If I can't dance, I don't wanna be part of your (information) revolution.
May 9, 2009 9:02 AM   Subscribe

Mortal Engine (highlights; interview) and Glow (interview) combine dancing and projected video to stunning effect. The secret? The dancers aren't following the light — the light is following the dancers.

Infrared lighting and a surveilance camera allow the software to track the dancers' movements even on a dark stage. Consequently,
Mortal Engine has no pre-rendered video, light or laser images. Similarly the music mix is open allowing various sounds to be completely generated from movement data. In addition, pre-composed phrases are triggered by the dancers’ motion or by the operator in relation to where the performers are in any given sequence. This essentially means that there are no fixed timelines and the production flexes according to the rhythm of the performers.
Those performers are Chunky Move, a Melbourne modern dance troupe. Frieder Weiss, the guy doing the video engineering, links to some other projects using this technology and has also worked with the Palindrome Performance Group, whose website is a pain to link into so you'll just have to explore it on your own.
posted by nebulawindphone (24 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Pretty and pretty neat.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:30 AM on May 9, 2009

posted by Hutch at 9:38 AM on May 9, 2009

Wow - incredible. Puts CGI to shame.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:45 AM on May 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I love this. I'm surprised it doesn't get more publicity.
posted by tomplus2 at 9:55 AM on May 9, 2009

At work we have this brand new conference room with a brand new projection system that is very much a vanilla "it projects things on the wall" kind of setup. I've had this fantasy where I get a cheap webcam and do a presentation where I use something like this or maybe this (I just went to Youtube and picked two folks - there are dozens there) to move things around the screen by waving my hands in the air.

I look at this and realize that I'm feeling marginally impresses with myself for coming up with the idea of whitewashing my wattle and daub hut. Meanwhile, there's a guy in Florence using the same technology to do a painting of the last supper that people will be talking about for the next thousand years or so.

Bonus points for the title.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:05 AM on May 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Pretty cool. I've seen earlier attempts at this kind of thing (eg, the Flying Karamazov Brothers did something like it around 2000), but I think this is the first time I've seen it done where the update rate / response time was fast enough that it seemed fluid, rather than chunky and artificial. Moore's Law helps artists too!
posted by hattifattener at 10:26 AM on May 9, 2009

I saw a very bad and amateurish version of this technique at Glasslands in Williamsburg about a year ago, but this is of a quality, sensitivity, imagination and impact that is absolutely incredible. Absolutely A+.
posted by bedlam at 10:50 AM on May 9, 2009

I recently went to Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry and in their "future" exhibit ("Imagine you could txt a hug." Soon your human hugging will be obsolete!) they had a projector unit kind of like this. The gimmick was that the butterflies flying around the picture landed on your shadow. This is a much cooler use of the technology :p.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 11:28 AM on May 9, 2009

This is wonderful. It's amazing to see how far a light system has come since my early years doing theatre. It's an obvious progression technologically, but the results are startlingly beautiful and viscerally creepy.
posted by bigmusic at 11:29 AM on May 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thanks for this post. Love it! Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s I performed modern and jazz dance with a small community college dance ensemble for awhile, and I wonder what it would have been like then if we'd had the technology that is available today. We were recording our rehearsals and performances on VHS video, and even that was exciting at the time!

The technical wizardry and innovative use of lighting in the piece reminds me of a performance I once saw by the Parsons Dance Company entitled "Caught". Strobe lights are used against a pitch-black stage at precisely the right times to capture the dancer in the air, and the overall effect makes him appear to be flying because you never see him hit the ground. It's absolutely phenomenal. Audiences are abuzz every time it's performed: "How'd he do that?"

Seeing it on video doesn't even compare to seeing it live, though. If you ever have the chance to attend a performance of the piece, I highly, highly recommend it. I saw it more than ten years ago, and I still remember the impression it made on me. I'd gladly pay full ticket price to see that piece alone. It's that amazing.
posted by velvet winter at 11:35 AM on May 9, 2009

Amazing. It made me think of this bit of theatrical prophesy:

Motion pictures are our thoughts made visible and audible. They flow in a swift succession of images, precisely as our thoughts do, and their speed, with their flashbacks -- like sudden up-rushes of memory -- and their abrupt transitions from one subject to another, approximates very closely the speed of our thinking. They have the rhythm of the thought-stream and the same uncanny ability to move forward or backward in space or time, unhampered by the rationalization of the conscious mind. They project pure thought, pure dream, pure inner life.

Here lies the potential importance of this new invention. A new medium of dramatic expression has become available at the very moment when it is most needed in theatre. Our dramatists now have it in their power to enlarge the scope of their dramas to an almost infinite extent by the use of these moving and speaking images. Some new playwright will presently set a motion-picture screen on the stage above and behind his actors and will reveal simultaneously the two worlds of the Conscious and the Unconscious which together make up the world we live in -- the outer world and the inner world, the objective world of actuality and the subjective world of motive. On the stage we shall see the actual characters of the drama; on the screen we shall see their hidden secret selves. The drama will express the behavior of the characters set against a moving background, the expression of their subconscious mind -- a continuous action and interaction.

From "The Dramatic Imagination" by Robert Edmond Jones, 1941
posted by Thin Lizzy at 11:43 AM on May 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Very cool. The parts with the darkness projected over the dancers reminds me so much of the shadow creatures in Ico. And that's a very good thing.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:50 AM on May 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

That is an awesome, amazing piece. I have some friends that have done some simple work with cameras and video projection and it's really cool to see what you can do with it when you take it to the limit.

If you're curious about the music in the first video, it's apparently Ben Frost, Theory of Machines.
posted by pombe at 12:08 PM on May 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

The technical wizardry and innovative use of lighting in the piece reminds me of a performance I once saw by the Parsons Dance Company entitled "Caught".

Way cool. (Some of my favorite music, too! And the ending is just perfect.)

Very cool. The parts with the darkness projected over the dancers reminds me so much of the shadow creatures in Ico. And that's a very good thing.

Yeah, that technique was far and away my favorite. It really does get under your skin. Glowing things with arms and legs? Okay, cool. Moving pool of darkness with arms and legs? OH FUCK.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:39 PM on May 9, 2009

Fantastic. I hope they put it on tour (I'd love to see it in Toronto)
posted by Popular Ethics at 3:18 PM on May 9, 2009

There's a performance schedule on their website. They do tour, but it looks like the closest this show will be getting to you this year is Philly.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:39 PM on May 9, 2009

Ole Kristensen has done something similar for the Recoil Performance Group.
posted by guictx at 4:42 PM on May 9, 2009

posted by gwint at 5:12 PM on May 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Simply amazing. Wow^2.
posted by darkstar at 8:11 PM on May 9, 2009

Great post! I love that the relationship between dancer and set is so interactive.

Choreographically, it looks like most movement needs to happen near the floor in order to get the full graphic effect. I wonder how this looks live, given that many theaters don't give the audience a full view of the stage floor. Chunky Move must have a way around this - maybe they only perform these pieces in theaters with raised seating? Or maybe they project an image of the floor onto the back wall?

These pieces also seem built for video, pointing to what seems to be a growing trend - dance companies trying to figure out how the medium can work not just onstage, but via internet. This is a tricky shift, performance dance being about watching bodies move through space and all...
posted by marlys at 10:39 PM on May 9, 2009

I've long thought of something of a low-tech cousin of these effects, using a video camera and a projector for good-old video feedback, except, of course, on a huge screen, with dancers manipulating what's displayed along with a video technician.

I wonder if anyone's ever done that.
posted by Anything at 4:37 AM on May 10, 2009

Apparently the above is done using a laptop, but the same thing can also be done with a plain TV screen, which is what I had in mind when I got the idea.
posted by Anything at 4:41 AM on May 10, 2009

... the goal perhaps being to use proper framing and zooming with proper contrast and brightness parameters to avoid this "tunnel effect" being caused by the stage frame, and instead to just have the performers leave fading "traces" on the background and such.
posted by Anything at 4:50 AM on May 10, 2009

Fantastic, thanks.
posted by togdon at 7:58 AM on May 13, 2009

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