Photo by Joshua Brott, Obscura Digital

Fusing Theatre and Technology

By ELISA NAVARRO, Student Writer

Put those together and you can change the way people think about the world. Sound too good to be true? Sound intriguing? Sound like it could be…well, life changing? What about working for a firm that lists the Sydney Opera House, United Arab Emirates, Dallas Cowboys, Disney, Audi, and Apple among its clients? Even more intriguing, right?

Matthew Ragan

Matthew Ragan (2006) thinks so too. Which is why he loves his work at Obscura Digital so much. Based in the Dogpatch district in San Francisco, CA, Obscura Digital creates immersive experiences through 3D animation, large scale art installations, holographic projection, interactive media platforms, video architectural mapping, and a host of other media services.

How did he get there? It might sound funny, but Ragan says his journey started back in the 80’s, playing around with an old computer, learning to write code. It continued at Fresno State, where he studied theatre arts with an emphasis in acting, helping to produce more than 15 shows.

Ragan believes his time at Fresno State was invaluable, “…in terms of conceptualizing and thinking about how you organize productions…from the performance standpoint and also from the productions stand point.”

Matthew training

After graduating, Ragan decided he had had enough of the warm California sun, so he moved to New Hampshire, where he trained at the New England Center for Circus Arts, developing skills in partner aerobics. After a few years Ragan needed to thaw out, so in 2012 he moved to Arizona to attend graduate school at Arizona State University, completing his master’s degree in interdisciplinary digital media and performance.

“The purpose of that particular grad program was to build bridges between interactive platforms and traditional performance and stage technology,” Ragan said.

While at ASU, Ragan worked on more than 25 productions, working to bring art, science and technology together to enhance both the story and audience experience. “It’s meaningful for me to work with the technology and to make the performance perfect and beautiful,” said Ragan.

Photo by Daniel Fine, project Terra Tractus while at ASU

After graduating, it was back to California, where Ragan joined the team at Obscura as an Interactive Engineer. He didn’t stay in San Francisco long though. His first project took him to China to work on a massive, 32-projector, wrap-around production for Shantou University’s 2015 commencement ceremony. The project included a 360-degree projection of a 3D phoenix (symbolizing STU’s spirit) taking flight over scenes depicting the history of the university and region.

“I believe it’s one of the largest permanent projections of the world right now — and it’s kind of crazy to say that I was a part of it,” said Ragan.

What’s his favorite project to date though? Interestingly enough, it’s not Shantou University. That honor goes to his work at AT&T Stadium, for the Dallas Cowboys.

“I built a part of the system that is used in every game and it still seems a little unreal,” said Ragan. “If you’re watching a game and you see a big board spinning…the graphics that are on that…are one of the things that I programmed.”

“The best part about working at Obscura is that we are very uniquely positioned in being able to work with cutting-edge, innovative technology. that is the leading edge of what’s new and innovative. And having that kind of access and recreating stories is a privilege that I don’t think I can adequately describe,” Ragan said.

Does he bring together art, science and technology to create life-changing experiences? If you ask Ragan, he’ll say yes. When asked how he got there (beyond playing around on a clunky old computer), he’ll say it’s because he took risks, all of which started during his time at Fresno State. “That’s part of the reasons why you’re in an educational environment to take risks and to see what happens…I would encourage people to take risks,” Ragan said.

To see more of Ragan’s work check out his website.

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