Motion-to-Scuplture Visual Art Project.

As most of our work in the past has focused on Theatre & Dance it was high time that we finally did some work with the Visual Arts. To that end, I partnered with professor Karen Bondarchuk  and her freshman-level Form and Space class. I had toyed with the idea of using motion capture data to represent movement in a more abstract way, and this collaboration was the perfect opportunity to try it out.

According to Karen, “It quickly became apparent that this amazing technology lent itself perfectly to explorations in non-objective or non-representational biomorphic forms. I found this particularly valuable, as it is sometimes a challenge to have students approach three-dimensional imagery without preexisting forms and ideas that go beyond representation and abstraction. I also liked the fact that students had to go through a number of steps in order to arrive at a final form.”

We gave the students a very brief overview about motion capture then sent them into the capture volume with the calibration wand. Students were told to try and visualize a form and trace it out in space. We captured each student waving the wand and processed these motions in Vicon IQ.

We exported the marker data from Vicon IQ and brought it into Cinema4D, where we told the markers to emit particles at a regular interval. We then drew a metaball for each individual particle. Over time, from blending of the metaballs forms began to emerge. We used about 10 seconds of data for each form – beyond that it started to become unusable.

We froze the forms at a particular moment in time, then exported the objects to the Unity Game Engine so that we could output a realtime 3D file. We dropped the object into Unity, setup some simple  controls and posted them on the web.

Cat. Chelsea.  David.
Click to view sculptures in 3D. Requires Unity 3D Plug-in

Using Unity for delivery allowed the Students to view their 3D forms interactively on the web. Many chose to take screen shots from several vantage points and print them out. Students then used these as a guide to create a physical sculpture out of clay or covered wire. Some even added lights inside.

In regards to student reactions, Karen said “The art making model that is most familiar to students is a convergent process: brainstorm or research an idea, develop the visuals and execute. With this project, however, the means determined the end. Many students were astonished when they saw their virtual models because they didn’t recognize the forms as their own. Some students began to see recognizable shapes in their forms (‘hey, it’s a dog’s head’) while others chose to edit and refine their imagery to their liking. If changes were made from the two-dimensional image to the three-dimensional form, students were asked to alter the images to reflect those changes, as the grading was based partially on the similarity of the final form to the virtual imagery. Some students observed that the process freed them from the constraints of the ‘no ideas’ problem, while others needed to have more control over the process by editing their forms. For most students, this was a truly novel and exciting way to approach art making."

In Fall of 2008 we plan to repeat the project with a few changes. First, Karen would love to have the students work with inflatables instead of clay and wire forms. Second, we plan to pipe the live data through MotionBuilder and generate a real-time form so students can react in the moment.