I am spending the weekend in Brighton, UK, to attend the Motion Capture Methodologies Workshop, organised by the School of Media, Film and Music, University of Sussex. The event is part of a methodologies workshop series organised by AHeSSC (Arts & Humanities e-Science Support Centre) – led by Stuart Dunn (King’s College London) – and JISC, and in collaboration with the School’s AHRC-funded Motion in Place Platform (MiPP) project.
Spanning two days, the workshop’s presentations broadly fall into 3 categories. The first is a survey of motion capture projects from various research centres and laboratories. For example, Dave Green, from Culture Lab, Newcastle University, presented mocap projects at the lab ranging from artwork (Susan Morris’s orthographic drawings) to collaboration with design companies, while Donald Glowinski (University of Genoa) shared with us the scientific and artistic projects in relation to the EyesWeb project at the InfoMus Lab. Martin White (University of Sussex; photo below) and Ali Kord (Animazoo) showed mocap passages in digital heritage research involving 3D reconstructions, such as virtual museums and the Church of Santa Chiari. David Pirro (Institute of Electronic Music and Acoustics, Graz) described IEM’s Embodied Generative Music project, aimed at furthering the understanding of the relationship between bodily and musical expression. The primary interest in these presentations for me was in seeing the range of mocap projects as well as realising the possibilities of collaboration between universities and corporations. Considering HUMlab’s own research inclinations, particularly with respect to the expanded facilities and possibilities at HUMlab X, the ambit of ideas re mocap technologies was inspiring and thought-provoking.
In the second category, presenters showcased the technical developments of mocap systems. Matt Oughten showed us the various cameras and sensors available from Vicon, including the T-series range and the Vicon Bonita – the latter has a record speed of 240 FPS and is small enough to hold in your palm. DK Arvind (University of Edinburgh) presented wireless, full-body 3-D Orient motion capture systems and their usage in a variety of applications, including flamenco dance, golf swings and yoga. This focus on the technical aspects also complemented the demos in the workshop, giving a sense of the practical to the discourse.
The third category was the most interesting, in which speakers presented their own mocap projects. Helen Bailey (University of Bedfordshire) presented her research on the e-Dance project, including an investigation into telematic bodies by dividing images of dancers into a quarter-grid to which movements were mapped to different bodily parts. Iwona Hrynczenko (Gotland University) described to us her not unambitious project to map a database of expressive gestures, presenting an interesting challenge as to how we might capture not just movement, but also its more elusive elements, such as expression and personality. Luiz Naveda (Ghent University) showed a fascinating study on how samba/dance movement might be notated, considering separate paradigms of gesture as shape and topology, while Carlos Guedes (University of Porto) gave an overview of his research extracting movement for the control of musical processes. Gretchen Schiller (Brunel University) presented several interesting ideas on movement, including the mapping process, memory in kinesthesia, and the stillness/movement dialectic. Kirk Woolford (Sussex) also introduced to us his numerous mocap projects involving dance and photography, as well as an overview, with Stuart Dunn (King’s College London), of the Motion in Place Platform (MiPP) project. Finally, Sally Jane Norman (Sussex), who has been working in motion capture research since 1994, gave an insightful history of mocap research and systems in which she had been involved over the years.
While helpful in showcasing some of the academic landscape of mocap projects in European universities and the range of its applications, the workshop was, however, almost entirely skewed towards dance and music, reflecting the research interests of the organisers rather than the wide range of mocap work in other areas such as cinema (which, in the wake of Lord of the Rings, Monster House and Avatar, would be, one would think, an obvious area), sign language, gesture recognition, biomedical analysis, surveillance and sports performance analysis etc. Nevertheless, the workshop managed to attract a diverse audience, and the conversations I had with other scholars and academics from different sub-fields were both helpful and thought-provoking – a great conversation I had with Sarah Rubidge, Professor of Choreography and New Media at University of Chichester, on Whitehead and affect was particularly inspiring. The workshop – with kudos to the main organiser Cecile Chevalier – was also well-run and organised throughout, with generously allotted time for lunch (albeit with the ubiquitous and unimaginative sandwiches which seem de rigeur with English conferences) and coffee breaks. Overall, my impression is that such research initiatives bode well not only for work and development in the technology, but also the inter-disciplinary outreach and collaborative potential of academic projects across the sciences and the humanities in general.