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Raleigh Inventor Turns Virtual Reality into Magical Fun for Theatre Audiences

Posted November 11, 1999

— Do you like to be amazed by magic shows? How about watching a play on a stage? A Raleigh man has combined the two in a Capital Idea that will change the way we are entertained in the future.

After 15 years of research, Raleigh's David Beaver has combined stage acting with magic to create the Magic Stage.

"Even if you tell them how it works, it does not make sense to them, and that's pretty much where virtual reality is in our culture right now, and in fact that's the way magic works," he says.

The magic is created by a sophisticated system of graphics, high-tech computer programs, a mirrored glass the audience never sees, and a ceiling over the stage that moves up and down.

An actor moves in front of the glass, and about a dozen technicians simultaneously fill in the rest; scenery and costumes appear to change, and like magic, even disappear.

The effect looks as if the actor is manipulating and moving the graphics.

"People who are very familiar with, and very sophisticated with the very high-end of the entertainment world, with virtual reality, with film special effects, are just stunned when they see what we're doing. We're doing something no one else in the world has ever done," says Beaver.

Virtual reality is not new, but the breakthrough here is that so many people can enjoy it at once.

The special effects happen right before your eyes. In a movie, they are added after the actors perform.

Walter Koenig, better known as Chekov to Star Trek fans, is lending his name to the project. He likes how the stage blends live theatre with technology in real time.

"When we make films, there are special effects and they can be quite spectacular, but they are done after the fact. When Chekov says 'Captain, what is that out there?' I'm looking at a sound stage, you know," says Koenig.

Before the virtual reality on the magic stage became reality, science fiction author Pat Cadigan had written about a similar concept.

She was amazed when she saw her ideas come to life.

"David sent me the video tapes, and there's Lila with an animal head obscuring her head, and I went 'Yes! Yes! Somebody did it!'" she says.

The first Magic Stage has just been sold to a futuristic company in Texas. Executives from Viacom, Paramount and Disney have all shown interest in the stage as well.


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