Essex Dance Motion Capture

panta rei dans lullaby

Video - Panta Rei Danseteater 'Lullaby'

Norwegian dance company Panta Rei Danseteater, late last year, conducted a little experiment whereby three dance makers created two pieces with the same name based on the same idea, featuring three male dancers and two musicians, to see what the outcome was.

June 2nd, 2016

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by Article19

Motion capture technology has been developed and used by the mainstream film industry for many years now. So what happens when dance gets it’s hands on this advanced equipment? Well we are soon to find out because EssexDance have secured funding to purchase an advanced motion capture system for use by professional dancers in conjunction with an artist support scheme for using new technology.

Essentially motion capture enables the movements of a human being to be accurately captured or mapped by a computer. The captured movement is viewed on the computer screen as a skeletal model that depicts the exact motion performed by the dancer. You can then take this movement and apply it to a computer-generated model or “skin” and the model will dance away on the computer, happy as a lamb, replicating exactly the motion of the dancer.

Information held on the computer can be played back from any angle, speed and direction that the operator sees fit. Applications of this technology are numerous. In the film industry motion capture is most often used to apply, what is described as, “hyper real” movement to virtual characters that are required to interact with human characters. A recent example is the hugely successful Lord of the Rings feature where motion capture was used to animate the character Gollum amongst others.

Now you are probably wondering why on earth not just film the real dancer and be done with it? Well it is a good question and the answer all depends on the application of the captured information that the choreographer has in mind. Once the movement information is in the computer there are thousands of things that can be done with it. If you have only one dancer for example but you want a company of 2,000 then using the computer you can create multiple copies of the same information and you have your 2,000 dancers all for the price of one.

That may not make the legions of jobless dancers happy but the choreographers can have a field day. Technology like this also gives the choreographer access to a wide range of artistic possibilities that cannot be achieved in the real world. The models or skins that are applied to the motion information need not be human like physique models. The computer can literally apply the motion to any type of object, such as a model of a Coke can, and have that object dancing like Darcy Bussel if she was the dancer used to capture the motion. Mind you, we are pretty sure that people would not pay money to see a Coke can dance like Darcy Bussel or then again maybe they would [what a shocking thought, Ed!]

Of course, the motion captured by the computer can only be played back on the computer and then moved to video, film, projection, TV or the Internet. The system purchased by Essex Dance is called Reactor and is very versatile in its applications although the performance area within the capture area of the rig is only 3 metres deep by 4 metres wide and 3metres high. [depending on the specification of the rig] So having more than a couple of dancers in there at a time may get a little crowded and those big travelling sequences are going to have to wait. For a simulated demonstration of how the system works view the QuickTime movie over on the right, which will give you a rough outline of how, this type of technology achieves its results.

The success of this technology lies not in how clever it is but in how those who use the system apply the technology to their particular piece of work. In this time of advanced visual effects in almost every film and television show that we see an audience is going to require something fresh and exciting to be impressed by dancers using this technology. Simply pushing motion capture on its own will not do the trick. In an interview given in 1999, Seth Rosenthal head of the Motion Capture Lab at Industrial Light and Magic said this about motion capture technology;

“Motion capture can provide animation for a character. But animation is just a starting point and doesn't buy you much if you don't have good modelling, lighting, compositing, texturing, and everything else that makes a shot work. That's one reason there is so much cheesy-looking motion capture out there. It seems so easy! You get motion that looks very real, but if you don't have a way to incorporate it into a pipeline to make good CG [computer graphics] images, then you are not accomplishing anything. No matter how good the motion capture is, if you don't have a way to incorporate it into images that look good, then all you really have is great movement.”

The system will be installed in November of this year and Article19 will be covering the developments of the system when it goes into use and we will hopefully bring you the initial results of the first choreographers and dancers to use the equipment and talking to them about what they would like to achieve with their new found access to such sophisticated technology.

If you would like any further information about the technology and the artist development scheme run by EssxDance you can contact the dance.tech team at EssexDance [email protected] or telephone them on 01245 346036.

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