Motion Capture and Dance: what it can do, what it can’t do, and what it should never attempt

What aesthetic and cultural choices are embedded in motion capture analysis? What are the benefits and pitfalls of using motion capture to analyse and create dance? What examples are there of translating motion capture analysis into new choreographic works? How can motion capture analysis inform live interactive performance?
Monday, 19 September, 2011 - 13:00 - 14:30
Chair Person: 
Kim Vincs
Chair Person: 
John McCormick
Chair Person: 
Gibson / Martelli
Sarah Whatley
Susan Kozel
Choreotopography, by Kim Vincs, John McCormick, Daniel Skovli, Rob Vincs and Peter Divers, performer: Shannon Ellis.

Chair: Assoc. Prof. Kim Vincs
2nd Chair: John McCormick

Motion capture analysis offers dance new possibilities for re-conceptualizing movement in ways that are not intuitive, and not based on the traditions and ingrained movement grammars of specific dance genres and styles. Looking at dance as motion capture data can provoke a more radical deconstruction of existing movement discourses than is otherwise possible given the deep corporeal inscriptions embedded in dancers’ and choreographers’ bodies. The flip side is that the vast volume and detail of data motion capture generates means that the possible mappings and organizational paradigms multiply exponentially.  Deciding what to highlight and what to value, and what to consider ‘noise’ and ignore, is a critical part of motion capture analysis. This inescapable reductionism is also, however, the antithesis of artistic method, which values the whole, the accidental, the inclusive. Analysis forces choices based on value judgments, which have the potential to distort and close down, as much as open up and explore, dance research.

The panel will use a round-table format to address;

What aesthetic and cultural choices are embedded in motion capture analysis?
What are the benefits and pitfalls of using motion capture to analyse and create dance?
What examples are there of translating motion capture analysis into new choreographic works? 
How can motion capture analysis inform live interactive performance?

Paper Abstracts

Capturing dance and Choroetopography: Analyzing and Visualizing Complexity

by Assoc. Prof. Kim Vincs

Motion capture provides ‘snapshots’ of the complexity of movement patterning. This presentation explores how this complexity can be mapped to specific variables for analysis, and what such analyses both reveal and mask in relation to the choreographic practices involved, drawing on my three-year collaboration with mathematician Vicky Mak-Hau and biomechanist Richard Smith at the Deakin Motion.Lab in Melbourne, Australia. The paper explores how can these analyses can potentially drive creative processes in dance, and, through a discussion of performance project Choreotopography, how real-time motion capture can visualize and enhance spatial pathways using 3D stereoscopic projection.

Translating Motion Capture Analysis into Performance

by Prof. Sarah Whatley

This paper speaks about how motion capture analysis translates into performance events, and specifically the impact on the viewer; what choices do artists make in terms of composition/environment/duration and how does motor action and embodied human experience communicate through motion capture visualisations?  What does the viewer experience and what are the critical frameworks that the artist/viewer/scholar draws on to describe and document the work?

Micro Mocap

by Prof. Susan Kozel

How have things changed? Motion capture performances used to be equipment heavy and fraught with calibration problems. Mocap was a domain for privileged dancer-researchers with skilled collaborators. The Kinect has changed the access, cost, and culture of motion capture. My contribution to this panel will consider what happens when mocap becomes (more) ubiquitous. Can it converge with DIY or ‘Make’ culture? I’ll reflect upon some of the philosophical ideas I used in considering motion capture performances using more elaborate or high end systems (in Closer MITP 2007) and see whether these are still relevant in the new mocap climate. I’ll also briefly discuss ‘Micro-Mocap’: an experiment in accumulating a personal vocabulary of ‘nothing movements,’ or little kinaesthetic snippets, asking if it is like a DIY ‘Motion Bank’ without performative aspirations.  But can motion, once it is captured, really be non-performative?

Porous Borders: Visualizations of dance through motion capture technologies

by Ruth Gibson and Bruno Martelli

Gibson/Martelli use animation tools and digital methods to explore and realise unique approaches in developing real-time screen based works. This paper will explore the creative expansion of interface development into new territories evolving science and new display technologies. Specific attention will be paid to the modification that nature undergoes as technology develops.

Only Human....

by John McCormick

Movement analysis in the scientific realm is often characterised by the desire for certainty and predictability yet this level of predictability may not always be desirable in an artistic context. In the area of dance creation and performance, the fact that humans can be surprising, inspired, fragile and unpredictable could be seen as part of their potential creativity and preferable to obvious, robotic responses. How far would we allow machines to carry similar traits in their analysis and responses to human movement? This presentation investigates the area of machine learning and understanding as it may be applied to motion capture analysis in performance, including the aspiration of many machine learning techniques to model and approach human learning.

Bios of Participants

Kim Vincs

Kim Vincs is Associate Professor of Dance and Motion Capture at Deakin University, and Director of the Deakin Motion.Lab motion capture studio and research centre. She is a choreographer, interactive artist and researcher specializing in developing new ways of investigating and creating dance using digital technology. Her collaborations integrate scientific and artistic approaches. She is currently working on ‘Capturing Dance: using motion capture to enhance the creation of innovative Australian dance’, a three year project, supported by the Australian Research Council’s Discovery program (DP0987101), which aims to identify choreographic movement signatures using motion capture, in collaboration with Mathematician Vicky Mak-Hau (Deakin University) and Biomechanist Richard Smith (University of Sydney).  She also collaborates with cognitive psychologists Kate Stevens (MARCS Auditory Laboratory, University of Western Sydney) and Emery Schubert (University of New South Wales) investigating choreographic structures and audience response.

Her choreography focusses on using motion capture and 3D stereo projection to enhance the spatial impact of dance performance. Works include ‘The Silk Road Project’ in 2007 with Matthew Delbridge, QUT, ‘Aura’, 2009 with interactive artist John McCormick, and ‘Choreotopography’ in December 2010, in collaboration with John McCormick, Daniel Skovli, Peter Divers, Rob Vincs, Deakin University’s Centre for Memory, Imagination and Invention and the Melbourne Ballet Company.

Sarah Whatley

Sarah Whatley is Professor of Dance at Coventry University. As a researcher and dance artist, her research specialises in the interface between dance and new technologies, dance analysis, somatic dance practice and pedagogy, and inclusive dance. She is working on several AHRC-funded projects: she led the the Siobhan Davies archive project ( ) and is now working on the Digital Dance Archives project and is part of the Screendance network. She is hosting Ruth Gibson, AHRC Creative Fellow, researching motion capture and Skinner Releasing Technique for immersive environments and is a member of the International Education Workgroup for The Forsythe Company’s Motion Bank project. She edits the Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices and is on the Editorial Board of the International Journal of Screendance.  

Susan Kozel

Susan Kozel is a dancer, choreographer and philosopher working at the convergence of performance and digital technologies. She is Professor of New Media with the MEDEA Collaborative Media Institute at the University of Malmö, Sweden, and is the director of Mesh Performance Practices She has published and performed widely. Her writing includes Closer: performance, technologies, phenomenology (MIT Press 2007), a book in progress called Social Choreographies: Corporeal Aesthetics with Mobile Media (expected in 2012), and recent pieces on artistic research, ubiquitous computing, and bodily expression in electronic music.  Her collaborative performances and installations include the Technologies of Inner Spaces series (immanence 2005, Other Stories 2007 and The Yellow Memory 2009), whisper[s] wearable computing 2002-2005, and trajets 2000-2007. In her role as collaborating researcher with the Intuition in Creative Processes initiative based at the Theatre Academy in Helsinki she is experimenting with social networking applications for improvised performance (IntuiTweet 2009-2010) and (Alone or Not 2011) and expanding an embodied methodological basis for artistic research.

Ruth Gibson and Bruno Martelli

Gibson/Martelli ( collaborate to create virtual environments as locations for inquiry. The artists' first work won them a BAFTA nomination and their installations, video works, online projects and performances have featured in international exhibitions and festivals including the 52nd Venice Biennale.

Their practice combines the physical & virtual and relationships between natural and artificial to make computer generated environments, novel interfaces and video installations. By re-purposing media tools and combining them with remodeled objects, prints and interrupted surfaces they create ambiguous topographies to simulate and reconfigure representations of the world. The artists? work presents us with surprising juxtaposition of places, transposing sites and designing interactive experiences for audiences, their investigation aims to challenge ideas of place & understandings of it.

Based in London, the artists work together and often as igloo with international artists. Much of their work is in recreating environments and systems where coding joins hands with choreographies of the body. Their core concept is the intersection between technology and the human spirit, where our ambivalence to technology is explored with originality, humour and intellect.

Their practice is multifaceted ranging through installation, intervention, virtualisation, film and performance drawing on the multiple layers of reality and unreality.

John McCormick

John McCormick has been active in the area of dance and new media for many years. He was a founding member of Company In Space (with Hellen Sky), Dancehouse and Squaretangle (with Adam Nash). He has worked on a number of performances incorporating motion capture technologies including  the Company In Space works CO3 (2001), The Lightroom (2004) and Sentient Space (2005), the latter in collaboration with igloo and Adam Nash, Aura (2009) with Kim Vincs and Choreotopography (2010) with Kim Vincs, Daniel Skovli, Peter Divers and Rob Vincs. John teaches motion capture and dance at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia and is currently undertaking research at the Deakin Motion.lab and the Centre for Intelligent Systems Research.