> Where and when was the project taking place?
> What were the working conditions during the project and how was it financed?
> Why is the project presented as a website-publication and not as a stage-performance?
> What were the initial questions and interests when beginning this project?
> How was the work divided between you while carrying out the experiments?
> Dancer and projected image - who serves whom?
> In how far do these experiments relate to the field of dance-notation?
> What are the physical restraints when dancing with the motion-tracking device attached to the body?
> Have you experimented with different projection techniques?
> Have you also included sound/ music in your experiments?
> What would you say were the most mentionable things you learned/ gained during this project?
> What are the future-plans with this project?

 

Where and when was the project taking place? 

The project was realized at the Institute for Visual Media / ZKM centre for art and technology in Karlsruhe. We met regularly for working phases of 1 to 2 weeks, altogether 12 weeks spread out over the time August 2000 until July 2003. It took some additional weeks after July 2003 for documenting the research and editing this website.

 

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What were the working conditions during the project and how was it financed?

A first step for us was to create a protected research space and timeframe in which we could formulate, carry out and analyze practical experiments involving the moving/dancing body and motion capture technology.

For most of this time we worked in a 40 m² studio at ZKM | Karlsruhe Institute for Visual Media. For a period of 2 weeks we also used the larger media-theatre of ZKM. As we were working with a projection, the space was usually darkened.

Setting up and breaking down the motion capture system in the space took us about half a day each time. Regular informal gave the possibility to try out some of the experiments in front of a small audience. In conversations with audience members afterwards we also gained from their immediate comments.

While Bernd Lintermann is an employee of ZKM | Karlsruhe Institute for Visual Media, Nik Haffner and Thomas McManus were given a ZKM-grant to work on this project. The infrastructure we could use at ZKM included working space, technical equipment and support (see credits).

 

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Why is the project presented as a website-publication and not as a stage-performance?

As our focus during the project was research-oriented, we decided that a published documentation of this research would be more appropriate than producing a stage-performance. We wanted to share the experiences we collected during the experiments and make this knowledge easily accessible for anyone interested. Another reason against producing a stage-performance was our concern that the technology we used at the time was not 100% reliable – we did not want to take the risk of having the system crash during a public performance.

One experiment was developed and included in a dance-performance, which premiered in 2002. An excerpt from the piece can be viewed on this website.

 

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What were the initial questions and interests when beginning this project? 

Our initial interest was not only to find out what we could do with the motion capture system, but also what it would do to us, how using it would influence our work and stimulate new ideas for following experiments. When looking at spatial and temporal aspects that define the movements of a dancing body, a next step for us was to try and isolate one of those aspects by developing a visual representation that would focus on this one chosen and isolated movement-aspect or -quality. Recognizing these movement-aspects and –qualities was an essential task during the beginning phase of the project.  

 

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How was the work divided between you while carrying out the experiments?

The three of us come from different backgrounds. Bernd Lintermann is a media-artist and programmer, who has been working on installations as well as developing and writing his own software. Nik Haffner and Thomas McManus are dancers and choreographers who usually make work for the theatre stage. Collaborating on the project Time Lapses was also a process of communicating and getting to know our individual knowledge and ideas. Working on an experiment was usually divided in three parts.

Part 1: The first part was a conversation during which the three of us were formulating an idea and sketching out the technical implications of a next experiment set-up.

Part 2: In a second step Bernd spent some time – usually between 30 minutes and 1 hour - preparing the experiment by making adjustments to the software. Nik and Thomas used this time to warm up physically. For some experiments a short choreographed movement sequence was prepared that could then be repeated and modified. For some set-ups lights and video cameras had to be repositioned. The dancer had to put on and secure the sensors and body pack of the motion tracking system.

Part 3: Once the setup was completed, first try-outs followed during which Bernd made some minor alterations, for example changing the rotation speed of one graphic object. We then spent several hours with each experiment setup, either moving inside the setup or observing from outside. During breaks we talked and made notes about what we saw and experienced, trying to recognize what had occurred in the dancers’ movement, in its projected representation, how these two elements reacted to each other. Often the experience of one experiment would lead into bringing up the idea for a next one.

 

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Dancer and projected image - who serves whom?

In our experiments we noticed that when working with motion-capture there are very different options of how to approach the relation between the dancer and the projected image.

Option 1: the dancer consciously creates the image.
As the dancer/user within the set-up one can follow and execute the task that the experiment suggests. In other words, one focuses primarily on consciously creating or altering the projected image.

Option 2: the dancer ignores the image.
The dancer moves through a choreographed or improvised sequence independently and regardless of the experiment-set-up. The changes in the projected image happen without consciously directed control.

Option 3: dancer and projected image exchanging information in a feedback-loop.
This happens in two stages. First the dancer is observing the projected image closely and by doing so he gets to know it and understands how his body-movements modify the image. During a second stage the dancer is getting used to the images’ presence and starts to develop an awareness of it without observing and controlling it any longer. Similar to how every dancer develops an inner awareness of his/her movement (without seeing/observing him-/herself) a developed awareness of the projected image (without seeing/observing the image itself) can inform the dancers’ movements and sharpen them.

This was for us a challenging potential of working with motion capture. The dancers’ movement changes the projected image and simultaneously the altered image informs the dancers’ next decision. That way and without loosing their independent identity both the dancers’ movement and the experiment set-up exchange, support, contrast or emphasize each others’ qualities.

 

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In how far do these experiments relate to the field of dance-notation?

In all of the projected images one can see and “read” information on the body movement. Capturing and transcribing body-positions and movement and its spatial and temporal relations– this is what also dance-notation does. We were asking ourselves how much and which information of the original body-movement is present and readable in the different representations of our experiments. To find out we modified the set-up of by putting up a separating wall between the dancer and the projected image. By only observing this moving image (and not seeing the dancer at all) a second dancer tried to retranslate the projected motion-trace into body-movement. We filmed both dancers while moving with the wall in between them to compare their movements. We found out that the easiest information to “read” was movement-speed and -dynamics. It was by far more difficult to be precise with the path and size of an arm-movement for example or the positioning of the body in the room. The information one can extract from such a visual representation on a screen does not enable you to precisely recreate the original body movement. But we realized that the information stored in the image is nevertheless very complex and can be used in different ways to inspire and create new body-movement that still holds strong relations to the original movement of the dancer.

 

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What are the physical restraints when dancing with the motion-tracking device attached to the body?

The one clear movement restriction was that we could not fall or roll on our backs, as this is where the body-pack is attached to the body with a wide belt. This little black box is part of the motion capture system we used: the Polhemus Startrak. The sensors themselves and the cables connecting them to the box we secured with Velcro-bands. We usually only attached one or two sensors to body-parts like the wrists or the ankles, so the amount of cable leading from body-parts to the box was limited and that way hardly restricting when moving around.

 

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Have you experimented with different projection techniques?

No. From the very beginning of our project we decided not to focus on trying out different projection techniques. (We usually worked with a simple ceiling-projection onto the back-wall of the studio. For some experiments we worked without projection but with a small control-monitor.) This decision was based on our intention to put our focus on the two-dimensional representation of space- and time-aspects and consequently - on how these aspects contrast with the dance in the real space.

The only exception was for presentations in front of a public, where we wanted to take away the dominance of the projection and decided to reduce its’ size to body-size. In we dealt with the topic of presence and disappearance. In the we chose an object to project on that could be incorporated into the choreography. To use not a projection but a TV screen was the choice for the performance . We were interested in how a dancer would use the TV as an object to physically interact with.

 

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Have you also included sound/ music in your experiments?

No. While some dance- and music-artists experiment with capturing a body-movement and transforming it into sound, we concentrated on a purely visual representation of a movement and the relation between a dancer and a projected image.

 

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What would you say were the most mentionable things you learned/ gained during this project?

Communication: One of the most valuable experiences was establishing the communication between us while working together. We found this an absolutely necessary aspect when collaborating. For example when Bernd had to do some programming, he explained what he would do and how much time it would approximately take. That way everyone could plan the next work steps accordingly (avoiding waiting for an unknown length of time) and the work of the other was not a mystery.

Changing directions: Some of the experiments turned out differently than we had expected. An example: although having a good sense of imagination, the interplay of dance and image was not as expected in the case of trying to visualize how space can be defined by the body moving through it. In those moments we reminded ourselves of the fact that at times it is worthwhile developing an idea rather than sticking to a concept.

Taking time: It takes time for getting to know the partners you are working with; these partners being not only your collaborators, but also the technology you are using and the specific work-environment with its’ implications. Taking time for getting to know all partners’ possibilities and limits allows the project to benefit from all available potentials.

Working with limits: We experienced a number of limits during our work, for example the number of sensors, the 3 X 3 meters moving range and time limits. We were less interested in pushing the technology beyond any limits, but were rather interested what we could find out working within these limits, focusing on questions and ideas that were feasible for the time and technology we had.

Getting tired: We had to learn that we had limits in regard to how long we could work in a small studio without daylight and a constant humming noise from the vents of projector and computer. It was important to change the place, take time for breaks in order to keep the mind thinking clearly.

Making research transparent: Most of the work of a project like Time Lapses, happens unnoticed by anyone but the participating team in a laboratory surrounding. We wondered how such research-work could be made transparent, so that interested people from outside can know about the project and can have access to it. Apart from public we thought a web-publication would be the easiest accessible platform containing the essence of the research. In order to give an example of how research connects and feeds back into the field of work, we included an excerpt from the dance performance from 2002, in which some of the knowledge gained during this research was used. We think making this connection between artistic research and ones’ ‘usual’ artistic work visible is important for both the public and supporting institutions in order to understand the necessity of researching and thereby insure a continuation of research in the arts.

 

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What are the future-plans with this project?

For us an important future aspect of this research is, that other artists interested in the fields of dance and motion capture technology can use these pages as a point of reference. At this point we are curious how others will be able to include our experiences in their research and what kinds of responses this website will evoke.

 

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