digital theatre experiments

Scott deLahunta (
Thu, 10 Jun 1999 19:20:08 +0200

Dear List --

Finally the project in Denmark is more or less finished -- for an overview
visit the homepage:

Here is a transcript of my brief presentation at the final seminar last
Tuesday -- it's very sketchy... but includes some observations which might
be of interest. I have included links to images which comprise part of the
process of finding material. Please be sure to refer to them as such and
credit the artists (Susan Rethorst, choreographer) and Soren Birk Jacobsen
(animator) if you make references to them in any materials or articles.


Scott deLahunta

*The obligations of research*

As the producer of the piece White on White and advisor on the organisation
of the two laboratories of the experimentarium, I can’t give the sort of
observer’s analysis that Morten, Anders and Ingolf have just presented as
outsiders. I can present you, however, with several snapshots from inside
the process which may function as a sort of skeleton for a fuller
reflection which is yet to be done simply because those of us who have been
working this month on the showings are just about to fall down – one day
between Sunday and Tuesday was not enough time to come up with any more.

But shall I simply begin at the beginning.


Firstly, there was a time in this project when we were trying to decide
what our starting point would be for the first laboratory. Motion Capture
was one possibility among several, but two other artistic projects came to
our attention just at the right time and helped convince us and then others
working with us that Motion Capture would a fertile starting point. These
were Riverbed’s work with Cunningham and BT Jones and the work of Yvonne
Fontijn from Amsterdam [I should mention that we also followed and were
influenced by the work of several others such as Bruno Martelli, Ruth
Gibson, Susan Kozel, Kirk Woolford and Sally Jane Norman].


[overhead -- not available online]

Next, we came up with a simple overall techno/ thematic structure – use
motion capture to get human movement into the machine, animation which
would allow us to work with the movement in digital space – just as you saw
in Shelley’s [Shelley Eshkar from Riverbed] demonstration – and finally to
use projection to get this work out of the box and back out into the space.

>From here things began to rapidly take shape – we worked together to
assemble the facilities necessary and the expertise to utilize these
facilities and teach us what we could do with them.

*Two Laboratories*

It was decided that we would have an initial ‘learning’ laboratory in
February and March followed by a period of creative work centered around
the production of two works in progress – which some or most of you have
just seen this last weekend.

*Limitations of the Scientific Metaphors*

... and this brings me to a brief synopsis of the process of working on
White on White. Susan [Susan Rethorst] is here and will talk a bit later so
I am going to try not to speak for he... but I can say it is one thing to
come up with a working structure which we hoped would bring us to a good
artistic result – it’s another to try to achieve that result. I know that
for Susan, the result was NOT a good artistic result because it is SO far
from being finished.

This is not meant in any way to be an apology for the work which was shown
and from the point of view of the ‘research’ goals of the laboratory it was
a good result, and it achieved what we set out to do. But this is where I
think it is important to point out that quasi-scientific processes (which
employ the terminology of scientific research such as laboratories and
experimentariums, etc.) and artistic processes must diverge – and those of
us interested in exploring relationships between technologies and dance and
theater can not rest until creative artistic processes are given even more
room to develop.

*White on White Process*

However, this project DID go a long ways towards supporting the artistic
process by assembling the facilities and expertise necessary to support it.
The motion capture data was available, the space was available, the
expertise was in place. Our intention was to work in the Lille sal [a 10
meter by 20 meter space] for 4 weeks with Susan [S. Rethorst the
choreographer] and Jodi Melnick the performer – we had all the projection
materials necessary to realise the dynamic projection space designed
earlier by Luca Ruzza – and we had the SGI machine there and Claude
Aebersold the MAYA artist was going to be with us for the whole time
working in the space one-on-one with Susan –

Then a minor disaster struck, in the final moment Claude had to cancel his
participation due to illness. This meant that a fundamental cornerstone of
the process simply disappeared – and our working process very suddenly took
on a dimension which we were not prepared for. MAYA
[] is an extremely complicated
program and there are not so many individuals who know it well enough to do
the work we wanted to do and there was no one who could be here with us for
the whole time. What we did was assemble a team of three of the best MAYA
animators in Denmark [Soren Jacobsen, Thomas Albech and Carsten Lind] and
worked remotely via email, phone and traveling several times back and forth
to Odense and Copenhagen to work with them. They had full time jobs going
on – so the entire process became fraught with stress. In another
situation, one might imagine canceling such a project – but there was no
question, in my mind, that given the parameters of this situation – that we
had to finish what we had started. We had motion captured movement material
which HAD to be used in the showings this last weekend in an artistic
investigation of real and virtual spaces.

Well, it took us several days to come up with the basic methodology which
would allow us to work. First we needed a form, and these images show the
evolution of the form.

[we needed articulation of the limbs so that Susan could ‘recognise’ the

[the form which was finally 'accepted']

[an image from one of the final renderings]

Then we needed a way to work with the ‘virtual’ space of the screen – and
time. The Story Board is traditionally how the animators would work.
However, they [reference to the three working with us] think in more
realistic and narrative terms, and they recommended that we send them just
the ‘high points’ in a storyboard which would consist of a dramatic moment
here and there – and they would work out the in-betweens. But Susan’s ideas
for movement are much more formalistic and abstract. So, the storyboarding
on our end became a massive time consuming exercise in detail !! ... and we
had four screens which would need to work in synchrony. Here is one of the
storyboards for one of the screens.

[overhead of handdrawn storyboard -- you can find some early versions of
storyboards here: ]

In the meantime, Jodi and Susan worked on choreography. Because the
animation material took so long to assemble – we effectively didn't see it
until the final days.

[A selection of observations:]

Only when animations are fully rendered and projected in the space do they
become useful compositional ‘material’ for a performance work. For this
work-in-process, most of the animations you see [referring to the showings]
are at the first stage of this process.

In this work, exploring relationships between the virtual and the real gave
way to a more significant one between the real and the real of the physical
screens and the live performers – necessitating a site specific approach to
making the work.

The realisation that time relationships, live time versus animated time,
vary drastically in their visual appearance… one second on the screen (25
frames) has a very different impact than one second on a live performer.

I think I have to finish here … but this should give some sense of the
process of working on this work in the context of the overall project. The
creative process was one of problem solving as compared to one of being
able to make choices and see what resulted in order to move to the next
order of choicemaking …


Scott deLahunta in Aarhus, Denmark
[1 May - 15 June 1999]

Digital Theatre Experimentarium
Project Website:

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office phone (general): +45 8942 1814
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Department of Dramaturgy
University of Aarhus
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DK 8000 Aarhus C.
Writing Research Associates

Dance and Technology Zone