Thousands of faces from children to elders filled the massive tent. All audiences were smiling and hungry for excitement as they anticipated the most popular show in Germany—Circus Theater Roncalli. Today was their 40th anniversary and was known as one of the legendary circus shows. But they just had a groundbreaking announcement that made people swarm to their blue striped tent.
The audiences’ hearts raced when the lights from the tent dimmed until it was pitch black. Followed by a spine-chilling orchestra that resonated around the place. Then suddenly, a spotlight showered to a majestic looking clown. He greeted the audience with a huge grin and moved poetically as he began the show with the words, “Leave your worries outside and walk into our hearts.” The time came when the kaleidoscopic lights glinted the whole stage revealing the performers and of course, the extraordinary images that transported the people into a totally different world.
Bernhard Paul always had a dream to build his own circus in Germany. He imagined his spectacle bringing a different experience for the audiences from the moment they step inside. Bernhard wanted to bring smiles and witness their eyes sparkle with fascination. The idea of it made him ecstatic, so he started working hard and saved money for a far-fetched dream.
In the 1970s, Bernhard submitted his resignation letter and left his stable job in an advertising agency. Many thought he was insane for quitting his art director position. But they didn’t know that Bernhard had a bigger plate served for himself. He reached out to his friend, Andre Heller, and proposed a partnership for his new business plan. Andre thought it was a fantastic idea, so he agreed right away. This deal was the start of a revolutionary circus show.
Just like the big circus names that were traveling the world, he also imagined his circus to move around. So when he saw an old wagon from the Circus Williams, he immediately purchased it. He spent days repairing the carriage himself. Then he repainted and made it look brand new. But he felt that something was missing…
Bernhard doesn’t have a name for his little circus. He sat on the grass in defeat, still with paints and dust evident on his clothes. He placed his filthy hands on his chin in an attempt to come up with possible titles. Then a name struck him. “Roncalli” It was from a character of a film named, Sarah Roncalli, which means daughter of the moon. And as if magic just ignited, a smile crept into his face. “Circus Roncalli,” he whispered between his breath.
By 1976, Bernhard scouted only two clowns. He wanted it to be a trio, but he doesn’t have enough budget for it, so he trained himself to be a clown and joined their act. He created his own character as “Clown Zippo”—a clown that couldn’t fit in the present day. Bernhard knew they were ready to show the world their little Circus Roncalli. On May 18, 1976, in the city of Bonn, they had their first performance.
When they reached the 1980s, Circus Roncalli grew rapidly. They were popular with their show “Journey to the Rainbow.” The team expanded that they already had a mime, a man floating in a bubble, John AK, the frogman, and acrobats. Their colorful and vivid performances stood out from other rival circuses, and people loved them more. Then 40 years later, their iconic rainbow-themed circus still existed but with a much more modern take.
Throughout his successful years, Bernhard had focused only on the clowns, poet acts, and acrobats. He had few animals but mainly it was just horses. Then he started settling his moving circus only around the nearby cities of Germany and Europe. It became difficult for them to find green fields because of modernization. This was the moment when Bernhard had to take drastic measures.
Circus from the Future
Cities and transportation had already changed. In 2016, people found other forms of entertainment like films, television, and the internet. Bernhard knew his circus was lagging behind. He searched for some grass, sat on it, and pondered again.
Maybe they should start opening doors for a change? But he didn’t have any single idea what kind of transformation it would be. He only wished he could give a classic circus show that fits in the modern era. Until one day, he had his first hologram experience from the SuperBowl 2017 when Justin Timberlake performed with a hologram Prince. Bernhard was so fascinated that the future of his circus flashed before his eyes.
He wasn’t a fan of exploiting animals in a circus. That was why he only focused on human acts, which gave an advantage to their performances. Since people’s opinions already changed, plenty of them didn’t want to see animals forced to do things. Bernhard was aware of that. When he saw the holographic Prince from the SuperBowl, he had visions of giant animated animals projected in their rings. This way, there would be no real animals harmed, and the experience would be more magical. But this sounds too good to be true. Well, not for the Circus Roncalli.
Bernhard began 2017 by joining forces with Markus Strobl, his new Chief Digital Officer. Markus’ task was to lead the technical aspects of the project, so he teamed up with Bluebox and Optoma for software engineering. They customized 11 laser projectors throughout the circus ring. They also installed giant sheets of metallic knead around the arena. Bernhard spent more than €500,000 on this project, but it doesn’t matter if it meant fighting against animal cruelty and bringing more smiles to his audiences. However, they needed brilliant artists for this idea to turn into reality.
They created a crew of 15 software engineers and 3D artists who specialized in augmented reality. The team started modeling the animals. But it got tricky when they had to generate the right sizes of the animals to appear realistic from the crowd’s perspective. But Markus came up with a genius strategy.
He suggested making a 3D version of the whole construction of their circus tent from its poles, seats, cranes, props, down to the tiniest threads. This plan sounded like a lot of work, but it helped the artists calculate the dimensions of the animations accurately. When Bernhard wanted to add stardust on the animals, the crew had to render 1 million particles. It was a very complicated task for each artist and engineer that the whole production took more than two years. However, when they announced the debut of the new Circus Roncalli, all of their hard work immediately paid off.
The masses were moved after they learned about the advocacy of Circus Roncalli regarding anti-animal cruelty. They received more than 20,000 handwritten letters and emails from all over the globe and the feedback was all positive. People’s curiosities sparked when they heard the use of hologram. Their images and video campaigns went viral across the internet. The circus was even featured in tons of news outlets around the world. Their sudden fame resulted in people flocking into their venue with hopes of witnessing the first show to use holographic animals.
It was March 2018 when their first show debuted. The audiences were captivated when they saw life-sized 3D images of animals covered in stardust and rainbow-colored lights. The whole experience was so magical and enthralling that they felt like they entered a different world. Bernhard watched everyone’s reaction from the backstage and when tears swelled up from his eyes—his purpose was fulfilled. From that day on, the circus gained more than 600,000 audience every week.
The Circus Roncalli was able to create a majestic show using holographic animals emitted by projectors. These were set up around the tent with a measure of 32 meters wide and 5 meters deep—completing the 360° stage for the viewers to enjoy. But the show wasn’t just about the hologram, Bernhard never stopped showering spotlights for the clowns, acrobats, fiery circles, and other extraordinary human performances. However, he got the news that his circus received negative feedbacks.
Brand New Name
It was from the rival circuses that featured real animal acts. They protested that Circus Roncalli wasn’t an authentic classic circus anymore because there were no animals involved. But Bernhard just shrugged. He knew someone would oppose, so he ought to change their name from Circus Roncalli into “Circus-Theater Roncalli” which was favorable to them for this opened more chances for the show to widen its horizons.
Bernhard had no plans to end their show soon. As pioneers of modern circus, he had so many ideas in store and he plans to improve their visuals more. The founder promised the day would come for the holographic animals to have more interaction with the audience. But it wasn’t just the performances that changed, Bernhard also included vegan foods on their menu and he prohibited the use of plastics from the food stalls.