Skip to Main Site Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Footer
Back To Top
decorative element

Students Experiment with Motion Capture Technology

Published on December 20, 2016

Students Experiment with Motion Capture Technology

Eastern students in the course “Intermedial Performance Design” were posed a single challenge at the beginning of the fall 2016 semester: visually capture the human body’s pathways of motion. In pursuit of a solution, students experimented with motion capture technologies such as digital rotoscoping, Kinect technology and various photography techniques. They presented their findings on Dec. 16 in the Delmonte Studio Theatre in the Fine Arts Instructional Center.

The challenge was pitched by Marie Percy, an acting professor at the University of Connecticut who co-taught the course with Eastern Theatre Professor Kristen Morgan. Percy is a movement analyst who uses the language of “space harmony” to understand the range of human motion. She reached out to Eastern last year, wondering if her research would be of interest, and Morgan suggested her Intermedial Design class as an appropriate lab.

Within the context of human movement, the students imagined “platonic solids,” which are three-dimensional shapes that have straight edges and sharp corners, such as a cube or octahedral.

“Within this framework we have scales,” explained Percy, “which are traditional orderings of movement through space that hit the full range of what the human body can do. The challenge was to capture that movement and to create visual representations of the pathways that my body took.”

Connor Coffey ’18, who experimented with long-exposure photography, presented first. Within the darkness of the studio theatre, Coffey kept his camera shutter open for extended periods of time as his models—with lights attached to their hands or chest—moved around, following the shapes of platonic solids.

Compared to other motion capture techniques, Coffey said this was the easiest method for capturing movement. Morgan added that it was also the first method tested, as well as the most successful.

Kayla Mainuli ’17 and Anh Ta ’17 next demonstrated rotoscoping, a painstaking technique that involves tracing over motion-picture footage, frame by frame, to create animation. The students traced by hand, as well as digitally with software like Photoshop, and found the process to be extremely time-consuming and tedious. Hours of work would yield only a few seconds of animation. One of its advantages, however, was that rotoscoping is fairly low-tech and does not require expensive equipment.

Thomas Scallion ’20 experimented with stop-motion photography to capture a sequence of motion in one photograph. This technique involves many photos taken in succession without moving the camera, then editing the photos together, precisely aligning the backgrounds—another painstaking process.

Kinect technology and the Google Tilt Brush were presented next. Kinect uses motion and heat sensors to track movement, whereas the Tilt Brush allows you to paint and design in 3D space while wearing a virtual reality headset.

“We would eventually like to put on a (theatrical) production that uses these programs live,” said Robert MacDonald ’17, speaking to the direction of the course and the variety of software and technology experimented with throughout the semester. “We could have actors dancing around on stage with projections on their bodies and effects on the screens behind them.”

“A lot of what the students did this semester was graduate-level independent inquiry,” said Morgan, “even though this was only a 200-level class. They rose to the challenge and did a lot of creative thinking, and we all came out with more knowledge and ideas of how we can further apply this technology.”

Intermedial Design focuses on emerging, interactive technologies, and is offered every other year as part of Eastern’s New Media Studies major. The class will run again in the fall 2018 semester. The goal of New Media Studies’ exploratory courses is to help students pinpoint a major concentration. Concentrations include communication, English, media computation, performing media and visual arts.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Categories: New Media