Maxin10sity Returns to Karlsruhe With Acrobatic Video Mapping

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Maxin10sity was engaged in the German city of Karlsruhe in 2015 to deliver the Schlosslichtspiele (light projection on the palace façade) to mark the city’s 300th anniversary by the Karlsruhe Centre for Art and Media (ZKM), Maxin10sity has returned every year since. Always keen to raise the bar, 2018’s spectacle - titled I’MMORTAL (Immortal / I am mortal) – combined Maxin10sity’s trademark projection mapping with acrobatic acts to create a new visual genres.

Maxin10sity co-founder and creative director, András Sass, took the lead on the project and reflects on the early conceptual stage. 

“This was our fourth year devising the Karlsruhe Schlosslichtspiele show, and we wanted to stretch ourselves – by testing a new creative direction where we would introduce characters but stay true to our projection mapping roots," said Sass. "By using acrobats for the first time in the context of a projection mapping production, we wanted to create an entirely different spectacle whereby the acrobats’ choreography and the animation unfold together to tell a story.”

(Image: © Image courtesy of Maxin10sity)

ZKM’s Nina Wlodarczyk project manages the Schlosslichtspiele, and has worked with Maxin10sity over the past four editions. 

“The close collaboration in 2015 between our curator, Peter Weibel, and Maxin10sity took the art of projection mapping to new heights," said Wlodarczyk. "It set the tone for our continued relationship, with Maxin10sity subsequently taking more of a lead on the script and execution in 2016 and 2017. Our artistic and technological goals are ambitious – the challenge is for the content to maximize the form and three-dimensionality of the castle, creating a truly unique experience that can only be seen here in Karlsruhe, whilst technically it should satisfy the connoisseur as well as the general public.”

This year’s new approach, believed to be a world first, certainly impressed the audience – with over 350,000 visitors watching almost 80 performances over a 6-week duration. It all began with a conversation after the 2017 show, when Sass put forward the idea of incorporating acrobats as actors in the architectural mapping.

Maxin10sity was given the creative freedom to pursue it. “Our previous shows in Karlsruhe (300 Fragments in 2015, Legacy in 2016, and Structures of Life in 2017) all had a strong point of reference back to the city, but this year, we chose to open it up a bit more and take on a more philosophical theme. We started to explore what it might mean to live forever and what there might be after death. The topic was of great interest to me, and inspired by my love of Anne Rice’s books which for those who know them, touch on themes around eternal life,” said Sass on how the story for I’MMORTAL emerged.

(Image: © Image courtesy of Maxin10sity)

The main protagonist of the resulting story is Asheem, who is searching for the meaning of immortality following a tragic accident, which gives him the opportunity to experience the grace of infinite time. During his trip he travels a huge distance in space and time and takes the way to heaven and hell, as the show invites the spectator to question where these routes really lead to, and whether immortality is indeed a part of all of us. Maxin10sity engaged the acrobats of the Recirquel Company from Budapest, Hungary.

Sass said of the creative process which translated this story into a visual spectacular, with acrobatic elements from the contemporary circus repertoire and mapping complement each other to create a new visual genre: “I have always been fascinated by acrobatics, and especially so since the genre began to blend with theatre a couple of years ago to deliver breath-taking productions with even higher quality artistic values. My aim was to create a new kind of genre fusion. Initially the concept and basic storyline were written, before testing with different age groups and in different venues took place. We then moved on to creating the music, working hand in hand with the acrobats and choreographers at that time.”

Flaviu Ciocan and Márton Horváth, lead composers at Big Total Audio, returned to work with Maxin10sity for this year’s performance, creating the original musical score to which the visuals are set. Of the duo, Sass said: “We have developed a common language having worked together now for many years, and they intrinsically understand what feelings we want to summon with the music. Having free reign is of course a blessing but can also bring challenges for both us and our composers – but Flaviu and Márton have always more than delivered each time.”

With the music set, the choreography was also finalized and the acrobats were filmed in a two-day shoot, using green box technology to put the characters into the digital environment. Rather than costumes, the acrobats were painted using a fine body painting technique, in order to fully show off the movements in their bodies to help tell the story. These recordings were combined with the 3D animations produced in Maxin10sity’s studio to create the final visuals. The show itself was delivered via 16 Panasonic 20K laser phosphor projectors and a Pandoras Box system.

Maxin10sity’s Karlsruhe performances 300 Fragments, Legacy, and Structures of Life were re-run alongside I’MMORTAL during the 2018 edition of the Schlosslichtspiele. A Maxin10sity weekend also took place, with the shows running exclusively from Friday to Sunday alongside a team Q&A discussion with the audience.

“Our original intention was to create an easily accessible experience for citizens and visitors which would showcase the city’s pioneering role in media, art, and technology," said Sebastian Schneider of Karlsruhe Marketing und Event (KME), who is responsible for the infrastructure, administration, and event planning around the Schlosslichtspiele and briefed its curation in to ZKM. "Projection mapping is central to this and not only makes the castle façade light up, but it brings it and our city to life. Maxin10sity once again brought together the three key elements of a successful projection – an immersive storyline, interplay with the architecture and spectacular sound. Spectators were enthralled by this new kind of storytelling and we know they will be back next year to find out what Maxin10sity is going to do next!” 

“Maxin10sity’s shows have become a much-loved and anticipated spectator favourite at Karlsruhe," said ZKM’s Wlodarczyk. "With ownership over the curation of the event, we look to Maxin10sity to help us code the show in a post-modern way so that there is something in it for everyone. Each year they go above and beyond to address and overcome the challenges, reaching new heights of visual artistry.”

In conclusion, Sass said: “It’s a creatives’ dream to work on a project like Karlsruhe every year, where we have the freedom to push the boundaries, challenge storytelling norms and create an entirely new visual genre as we did with I’MMORTAL. Using acrobats to tell a story on the façade of a building for the first time is a clear example of how we never stop innovating to create truly unique content. We are thankful to ZKM and KME for their continued trust in us, and to the people of Karlsruhe and visitors to the city during the Schlosslichtspiele these last four years, for embracing our ambitious performances as part of an event which grips the whole city. We can’t wait to return bigger and better next year.”