Cirque Helps Launch "Project Natal"
Los Angeles, June 13 2010 --- with a mise-en-scène by Cirque du Soleil,
Microsoft launched Kinect, a revolutionary system for the Xbox 360 console where
the human body is the controller.
In a rich green forest, the cheers of more than 3,000 poncho-clad people
rose above a steady drumbeat at the moment Microsoft shared the name of its
new controller-free gaming device for Xbox 360: Kinect. It wasn’t an actual
forest, but a college basketball arena as imagined by a Montreal-based troupe
of Cirque du Soleil performers. Previously code named Project Natal, Kinect
had its most-detailed public introduction to date during the 45-minute
extravaganza at the Galen Center arena in Los Angeles on the eve of the
Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3).
Microsoft approached the mega-performance troupe after realizing it wanted
to announce Kinect in a “hyper-creative setting,” said Xbox general manager Rob
Matthews in an interview at the time. “We said, we need to do something Cirque-
esque or Cirque-like. Why don’t we call Cirque du Soleil.”
Why Don't We Call Cirque du Soleil?
Cirque du Soleil artistic director Michel Laprise and several other crew
members came to Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Wash., tried the Natal games
and Laprise was “intrigued. The freedom and physicality as so strong. This is so
emotional, it makes sense we are doing it.” To get across how Cirque works,
Laprise says that at a planning meeting with Xbox executives in Montreal he
poured a bucket of sand on the table. “Natal is a name of a beach on Brazil
and our company co-founder had the idea that … on the beach this is where
friends have dreams. So let’s all dream together a story that will touch the
people in the room,” Laprise says.
“Then I took some rocks and said, ‘This is a story where four meteors land
on Planet Earth and what is very magical is that they all fall in the same Amazon
forest, the place where there is the most biodiversity. It’s not been spoiled by
tech, it’s just purely orgainc. People heard about the four meteors and when (the
meteors) aligned there’s a big giant monolith that came out of the center of the
earth. … That attracted people from the four corners of the world and people
started to interact between themselves with more friendship and more playfulness.”
That concept provided the seed for the performance, he says. About the final
presentation, Laprise says, “I didn’t want it to be big. It had to be big.”
It wasn’t just big, it was huge!
The 75 dancers, musicians, and acrobats not only unveiled Kinect, but gave
attendees a long, hard, never-sit-still look at Xbox 360's newest gaming and
entertainment platform. The troupe transformed themselves into a vine-and-flower-
covered tribe and the arena into a lush forest with foliage and filtered light.
They transformed the audience as well—the 3,000 celebrities, journalists, bloggers,
and tech industry who’s who in attendance were issued white satin ponchos to wear
for the evening. The college graduation-gone-Vulcan smocks provided a blank backdrop
for the colorful performance until the end, when the large, pointy shoulders of
each poncho illuminated, turning the audience into a sea of tiny, Xbox -green lights.
In order to find new ways to make the crowd participate in the event,
Cirque du Soleil called upon ESKI’s PixMob technology. With barely three
months ahead of them, ESKI’s designers and engineers produced several
thousands of PixMob LED pixels as well as the infrared spotlights to
communicate with them. They also designed the visual effects, created
the ‘ponchos’ that the Cirque du Soleil had imagined and embedded the
pixels in more than 3000 ponchos. PixMob’s technology stunned the members
of the crowd as they each turned into a pixel of a giant screen glowing
in a myriad of colors!"
A life-sized elephant and gorilla, a family sitting on a couch suspended
80 feet in the air, pumping world music and pounding drums, 25-foot projection
screens around the top of the arena, a rotating 40-foot “television screen,” a
large boulder aglow with the Xbox logo—all of these effects and more were meant
to help tell the (largely wordless) story of a boy on a mission to find meteors
By the time the show began, attendees who had at first seemed bewildered by
their white ponchos had relaxed and were mingling with Cirque du Soleil performers
and rubbing pointy shoulders with each other, speculating on the show and what
mysteries it would reveal.
The Big Reveal
In the show’s prologue, a narrator posed the notion that the future of
humanity is humanity itself: “Since the dawn of time, humanity’s long journey
has lead us to countless discoveries. Objects along our path have projected our
way forward, but the ever-more sophisticated inventions introduced ever-more
complex languages for humans to master in order to communicate with machines.
With each leap forward for civilization, more people were left behind. But our
quest has now taken us to a completely new horizon. History is about to be
re-written. This time human beings will be at the center and the machine will
be the one that adapts. After five million years of evolution, might the next
step – the next object – be the absence of an object? Is it possible that the
future of humanity is humanity itself?”
With the help of the dancers and acrobatics, a boy made his way from where
he was sitting on a couch, through the forest and the white-clad crowd, to
some large, boulder-like meteors. He scrambled up the meteors, tossing aside
a traditional game controller on the way up, and as he stood on the top-most
meteor, it lit up with the Xbox logo to great applause.
Standing there put the boy face-to-face with a large screen that slowly
revealed an avatar of him, complete with matching clothes. After the boy and his
avatar waved their arms and legs in unison, the boy asked the screen, “What’s your
name?” In a flash of purple, letters appeared on the screen and arranged themselves
to form the word “KINECT.” Again, more cheers from the crowd. The screen then
transformed into a rotating living room, and the boy climbed inside. There, for
the rest of the show, a cast of characters demonstrated the experiences that
Kinect will enable.
Cirque du Soleil performers took the audience on an extended tour through
multiple games that included steering a raft down river rapids; driving a car
on a race course and a half-pipe; petting and interacting with a tiger cub;
competing in a variety of sports including beach volleyball, track and field,
and soccer. Performers also demonstrated some non-gaming experiences, including
a woman enjoying yoga lessons from a virtual Kinect teacher, a family using
Kinect to select a movie and take dance lessons together, and far-flung
friends interacting by using video chat.
After the performance, audience members returned their white smocks and
were given a Kinect tiger cub as seen in one of the games. Regardless what
you might feel about Microsoft, the Kinect, or E3, this “imagining” by Cirque
du Soleil was simply amazing. I wish I could have been there!
Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vS2_3cBjQIU
Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWRO7UiDtx4
Part 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idZuBjAa_cc