users and digital systems, resolving the inefficiencies which result from segregated pipelines that require complex manual assembly and review.

iDesign architectural view. Image courtesy of Sydney Theatre Company
David Fleischer “Playing Beatie Bow” set design inside iDesign, Sydney Theatre Company

While focused on performance design, the research also provides a direct benefit to set design for the art, events, film, installation, interior, music/opera sectors, as each involve similar design processes that can be enhanced through a collaborative and immersive full-body 3D modelling framework.

The iDesign project is financially supported under the Australian Research Council’s Linkage funding scheme with Industry Partners Sydney Theatre Company and National Institute of Dramatic Art.

A proof-of-concept was previously supported through the University of New South Wales, entitled iBauprobe.

ARC Project InvestigatorsDennis Del FaveroMichael Scott-MitchellMaurice PagnuccoCaroline WakeSusanne Thurow, Lawrence Wallen, Kip Williams and Ben Schostakowski
ARC Project Title: Reformulating set design aesthetics via a dialogical model of interactivity
Project Funding: ARC LP170100471

Playing Beatie Bow, directed by Kip Williams, Sydney Theatre Wharf Complex, Sydney, 2021

  • Del Favero, Dennis, Thurow, Susanne & Wake, Caroline (2020), ‘Dialogical Aesthetics – Reconfiguring Theatrical Spaces through Digital Technology ’, K. Dreckmann, M. Butte & E. Vomberg (eds.), Technologien des Performativen (357-65). Bielefeld: transcript, LP170100471 (2018-2021)
  • Del Favero, Dennis, Thurow, Susanne, Scott-Mitchell, Michael & Wallen, Lawrence (2019), ‘iDesign – New Capabilities for Set Design’, Conference Presentation; peer-reviewed abstract only; presented at PQ Talks @ Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design & Space, In- dustrial Palace & Exhibition Grounds, Prague, Czech Republic, LP170100471 (2018-2021)
  • Thurow, Susanne (2017), ‘Response to the Metamaterial Turn: Performative Digital Methodologies for Creative Practice and Analytical Documentation in the Arts’, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art 17.2: 238-50, doi:10.1080/14434318.2017.1450071, LP170100471 (2018-2021)