Birmingham Royal Ballet (founded in 1931 as the Sadlers Wells Theater) is a classical dance company. It is well respected for its excellence, artistic innovation and social responsibility. They connect with audiences and communities in its home city of Birmingham, throughout the UK and across the world. 

Birmingham Royal Ballet – Don Quixote
  • Style: CG, 3D
  • Client: Birmingham Royal Ballet
  • Year: 2022

The Project

Their latest show is Carlos Acosta’s Don Quixote, one of the first novels ever to be written. BRB required a 30s animated trailer to draw in audiences. The aim is to specifically target ballet fans and families as it prepares to travel around the UK.

A still from a 3D animation showing a paper cutout of a ballet dancer in a bright red dress who has just emerged from a book.
Scene 1: Kitri emerges from the book and begins to dance.

The Creative 

For this trailer, the studio faced some limitations, due to covid, that required some lateral thinking. BRB had only the lead character, one dance solo, a single costume, and the designer’s model box of the set design.

Based on this, the concept for the trailer was to bring an antique book to life. And from its pages, the character, Kitri, would rise as she begins to dance her solo. We used the model box to create three paper dioramas for her to dance through. She was accompanied by a recording of the music by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia.

We filmed principal dancer Céline Gittens performing on a green screen stage. She was keyed out and stylised as though printed on animated paper replacements in a cutout style.

The different elements of the model box were also individually shot against a green screen on our motion control turntable. A separate plate of the book opening in stop-motion was added to create the introduction to the sequence.

A ballet dancer in a bright red dress dancing in a film studio in front of a green screen.
Kitri dancing her solo on green screen

Post-Production 

The trailer was assembled using Blender, After Effects and Nuke, as a mix of live-action, CG and stop-motion. Although we were working with different elements, we wanted the whole trailer to have our traditionally animated look and feel.

Stage one of the VFX process was to create keys of the full dance from the green screen footage. We also created keys for all the individual elements of the model box. This allowed us to give everything a paper finish. Once ready, these elements were then used to build full CG scenes of the sets.

The trailer was split into 3 scenes. The Don Quixote book at the start, the tavern and finally the town square. The tavern and the town square rendered as full CG scenes. However, the book opening was a mix of rendered CG layers that were then composited into the live-action plate.

A leather bound book of Don Quixote on a dark black background.
Scene 1: Book – Don Quixote Trailer

The live-action plate of the book was initially prepared by creating a 3D camera track. This could then be used to render the CG layers with the exact same camera movement. The pages folding out of the book were CG assets that were animated sliding into place to form the “stage” of pages. The entire front page of the book was a CG replacement. It was important to match the lighting at the time of shooting so that the cover would cast accurate shadows.

Building CGI sets

The tavern and town square sets were built in CG. We tried to match the layout of the original model box design, provided by Birmingham Royal Ballet. These scenes were populated with additional background characters. All of which were paintings of other costumes featured in the ballet.

We experimented with different lighting set-ups in these environments. We aimed for a warm orange glow in the tavern to contrast with the bright, sunny town square location. The town square scene features ornate paper fans that fold up from the ground. These were created as CG assets that could be animated to open and close.

A still from a 3D animation showing a ballet dancer in a bright red dress dancing before a large paper fan and the word Sunshine.
Scene 3: Town Square – Don Quixote Trailer

The entire trailer was composited and rendered using the Academy Color Encoding System (ACES). This software allowed us to have a consistent colour management and workflow right the way through the pipeline. I also provided a larger dynamic range of tones. More importantly, it meant that we were able to achieve more photo-accurate colours in our CG renders.

Multiple versions of the trailer were also supplied for both social media platforms and TV broadcast. There were also different variations for the various venues where the 2022 tour of the ballet will be performed.