El Reg spends One Night In Hell with Queen’s Brian May


28 October 2014 by Bob Doron

Move over Google Glass, check out the Owl

Pics The sight of rock stars indulging their interests can sometimes leave onlookers feeling a little queasy – remember McCartney’s fondness for Rupert Bear? No? Well let’s not go there… However, Brian May, yes he of Queen fame, appeared at Dolby’s private Atmos cinema in London yesterday to tell of where one of his abiding passions has led him.

One Night In Hell Diableries Dolby Event - Brian May

A night at the cinema: Brian May post-screening

The event was a screening of One Night in Hell a short animation inspired by the collaborative work of Brian May together with authors Denis Pellerin and Paula Fleming in the book Diableries – Stereoscopic Adventures in Hell. As May explained, the ghoulish images that appear in the book are stereoscopic photographs dating back as far as 1859. Each scene features models constructed with wire and clay and various props that, viewed together with a second image, trick the eye into perceiving depth and realism.

One Night In Hell Diableries Animation

Reproduction of an original diableries card

It turns out that this series of 183 cards – May and his collaborators have collected 182 of them – were more than just some morbid curiosity depicting scenes from hell, but amounted to a satirical take on the rule of the womanising of Napoleon III and his self indulgent Empress Eugénie. The creators got away with it because the themes were heavily disguised, using hell, the devil and a hapless crew of skeletons to tell these dissenting tales.

One Night In Hell Diableries Animation

All aboard for Purgatory

The guitar hero explained that he began collecting diablerie cards as a young student when he first came across them in an antiques market off the Portobello Road. Co-writer and collector Paula Fleming said the book took a year to put together and producer Paul Laikin said it took another year for the London arm of animation studio Unanico to recreate these scenes in CGI with both 3D and 2D elements featuring dozens of characters and over 200 background elements and props.

One Night In Hell Diableries App

iOS app for iPhone and iPad has AR functionality shown here triggered by a diableries promo card

Unanico has also developed a Diableries app that launches on iTunes on Thursday for £1.99 that has an augmented reality aspect to it – the Diabl-O-Scope – enabling interaction with the characters in the film.

Diableries App

Diableries Diabl-O-Scope app augmented reality up close

A selection of 24 cards from May’s own private collection can be viewed too and as May remarked on apps: “The nice thing is you can update them and show more diableries” so it looks like an ongoing project.

Put in perspective

As you might have guessed, the seven minute film is screened in 3D and to add a touch of authenticity to the presentation the camera position remains fixed, so you view the scenes in much the same way as someone would have over 150 years ago. The character colouring and glowing eyes is also in keeping with the originals.

One Night In Hell Diableries Animation

Judgement day

Certainly, Unanico has done a great job recreating the scenes and Dolby was on board to work on the Atmos soundtrack which has its moments of spatial excellence. However, the fixed camera positioning does tie the sound designers’ hands somewhat as all the action is centre stage, and for the most part the transitions between scenes produced the more noticeable sonic shifts. Fittingly, there is also French version of the animation.

One Night In Hell Diableries Animation

Bone idol: Brian May adds a musical accompaniment to the diableries animation

Needless to say we are treated to a hint of We Will Rock You morphed into Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture with May’s distinctive guitar soloing over the top. Apparently, this Tchaikovsky work was banned from performance in France at the time of the Diableries, as Napoleon I didn’t do too well in Russia. May felt this fact to made it a fitting sonic accompaniment to what was originally only a visual medium.

One Night In Hell Diablerles Animation

Move over Google Glass: Brian May’s Owl design viewer

Talking of accompaniments, the book, Diableries – Stereoscopic Adventures in Hell, features an actual stereoscopic viewer called the Owl that was invented by Brian May, as not everyone has antique stereo optics tucked away to view diablerie cards. The design of the Owl allows it to be used directly with the book or with slot in reproduction cards. The distance from the lenses to the image can be adjusted to suit with a simple sliding mechanism.

One Night In Hell Diableries Animation

You saw it here first – the future of 3D entertainment

May’s patent pending device and the book itself are marketed under the banner of The London Stereoscopic Company – a name that dates back to 1856. The web site of the modern day outfit is full of historical facts and practical advice on stereoscopy, but not the moving image sort. So we have the book, the film, the app, the toy and the web site… wot, no T-shirt?

The One Night in Hell animation will screen this Friday on Sky 3D and Sky Arts.