Andrew Lloyd Webber's new musical, The Woman In White, took scenic designer William Dudley back to his roots in an odd way. “I studied to be a landscape painter in the mid-1960s when the world went abstract,” he says, admitting that he fled his London art school for the comfort of the theatre. “The theatre had a real sense of social purpose in those days, with plays by Beckett and Pinter.”

To create the projected scenery for The Woman In White, which is set in the Victorian era, [see full story on page 18] Dudley was able to “paint” beautiful landscapes on the computer, creating 3D animations using a software package called Cinema 4D. In effect, he was creating a series of kinetic landscapes with figures. “The actors are the figures,” he points out. “The projected environment comes to life when the first actor walks on stage.”

Dudley brought along a book of paintings by British painter Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893) when he met Lloyd Webber for the first time to discuss The Woman In White. “I thought the style of the paintings was right for the style of the show,” says Dudley, who then discovered that Lloyd Webber owns the largest private collection of Grimshaw's work (the director and designer then went by helicopter to see the Grimshaw collection in a museum in Leeds, England). “I love his paintings and the light in them,” Dudney notes. “He did wonderful scenes that capture the magic of London streets lit by gaslight at night.”

To render one of the mansions in his 3D animations, Dudley used a variety of sources including plans and photographs of a house in Holland Park that had been bombed in WWII. He photographed the one wall left standing, as a reference only, and recreated the rest. “For the house where the girls live, I wanted a warm brick look, like a happy estate in a Watteau painting,” he says. “I also wanted to quite differentiate between the two houses, with a spooky gothic house for Glyde.” Dudley based this one on a real house as well, what he refers to as a gothic horror that the English National Trust had just bought. “It was built around the same period as the play, 1869-70,” he says. “We photographed it, then rendered it using assumed measurements.” The moves through the houses, from front door to staircase, for example, are done by moving the viewpoint, as if a camera moved through the 3D models to create the “shots.”