Virginia Tech’s New Minecraft Machinima: OPERAcraft (It’s Exactly What You Think It Is)

Art meets technology in a crazy new mix that combines opera with Minecraft. And you thought building Westeros was the only way to stretch your sandbox limits!

Mojang’s sandbox world of cubes has made headlines everywhere – from topping game charts, to being used as a teaching tool in schools, and taking the blame for school violence

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Now it has been made into an opera too.

The ambitious brainchild of Ariana Wyatt and Ivica Ico Bukvic of Virginia Tech, the project was carried out with K-12 students, who wrote the libretto (that is, the “lyrics” to the opera) with the help of an English professor. The entire thing was set to Mozart and performed and livestreamed last week. 

The students built a massive set for “OPERAcraft,” and used their Minecraft avatars to act out the opera’s major roles, with voice work from vocal students in Virginia Tech’s music department to help bring the project to fruition. 

(NOTE: the beginning dialogue is very quiet, skip through to about the 4-minute mark.)

The result has been lauded as a successful blend of art and technology, and another statement piece in the evolution of video games into its own art form. With the art of video games already claiming an exhibition at the Smithsonian, and the first Grammy nomination going to a video game score, this unexpected mix of the old guard and the new fits right in.

But how did it begin?

Co-creator Ariana Wyatt is an assistant professor of voice at Virginia Tech, and came up with the idea after hearing about other programs aimed at fostering of love of opera in the schools, making it more accessible to everyone rather than as a stepping stone for those training to be in the performance world.

As she told the Washington Post:

“We all strongly believe, of course, that in-depth exposure to the arts is important to live, not only to reach out and make future musicians,” Wyatt said. “I knew there was a way to create a set like this, I knew the technology was there.”

On the hunt for software that would let students build with few limits, with the help of her VT colleague Ivica Ico Bukvic, who studies the intersection between music and technology, she hit upon Minecraft and the project quickly ballooned into a giant cross-departmental project that included the art, music, and computer science departments to bring life to the blocky Minecraft avatars.

“We at least want their mouths to move,” Wyatt said. “We have a team of computer scientists and music technology people who are working to retrofit Minecraft a little for some facial control…and to allow for them to have a little more body movement.”

What do you think?

While opera may not be your musical cup of tea (and no one said it had to be – as a long-time lover of The Phantom of the Opera, I was crushed to learn that it wasn’t mine), can you really help but smile at the idea of Minecraft’s little box-faces warbling to a Mozart score?


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Author
Stephanie Tang
Avid PC gamer, long-time console lover. I enjoy shooting things in the face and am dangerously addicted to pretty. I'm also a cat.