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Tech puts virtual star center stage in opera

Xinhua | Updated: 2022-07-15 09:04
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XI'AN-Qinxiaoya, a virtual figure playing a young female role in Qinqiang Opera, has caught people's attention since it made its debut in an art festival in Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi province.

The design team employed 3D modeling to replicate the authentic clothes and accessories of the virtual actress. "To bring her true to life, we made great efforts to reproduce her gestures and decorations with the real voice of an opera performer," says Zhang Xi, a team member.

Qinqiang Opera, a Chinese folk opera genre originating in the Western Zhou Dynasty (c. 11th century-771 BC), continues to thrive in a vast region of Northwest China and was added to the country's intangible heritage list in 2006.

As a newcomer to this ancient art, Qinxiaoya demonstrates a youthful image. Introduced at the Ninth China Qinqiang Opera Arts Festival held in June, she performed Qinqiang Opera remixed with rock 'n' roll, fueling the interest of young people.

Creating such a figure was not an easy task, says Zhang. "The expression of Qinqiang Opera in the character must be accurate and vivid, which requires a high standard in art, design, model making, character animation and final rendering, among other things.

"We hope to make her a spokesperson for the art of Qinqiang Opera and make related cartoons, movies and other diversified products in the future," says Zhang, adding that the team is developing more functionality for the virtual figure, who is expected to interact with internet users via livestreaming.

The technology is also used as a cinematic technique.

Rhythmically tapping her fingers to the music and singing of actors on-screen, Xiao Jie, a 59-year-old opera fan, enjoys a 3D Qinqiang Opera film, Three Drops of Blood.

Regarded as a masterpiece in Qinqiang Opera, the film, originally created in 1918, is deeply critical of pedantic and muddleheaded bureaucrats in feudal society, and has remained popular with fans for over a century.

Traditionally, actors perform at the center of the stage, which is decorated with tables and chairs, and the band plays Chinese folk instruments in the wings. In the 3D film, however, the centuries-old art takes on a new look.

"I watched a black-and-white film of the opera when I was young. This time, watching it in 3D is truly intriguing. The audience can get a closer and clearer look at the performance," Xiao says.

Chinese operas have long historical ties to movies. The first movie in China, The Battle of Dingjunshan, released in 1905, was adapted from clips of Peking Opera.

"Advanced cinematic techniques breathe new life into the time-honored art form, which is the epitome of innovative development in traditional art," says Cui Wei, the secretary-general of the China Theater Association.

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