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<nettime> dimensions of data space...
Scott deLahunta on Fri, 14 Feb 2003 02:42:22 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> dimensions of data space...


Some reflections on a project involving choreographers, animators and 
programmers working with motion capture systems.

You can also link to it online here: http://huizen.dds.nl/~sdela/mcrl/; the 
page has some small images...




By Scott deLahunta

29 January 2002

[due to be published in Spring 2003 in: Anomalie digital_arts #3. 
"Interfaces. Theories & Applications". Paris: Anomos. ed. Emanuele Quinz. 


 From 10-14 December 2002, the Monaco Dance Forum hosted the Motion Capture 
Tech Laboratory “Real Time and Networked: Sharing the Body”. [1] The 
overall objective was to engage in an investigation led by artistic 
questions and processes into the use of real time and networked motion 
capture and computer animation systems. [2] The core research team included 
dance and programming artists who are already working with these systems 
and have complimentary approaches. Two researchers documented the 
laboratory and facilitated reflection on its broader implications through 
interviews and group discussion. A commercial motion capture company 
provided systems and support and took part in all creative aspects of the 
laboratory. The motion capture systems used included two Gypsy 
exoskeletons, the Polhemus Startracker and the Motion Captor optical 
system. [3] The software was off the shelf programmes (e.g. Kaydara 
Filmbox) and customised code.

The research team comprised, in alphabetical order, Tania Barr (FR), Scott 
deLahunta (NL), Nik Haffner (DE), Maurice Kadaoui (FR), Bernd Lintermann 
(DE), John McCormick (AU), Thomas McManus (DE), Armando Menicacci (FR) and 
Emanuele Quinz (FR). Emmanuel Berriet (FR) and Mark Coniglio (USA) 
participated on a part-time basis. See Appendix for related URLs.

The team arrived on Sunday, 8 December to set up the spaces and continued 
this work on Monday [4]. Beginning Tuesday, the research laboratory was in 
operation from 10.00 to 18.00 hours daily. The space was generally open for 
those who wished to observe, and there was a formal open visiting period at 
the end of the day when the research team was available to provide 
demonstrations and explanations. The research laboratory concluded with a 
final fifty-minute presentation at 16.00 on Saturday 14 December to an 
audience of approximately sixty. This was followed by some further 
discussion and the formal close of the lab.

Personal Reflections:

The following is selection of three separate but related lines of thinking, 
inspired and progressed by the experience of the lab. The first attempts a 
description of motion capture systems in terms that are more cultural than 
technical. The second draws on the experience to make some observations on 
cross-disciplinary creative research processes. The third line of thinking 
seeks to make some relationships that might contribute to our understanding 
of working within computation systems. I have opted for the following 
self-imposed interrogative format as the best way to convey these lines of 
thinking that are currently incomplete and, like the research laboratory 
itself, exploratory.

Q & R #1:

Q: Why aren’t you going to write about the technical systems? What if your 
readers don’t understand what motion capture is?

R: I might have felt compelled to do this a few years ago, but I sense 
general knowledge of these systems amongst dance artists in particular has 
increased. There has also been growth in computing science and engineering 
research in the field of sampling, synthesizing and modelling motion in 
three dimensions. In addition, a number of small commercial initiatives (in 
different countries) seeking niche markets for customised motion capture 
solutions have emerged. The evidence for all of this seems easily available 
on-line, and I would like to encourage everyone to look on the Internet so 
that they see the contexts within which this knowledge is being developed.

What seems missing from the 90,000 plus pages that come up if you search on 
“motion capture” is any broad cultural analysis of this field. You do find 
some histories of the development of the technologies, but little else 
besides information related directly to building functional systems. I am 
speculating that this is partially because motion capture systems exist in 
a state of extreme instrumentality relative to the uses for which they are 
built. In other words, they are so tightly woven as systems to the purposes 
of either animation or motion analysis; that they seem to be pure 
instruments or tools. Almost no one involved in the creation and use of 
motion capture systems deviates from these trajectories of purpose. If the 
system is not used “properly” it generates “useless” materials, and in the 
context of either motion analysis or animation this deviation away from 
utility would just be too costly in terms of both time and money. This 
means that it can be very difficult for artists to intervene in these 
systems somehow; to hack into them, twist, challenge and allow for or cause 
accidental forms to arise from them.

Q: Why, are you so concerned about motion capture systems being so purely 
instrumental? How would you apply this thinking to the work in the motion 
capture lab?

R: One of the things at issue here is we need discourses that make 
distinctions between artistic, commercial and scientific research. They are 
not the same processes, and these days when we are being encouraged to 
collaborate across these sectors more often it is all the more important to 
develop an understanding of these differences. During the research 
laboratory in Monaco in more than one instance accidental data was being 
explored through, for example, the conscious occlusion of some of the 
reflectors for the optical system and the proposal to use an alternative 
calibration for the Gypsy. Thomas tried to ‘outrun’ the optical motion 
capture system one day to see if it could keep up with very fast movement. 
These are not trivial strategies; they underpin the types of investigatory 
processes that, in my opinion, we need to open space for in relation to 
motion capture systems. These are the conditions from which unexpected 
creative forms are going to emerge, and we were lucky to have the 
opportunity to explore this in the research lab.

Q & R #2:

Q: You have referred to the conditions of the laboratory as being very 
generative and stimulating. How would you describe this?

R: Well, it’s crucial to remember that we were only together for a week and 
that as a group we were relatively new to each other. We needed to set up a 
good process for the exchange of ideas related to artistic practices. So, 
to begin with we did not pursue any single line of enquiry and had group 
discussions whenever they were necessary. These discussions tended not to 
determine work processes as much as respond to and guide them. This is 
important; it was conducive to an atmosphere of ‘doing’ and playfulness, 
trial and error, and a reliance on intuition. There were also many things 
happening simultaneously. So, the lab was more like a brainstorming session 
than following a predetermined set of designed or developmental procedures. 
This type of process stands in contrast to the instrumentality of these 
motion capture systems that I already mentioned.

It is important to note that the conditions included a primarily implicit 
commitment to open processes.  We all know that the idea of an open 
(knowledge development) process has implications for intellectual property 
issues, in particular in the commercial and scientific marketplace, but we 
maintained this tacit contract between us to be as non-proprietary as 
possible. And this was not only amongst us, but also with all those who 
came to observe. It might be wise to underpin any future stages of research 
and development work by being more explicit on this topic; but at such a 
preliminary/ exploratory stage it is, in my opinion, okay and maybe even 
better to operate in good faith.

Q: Didn’t you work under the understanding that you didn’t have to have an 
“end product”?

R: Yes, it was made clear at the start that we were not aiming for any 
particular “end product”. This didn’t mean we would have nothing to show as 
the results of our research, we had plenty of things to show and discuss 
both during and at the end; but it helped to establish the ground from 
which a variety of ideas could be explored with an eye to the range of 
possible “end products”; for example; various art works, software 
solutions, compositional strategies, etc.

Q: Isn’t deferral the danger of such an approach? It seems you could just 
end up with a series of endless demonstrations of things that have 
potential but are not finished.

R: You are right to mention this. Heidi Gilpin and Lorne Falk in their 1995 
article “Demo Aesthetics” have written an interesting critical piece on the 
implications of the emphasis on description and demonstration that seems to 
permeate a lot of artworks using new technologies. [5] They write about an 
aesthetics that “invokes a work of representation that is unfinished” or 
that is in a state of endless reformulation. They situate this in the 
current techno-cultural climate as a tendency to reconfigure the prototype 
as a product, which makes it commodifiable as such. So, it is something to 
be aware of.

What is required in the context of experimentation in the performing arts 
field, in my opinion, is something in between this pressure on the one side 
to prove how technologies either succeed or fail in the context of the 
stage performance (as an end product) and on the other side the value of 
working processes that develop a clear understanding of the terms and 
context of artistic research in relation to other practices that are 
foregrounding innovation. Both situations can end up either generating or 
squashing new forms of expression and ways of thinking; so it’s not an 
either/ or situation. But one thing is abundantly clear to me after 
observing many projects involving complicated digital technologies and live 
performance making. They really benefit from a generous amount of 
development time and being able to proceed in clear stages or phases. Each 
phase contains an evaluation of its own outcomes and this helps to 
determine the direction(s) for the next, sort of a recursive process you 
might say. With this in mind, I would characterize our motion capture lab 
in Monaco as a “preliminary research phase” that resulted in successfully 
establishing effective social relations and working vocabularies from which 
to depart.

Q & R #3:

Q: Why did you title this report “dimensions of data space”?

R: One of the major lines of inquiry during the lab was the question of 
“what are the properties of these motion capture systems?” In seeking to 
learn more about these properties we decided to spend as much time as 
possible just being in the systems  so that we had a constant physical 
experience of the dimensions of real space in relation to the dimensions of 
the data space. But how can we think about the dimensions of data space? 
One place to start is the concept of ‘calibration’. Motion capture is 
essentially a measuring instrument and like all measuring instruments it 
requires calibration to align its internal units to the real world units. 
Calibration manifests a level of description within which other 
descriptions have meaning, and all motion capture systems, optical, 
magnetic and exoskeletons involve different procedures for it. For 
instance, calibration of the gypsy aligns the exoskeleton with the body 
that wears it; so the dimensions of data space lie very close to the mover. 
Without this level of description the system has no context to recognise 
the data being generated by the mover.

I think this is one of the keys to developing a better understanding of the 
relation between physical and computation spaces, the relation between real 
bodies and data bodies if you will. It is partly down to the organisation 
of levels of description that can be understood by the mover and the 
information system and can travel in both directions in and out. [6] Dance 
practitioners in general have difficulty with imagining the dimensions of 
data space in any tangible and therefore potentially creative way. What 
underlies this is the lack of an adequate set of formalisms for describing 
gesture and movement in terms that not only the system can interpret, but 
are equally accessible to choreographers. Motion capture is an interesting 
technology, but uses descriptions of motion based in mathematics and 
invented by computer scientists and engineers, physicists, bio-mechanists 
and human figure animators. There is probably no need to invent new 
mathematical descriptions based on the needs of choreographers; but to use 
what exists in new and innovative combinations that can be integrated with 
the working processes of dance makers. This is what I meant by levels of 
description that can travel in both directions in and out of the system.

This is not so much a matter of teaching choreographers to be 
mathematicians, but in developing an understanding of a range of 
co-meaningful representations, classifications, algorithms, notations and 
codes. My feeling, affirmed by the experience of the research lab and by 
some promising initiatives taking place, is that we are on the cusp is 
seeing a shift in this area. [7] If we can encourage and support growing 
awareness and understanding of the properties of motion capture and other 
information systems amongst choreographers and dancers this should 
stimulate imaginations and may quicken the emergence of these generative 
shared descriptions.




[1] Taking place for the second time (1st edition 2000) at the Grimaldi 
Forum in Monaco, the Monaco Dance Forum 2002 was a five-day international 
gathering comprising a diverse range of events including performances, 
exhibitions, symposia, multimedia installations, showcases and the 
International Dance Screen competition. http://www.mddf.com

[2] Since the early to mid 1990s, dancers, choreographers, multimedia 
artists and software programmers have been collaborating in exploring the 
uses of motion capture technologies in artistic projects; establishing 
precedents for the exchange of creative ideas and practice from which 
current and future arts researchers can depart. For some historical 
information and references to some of these artworks; please refer to: 
“Choreographing in Bits and Bytes”, January 2000 
http://www.daimi.au.dk/~sdela/bolzano/. (Also published in La scena 
digitale. A. Menicacc and E. Quinz, eds. Venezia Marsilio, 2001) and 
“Virtual Dance: a report on the Riverbed residency” 
http://www.dartington.ac.uk/staff/sdelahunta/uci/rivrep.html (University of 
California, Irvine, May 2001). To read about a similar project that took 
place in held in Athens May 2001 see the TRANSDANCE report. 
http://huizen.dds.nl/~sdela/transdance/report/. In addition, dance 
education institutions have begun to invest in experimentation with motion 
capture systems, e.g. the Environments Lab at Ohio State University 

[3] URLs for these systems include: Metamotion (Gypsy) 
http://www.metamotion.com; STT (Motion Captor) 
http://www.simtechniques.com; Polhemus (Startracker) 
http://www.polhemus.com/; Also see Animazoo sites for sales/ services: 
http://www.animazoo-europe.com and http://www.animazoo.com/.

[4] The list below provides a general description of the technical 
requirements for the laboratory.

1.      Sufficient space and type of floor for movement work.
2. Tool Kit: screwdrivers, pliers, gaffer tape, etc.
3. Adaptors (various), routers, hubs, splitters, etc.
4. Cables (video, ethernet and power)
5. Tables, Stands, Chairs, etc.
6. Broadband Internet connection
7. Lighting system (simple but controllable)
8. Sound system to include wireless microphones, amplifiers, speakers, etc.
9. Blank recording media (dvd, cd rom, dv tape, etc.)
10. PCs and Macs (portables and desktops/ workstations and servers) with 
sufficient processor speed, RAM, graphics cards, hard disk space, i/o 
ports, cd and dvd burners, etc.
11. Software (2-d and 3-d computer graphic software, audio/ video editing, 
12. Digital cameras (still and video) and tripods
13. Data projectors and screens.
14. Wireless devices: transmitters/ receivers, etc.
15. 3-D Motion Capture Systems (optical, magnetic and exoskeleton)
16. Misc. input/ control devices, e.g. midi-keyboard/ slider; data glove, 
joystick, etc.

[5] Lorne Falk and Heidi Gilpin. Demo Aethetics. Convergence: the journal 
of research into new media technologies. 1:2, Autumn 1995. pp. 127-139.

[6] For a relevant discussion on “descriptions of culture” in relation to 
digitisation see: Garcia, David, et al. Content Integrated Research in 
Creative User Systems. Executive Summary of the Third Annual Report for the 
period December 2000 - September 2001. ESPRIT Working Group 29549. 

[7] For some of these initiatives see “Motion-e” at the Institute for 
Studies in the Arts, Arizona State University 
(http://isa.asu.edu/projects_motione.html) and “3d-traces: an interface for 
choreographers project” being developed by partners in the UK, Germany, 
France, Australia and Netherlands (http://huizen.dds.nl/~sdela/3dt).

Related URLs:

Tania Barr and Maurice Kadaoui. Directors and owners of Animazoo Europe 
based in France. http://www.animazoo-europe.com, http://www.animazoo.com, 

Mark Coniglio. New York City based composer, programmer and performance 
maker. Co-director of Troika Ranch. http://www.troikaranch.org, 

Scott deLahunta. Researcher (Dartington College of Arts, UK) and Writer 
based in Netherlands. http://huizen.dds.nl/~sdela

Nik Haffner and Thomas McManus. Former dancers with Ballet Frankfurt; now 
independent dancers and choreographers and both artists in residence at 
ZKM, Karlsruhe, DE. They are also members of the performance group “commerce”.

Bernd Lintermann. Artist programmer currently artist and scientist in 
residence at ZKM, Karlsruhe, DE. http://i31www.ira.uka.de/~linter/

Mâa (Emmanuel Berriet). Software explorer and president of La Graine/ The 
Seed. http://www.lagraine.com

John McCormick. Co-artistic director of “Company in Space” and artist in 
residence at RMITs interactive information institute. 

Armando Menicacci and Emanuele Quinz. lecturers, writers/ editors, 
researchers both working at the Paris 8 University Dance Department and 
with Anomos. http://www.anomos.org


We would like to thank the Monaco Dance Forum in particular Phillipe 
Baudelot, producer of the multimedia projects, and the technical support 
team lead by Nick van der Heyden.

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