Q&A With d3: From U2 to Don Giovanni

d3 Technologies is the outgrowth of d3 (originally United Visual Artists) as the company evolved from content producers to full 3D systems, from rendering to playback. Live Design presents a brief Q&A with d3, which was also used by Bob Bonniol of Mode Studios for the recent opera production of Don Giovanni in Banff.

How did d3 get started?

d3 was originally created when we were hired (as United Visual Artists) to produce video content for U2’s Vertigo tour in 2005. The stage design was pioneering in its use of low-resolution LEDs arranged in complex 3D structures, and we found that we were spending only 10% of our time creating content, and 90% of our time rendering it out in 3D to show the client.

So we took a weekend off to create a simple real-time 3D renderer. This let us view video clips in 3D, changing viewpoints instantly during presentations, and drastically improved our workflow and our ability to make artistic decisions. From there, the system developed very organically in response to our client’s needs, until it was selected as the tour’s media server. The entire time from first code to first show was only three months.

UVA continued to develop and use d3 for its projects, and started licensing d3 to external customers in 2008. We have recently spun off a new company, d3 Technologies (www.d3technologies.com) to focus on developing and supporting d3.

What is going on now with the server in terms of a new release, new features?

Our latest release (R10) is just going Gold, after nearly a year of development and testing on shows. Setting up large master/slave networks is now much easier, and playback performance and smoothness for large video files (up to 8K pixels) is improved. The new projector auto-calibration feature drastically reduces onsite projector lineup times, which is invaluable for shows with multiple projectors, complex surfaces, and tight lineup deadlines.

But the most significant development is a software-only version of d3, called d3 designer. This allows designers to build entire shows on their own laptops, wherever they are, and then either render them out for playback on another server, or just transfer them to d3 rack-mounted units for playback.

What are the real strengths of d3?

d3’s 3D visualiser and integrated workflow means you’re using the same software tool throughout the lifecycle of a project. Starting with the pitch, through project development, content validation, show sequencing, production rehearsals all the way to the show itself, you’re always working in an environment that lets you really see, understand and (most importantly) communicate what you’re doing, with no work wasted.

d3’s guiding philosophy is to use the visualiser to move complex, time-consuming and error-prone work to earlier in the production process. If you’ve made a mistake in your content template, for instance, d3 will let you catch that mistake in the visualiser three months before rehearsals, in the comfort of your studio, before you’ve spent 100% of your content budget, rather than in production rehearsals with an anxious client hovering behind you.

The result is a greater sense of confidence going into production rehearsals, more efficient use of time and resources, and, thereby, a better show.

How/why did you get involved with the Banff production of Don Giovanni?

d3 has always evolved in response to the needs of designers who consistently push the boundaries of what is possible. Bob Bonniol’s reputation preceded him, and we wanted his first experiment with d3 to be a successful one. So we were there initially to smooth the transition. For us, it was also a chance to open a dialog, get a deeper understanding of Bonniol’s workflow, and thus inform future development of the system.

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