mo cap experimentation

Scott deLahunta (
Sun, 21 Feb 1999 12:03:57 +0100

Dear Dance-Tech List --

sorry to be out of touch for ages and ages. Been very busy and still
suffering RSI. also I would like to offer excuses for not updating the
Dance and Technology Zone for 'ages' -- so there will be some of those
embarrassing dead links there probably -- and I also have material which
has been sent which I have not put up there. I think Mark has been
similarly busy. Hopefully I will get to it sometime soon... in the meantime
maybe some new readers are not aware that you can add yourself and your
projects to the pages -- visit

Just to say thanks to Robert Wechsler for his interesting diary report last
week on his workshop at ZKM. I personally find these workshop reports
illuminating and quite useful... and I attempt a short synopsis of what has
been happening here in Aarhus below.

But just to pick up on a point RW makes regarding our overly specialized
fields of practice. RW says that in the 70s and 80s he was predicting the
renaissance artist of the 90s... who would be multi-skilled and able to
incorporate a range of artistic knowledges into multi-disciplinary works of
art --

I have found myself taking an entirely different approach to dance/ tech
overlaps, sensing from the beginning that exciting and stimulating artistic
work arising out of this overlap would best come from organising successful
collaborations between specialists from the two different fields. I have
always imagined dance/ tech projects to be more akin to the making of a
cinema which cannot be accomplished without a team of people (many
considering themselves 'artisans' instead of 'artists') -- each able to
contribute a small or large bit of specialised work to the whole. Of
course, cinema is an industry which dance/ tech is far from being. I am
also not suggesting that the cinema hierarchy would work at all for our, it
has to be said, largely esoteric practices as the 'fine artists' of the
performance field.

But -- none of this is black and white obviously and things will always
vary with circumstances and with different artists and when was artmaking
and production and display NOT a team effort of some kind?

For this motion capture laboratory we have running here -- we are letting
the students who are from their 'multimedia' department learn whatever they
wish to: Motion Capture/ Choreography/ Animation, etc. -- from a
pedagogical perspective they are gaining a useful familiarity with each of
these and having a chance for some parallel academic reflection and
analysis. But for the two main artistic projects which we are also
supporting, we are organised teams of specialists, for example a
choreographer and an animation artist and a projection artist. If we are
lucky, these collaborations may result in an exciting work. The students
will gain familiarity and possibly the awareness to choose a particular
speciality (or maybe we are just training dilettantes?). The gear has also
been made available to some local artists (composers and visual artists)
who, I would say, are in the process more of investigating to see what this
technology might have to offer to their chosen genres.

We will have a website for the Aarhus Motion Capture laboratory up soon
which I will post. The following is a rambling bunch of thoughts I have
just posted to Lisa Naugle to prepare for our little IDAT videoconference
coming up this friday -- Lisa (who has been organising weekly motion
capture workshops for her dance students at University of California,
Irvine), Susan Kozel (who many of you know has plenty of mocap experience
and some artistic projects utilising mocap coming up with collaborator Kirk
Woolford) and I are doing a 30 minute 'dialogues on motion capture' -- you
can visit the IDAT website for more information

a. our system is on loan from LEGO. It is a magnetic ascension motionstar
wireless with 7 sensors -- this gives us 'realtime' but not the high
quality of data that optical would give, but it fits with our laboratory
aims because several people want to explore the possibility of realtime
interaction with motion capture imagery. There are problems with this,
namely computing power needed to get some skeleton/ geometry on the image.
we are running the data through MAYA on an SGI Octane -- it's not really
possible to get much in realtime besides just the points. this SGI is
linked to the university network -- so students can carry on working on
their animations anywhere on campus -- mostly on SGI O2s

b. we are on two artistic tracks -- one is exploring more abstract dance
movement (a choreographer is leading this track) -- the other exploring
possibilities of capturing more theatrical expression/ gesture (a theatre
director is leading this track) -- in between there are others trying the
gear on in all sorts of other configurations

c. we are lacking good animation/ MAYA artists -- we had someone here the
first week and are bringing in a specialist for a couple of days at the end
of this week -- they are very excited to work with the choreographer (susan
rethorst) who brings a knowledge of movement (space/time) to the table
which they feel is teaching them something as well

d. so for now it is a group of students who are learning the animation
program and experimenting with simple animations using the mocap data --
and making lots of mistakes which are of course very interesting -- and we
are trying to encourage them not to throw them away

e. some participants are satisfied with exploring the 'digital' space --
others want to find a way more quickly to bringing the material back into a
'real' space -- hence the experiments with 'realtime' -- using projections

f. we are attempting to do maintain an analytical/ critical perspective
throughout the exercise -- the animimation software MAYA is quite amazing
in that it presents us with a whole range of predetermined possibilities
for making things move. The MAYA artists are used to working in a
commercial context where the creative goals and time limitations don't
allow for a certain kind of artistic reflection which is more common in our
own field of fine arts -- this gives a wonderful sort of tension to the
working process ... whereby they are most often just simply asked to 'slow
down' their process. And they have found that they are getting a 'second
look' at some of the possibilities... and having to rethink their
assumptions about space/ time... as are the performance artists.

g. we are in need of software solutions / programming solutions already. we
have students who are looking to make the mocap suit more like a VR
instrument (like the classic glove) -- there is a very strong desire to be
able to take the mocap data and do something with it other than rendered
animations -- I find this thread very stimulating.

I think in my rambling above I have hit on the main five TRACKS which you
are also probably moving along.

*1* To experiment with what to capture and how (body parts, baby capture,
*2* To take the motion capture (experimental and otherwise) and experiment
in the animation program with it -- making human and non-human figurations
-- sometimes these are purely abstract/ sometimes with narrative intentions
*3* To investigate real time interaction with projected motion capture
(live body/ media body)
*4* To create software translations of the motion capture data into other
digital environments other than the animation program
*5* Rethinking assumptions about movement, time and space throughout



Scott deLahunta in Aarhus, Denmark
[1 Feb - 15 Mar 1999]

mobile: +44 (0)797 741 20 60
office phone (general): +45 8942 1814
office phone (direct): +45 8942 5122
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