Motion Capture Methodologies Workshop, 25-26 June 2010, Lighthouse

Sally Jane Norman introducing the motion capture workshop in the Digital Lounge at the Lighthouse
Sally Jane Norman introducing the motion capture workshop in the Digital Lounge at the Lighthouse

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.

Martin White presenting projects on digital heritage
Martin White presenting projects on digital heritage

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.

A dancer demonstrating a motion capture kit
A dancer demonstrating a motion capture kit

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.

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4 Responses to Motion Capture Methodologies Workshop, 25-26 June 2010, Lighthouse

  1. Thank you for your swift and heartening report on this workshop, set up as a small-scale, focussed event to highlight a selection of arts and humanities developments involving motion capture. We had no intention – and certainly not the resources! – to provide an exhaustive overview of the motion capture areas you rightly cite as rich development terrain, so this perhaps accounts for the focus on dance and music (not so much a reflection of the organisers’ own research interests, since we’ve also engaged extensively with sectors you mention, as of the research community that generously accepted to contribute time to this initiative). The soft- and hardware demonstrators our presenters brought to share with others during the break/ demo sessions are happily very generic systems overall, widely used beyond the music and dance domains. We published full abstracts and presenter biographies online as early as possible to give a notion of scope and avoid misleading potential attendees at this free event, so hope others were not disappointed. Of course, I’ve nothing to say in defence of the English sandwich though personally I found the fruit skewers wonderfully refreshing in the heat of the Brighton summer! I’m happy we were able to welcome a Umea attendee, as your research and resources are appreciatively recognised, and hope we’ll be able to connect again in future. With best wishes from Sussex, Sally Jane.

  2. Patrik Svensson says:

    I enjoyed reading your report, Jenna. I have followed motion capture developments and some of the critical work, but I certainly appreciated the update. I wonder whether motion capture as a technology (or set of technologies) belongs the same ‘dream’ as CAVEs etc. – realism, full immersion, removal of interface etc.

  3. Jenna says:

    Thanks, Patrik! I think it’s a different kind of “dream” – not so much that of immersive realism, but something more affective, transmissive, expressive. I think of mocap as space in a different sense – as created, carved and negotiated by movement (in becoming), as opposed to immersive, dimensional, realistic. I like the idea of dream – there’s a certain ghostliness and uncanniness in movement which renders it similarly dream-like. I want to explore this further! Thanks for the thought.

  4. jenna says:

    Dear Professor Norman

    Again, my sincere apologies for the delay in publishing your comment… as explained, I was not aware that comments on the blog were moderated plus the administration of the blog was overlooked recently as we broke up for the summer holidays.

    Thanks very much again for checking in, and for your comment! Of course, the scope of the event contains its own constraints. It would be great to see a large-scale motion capture conference/event, and see how the technology applies across disciplines… might there be something like that in the pipeline from MiPP…? In any case, the workshop was actually very informative for me personally as, not being my fields, I had not thought much about mocap and dance and music, so I learnt a lot, particularly about movement. I think your project is immensely exciting and I am certainly going to be following your work and the MiPP project with great interest.

    You’re right – those fruit skewers were great – I took quite a number…! Actually, the rolls and bagels on the second day were pretty good too and a welcome change. :-)

    Sorry again for the misunderstanding. I look forward to reading more about your work and hope, as well, that we might connect up again sometime in the future. Thanks again for a great and very well-run workshop!

    All the best
    Jenna

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