research projects

Aura: live motion capture and 3D stereoscopic dance performance

Aura, choreographed by Kim Vincs in collaboration with John McCormick, Lisa Bolte, Adam Thurlow, Rob Vincs, James Wakeling, Daniel Skovli and Peter Divers, fuses ballet with live motion capture to produce a live, large-scale, 3D stereo performance.

Aura explored the potential of motion capture and 3D stereo projection to visualize 1950's dance philosopher, Susanne K. Langer's notion of 'virtual force'.  Langer hypothesized that the primary illusion of dance is 'virtual force'.  Dance movement produces symbolic representations of agency and will by evoking 'forces' that appear to animate the dancer from within. 

Composed of seven vignettes, Aura used a large-scale 3D stereo projection environment, developed through Deakin University's Research Infrastructure Development Scheme, to transform movement trajectories from live motion capture into 3D projections that surround the dancers.  Aura began with a 3D animation, created by Peter Divers, of a short piece of contemporary choreography that was motion captured earlier in 2009.  The stereoprojection combined with the flexibility of the motion capture allowed the dancer to appear larger than life, and to amplify the spatiality of the movement.  The dancer/character's movement in three dimensions, and particularly 'towards-away' movement along the Z-axis, was emphasized by new camera angles that are physically unavailable in the 'real' world but which can be created at will in the virtual world of CG animation.  Projecting this into a larger than life-sized 3D environment further amplified the visceral sense of the movement – in effect creating a new approach to generating dance on screen that has the potential to amplify the kinaesthetic impact of screen dance.

Lisa Bolte and Adam Thurlow, both ex-Principal Artists of the Australian Ballet, performed a series of solo and pas de deux dances choreographed by Kim Vincs.  Each work explored a different approach to visualizing their movement using 3D motion graphics generated from real-time motion capture data that streamed live into the interactive media environments. John McCormick and Kim Vincs each created a range of environments that mapped the dancers movements in different poetic and metaphoric ways to the space around them.

Melbourne musicians Rob Vincs and James Wakeling provided a live soundscape to the works, improvising with both the dancers and with the motion graphics.

This project 're-reads' Langer by designing an interactive dance performance system that 'touches' space with kinematics – the subtle, poetic, embodied dynamics of dance; trajectory, velocity, acceleration.  Aura is, in a sense, a literal realization of Langer's theory, made using a technology that reinterprets her idea of virtual force as extended physical agency.  Aura is also both exploration and proof of concept  that live dance performance can redefine itself as a 3D form in the same way as computer games and films, such as Avatar,  have successfully done, and that this development offers new ways to enrich the evocative and poetic impact of dance.

For images from Aura, please click here to be taken to the gallery.