Sophocles' Oedipus the King was the first of the great Athenian writer's three Theban plays to be produced, and it's the horrific story of Oedipus, a man who became the King of Thebes. What he didn't know as he ascended to the throne was that his greatest moment unwittingly fulfilled a dire prophecy: he would go on to murder his father Laius and marry his mother Jocasta.
The classic tragedy is being produced once again for the stage by Randolph College students, and to give the classical story a bit of upscale production value, the students used 3D printing to build several theatrical masks.
The classical Greek tragedy and comedy masks, Melpomene and Thaliam, were worn in the Greek theater to distinguish the different emotions of various characters, and their exaggerated representations allowed theatergoers in the far reaches of an arena to easily discern the emotions of individual players. The mouths of the masks were widened and designed to make it easier for actors to speak and project their voices, and they had the additional benefit of allowing actors to portray more than one character.
Located in central Virginia, Randolph's 100-acre campus is home to the Mabel K. Whiteside Greek Theatre. The theatre was built to offer students of the classics an opportunity to produce ancient drama in a realistic setting modeled after the theatres of ancient Greece.
As part of the latest production, eight plastic heads – nearly exact replicas of the heads of the actors starring in the show – were modeled using cutting-edge 3D scanning and printing technology. Rather than pouring plaster over actor's faces to make the masks in the traditional way, the Randolph College Center for Ancient Drama decided to make the masks in a decidedly more modern way.
"We're really excited to find out if we succeed with our ideas about using 21st century technology to help create 5th century B.C.E. technology like these linen theatrical masks," said Amy R. Cohen, a classics professor and director at the CAD.
Four students, Hannah Edwards, Allison Veaner, Marianne Virnelson and Daisy Howard rolled into campus three weeks early to help Cohen make the masks in preparation for the upcoming show. The student team used spackle and sanding blocks to apply the finishing touches to the model heads before sealing them with polyurethane.
The masks were the work of Mark Patterson who created three-dimensional scans of each actors' head. Patterson was inspired to take on the project when he saw his boss using 3D technology to recreate colonial-era pottery, and the experience has led Patterson to consider the technology as a career.
"It's not like I do the same project every day," he said. "I get to do anything with 3D scanning and 3D modeling. It's an ever changing world."
Patterson's internship came at the suggestion of Peter Sheldon, a physics professor at Randolph. Sheldon invited Patterson to tour GoMeasure3d, a local company that sells 3D scanners, printers, and related software.
"From the moment I stepped in and found out what they do, I thought, I would love to work here," Patterson says.