/News 31.07.23


Veteran Australian writing-directing-performing duo, Steve Abbott (Under The GrandstandSandman in Siberia) and Warren Coleman (Happy FeetFor Real) collaborated with Mod on an experimental realtime live production, Dear Evelyn.

Featuring a man, his mum and his alter ego, the tragi-comic project revolves around Steve Abbott reading a letter to his deceased mother Evelyn, to remind her of the life that dementia stole from her. Accompanying him on this emotional journey is his better-known self-obsessed alter ego, The Sandman – entirely unaware that he is fictional. Sandman learns that he is based on Evelyn – triggering events that will change his relationship to his real-world host Steve forever.

Cult comic creation, The Sandman dominated airwaves through the 90s so the project required a recreation that could be controlled and animated in realtime, allowing Steve to perform dialogue with his 90s-era alter ego.

Mod provided virtual production direction, asset creation and technical support, led by Michela Ledwidge and Sarah Cashman.

In rehearsal: Steve Abbott puppeteers his alter-ego using a facial mo-cap
In rehearsal: Steve Abbott puppeteers his alter-ego using a facial mo-cap

A full-body scan was taken of Steve Abbott and imported into Unreal Engine (UE) where it was used as a template to create an avatar in Steve’s likeness. This avatar or ‘Metahuman’ was then exported out of UE to be customised to the likeness of Steve’s younger alter-ego. 

We worked with Maya and Houdini to ‘youngify’ the mesh, filling out parts of Steven’s face to make him appear more youthful. We extracted the texture from the scan and modified it by smoothing out wrinkles while making sure to keep distinctive features. From the colour texture we baked out a normal map to give the skin a more life-like appearance by adding texture such as skin pores and distinctive marks.

Sandman’s hair was created in Houdini and rendered in UE. There were no shortcuts here and creating the distinctive curls and shaggy style of Sandman’s hair pushed the team technically and creatively.

Created in UE 5.1 and upgraded to 5.2 prior to the performance, the project contained a customised Sandman mesh and groom, animation including idle face and body loops, custom OSC setup so that live and looped animation could be switched in real-time during the performance with a custom iPad app for controlling cues.


The team used LiveLink Face to bring The Sandman to life, mounted on a tripod to the left of Steve so he could continually switch between himself and his alter-ego with little friction.

Steve Abbott in performance, interacting with The Sandman real-time live avatar.
Steve Abbott in performance, interacting with The Sandman real-time live avatar.
Michela Ledwidge, Virtual Production Director 

The result was a moving piece which integrated real and virtual elements into a live performance with the aid of cutting-edge technology that blurred the lines between fiction and reality. 

Development of Dear Evelyn received support from NIDA X and the Girgensohn Foundation. NIDA X provides funding to NIDA alumni for projects that push the boundaries of storytelling and technology using digital tools. Dear Evelyn was performed live at NIDA in June, 2023, with further development ongoing.