character design • animation • projected sets •  props  > bill barminski and christopher louie


The Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Franz Welser-Möst presents The Cunning Little Vixen, an opera by Leos Janacek.  Directed by Yuval Sharon. Set designs, character designs and animation by Bill Barminski and Christopher Louie of Walter Robot Studios.    Costumes by Ann Closs-Farley. Mask designs by Cristina Waltz. Projection and lighting design by Jason Thompson.



New York Times review

Opera News - The Cunning Little Vixen "a steller concept opera"

BachTrack gives The Cunning Little Vixen 5 Stars.






OK, here's the idea. You have all seen  the photo op where you stick your head through a plywood hole and your head is now on a cartoon body painted on the other side. Well, this was exactly Yuval's idea for this opera. But this plywood is projected video on a 30' x 90'  wall with 8 portals for the performers to use. And the characters are animated. The opera itself is 90 minutes in duration. Very quickly we realized that we were basically making a feature lenght animated film in about 5 months.  What is more, this film has to be compsited and cued live. You can't just hit play. The conductor sets the pace.

THE OPERA _inspired by a comic strip

Leoš Janáček was inspired by a daily illustrated novella  to create The Cunning Little Vixen. The strip followed the adventures of a female fox known as Sharp Ears.  He began work by meeting with the  authors  Rudolf Těsnohlídek and Stanislav Lolek and observing nature.   With this understanding of the characters and his own 70 years of life experience, and an undying, unrequited love for the much younger, married Kamila Stösslová, he began work on the opera. Writing his own libretto, he transformed himself into the forester, and Kamila into the vixen and Terynka. He also transformed the originally comedic cartoon into a philosophical reflection on the cycle of life and death by including the death of the vixen. As with other operas by older composers, this late opera shows a deep understanding of life leading to a return to simplicity. The opera had it's first performance in 1924.

One of the biggest technical challenges  is that all of the animation has to play to a live orchestra. The tempo is set by the conductor. All of the animation has to be created so that it can loop and/or end sooner.  Each of the characters must be created with multiple action loops so that they can be  composited live by the technical supervisor Jason Thompson. So this piece has many moving parts. The projection system consists of 3 separate screens and projectors therefore ever scene has to be cut into 3 panels.


Creatively the key to this piece is the music. No kidding right? But getting inside the head of Janacek and looking for the emotive core took some time. After letting it soak in one can begin to feel the presence of the artistic spirit. Janacek makes a philosophical argument about man's place in nature,  a meditation on the beauty of nature and how we interact with it. The opera looks at the cycle of life and basically says it's both beautiful and tragic.


MAY 17 - 24 • The Cleveland Orchestra

many thanks to the Mark Williams and Julie Kim at the Cleveland Orchestra for making this project possible