Motion Bank: Two

Re-imagining Choreographic Ideas

Posts from the “Animation” Category

Momentum in Bebe Miller’s work

Posted on July 8th, 2013

In examining the motion capture work from our January residency with Bebe Miller Company we are becoming interested in the possibility of tracing the momentum transfer through the body. The paths of momentum transfer reveal patterns of movement sequencing in the body. In both Darrell’s and Angie’s performances it is evident that several motions often happen concurrently. Performative tendencies that focus on simultaneity and dis-coordination of body segment motions are likely to interrupt viewer’s ability to anticipate movement and thus create fresh and surprising performance qualities.


There are a number of ways to approach visual representation of movement sequencing, and I thought it might be interesting to see this by making visible the sequences of joint rotations.  To set up this visualization I hypothesized that the initiating joint would rotate first, sending the waves of sequential rotations to the other parts of the body.  In the video of Darrell’s performance it is easy to notice many instances when sequences of joint rotations are initiated simultaneously or with minor offsets in time . I have used color coding to present two types of joint movement analysis.  The red figure indicates angular/rotation speed of joints (A) (the brighter the red the higher the speed), the green figure indicates linear speed of joints’ locomotion (L). As opposed to joint rotation speed, visualization of the linear (joint translation through space) shows a more even speed value distribution that is more sequential.


Since these may be a bit hard to notice at high playback speed of the captured motion this movie is at 1/4th speed.


While working on ideas about momentum I ran across a video on momentum transfer in parkour.   In this video, the second jump comes as a surprise. In order to get additional momentum to make the second jump possible, the landing position after the first jump had to be exaggerated… At a quick glance the shape of the body at the time of the first landing seemed to be that of trying to slow down.  By exaggerating this pose through leaning back and further lifting the arms backwards, it is possible to gain additional momentum. This hidden quality of getting the additional momentum is very intriguing as it also serves as a way of hiding anticipation of subsequent action. This triggers parallels between the animation concepts of motion anticipation and exaggeration and Bebe Miller’s ideas of “interrupting the inevitable” as well as “furthering”.


– Vita Berezina-Blackburn, Animation Specialist/ACCAD

Animation and Choreography in the classroom

Posted on June 18th, 2013

The relationship between choreography and animation is symbiotic. Each time Norah and I collaborate across our disciplines, we reaffirm the desire to construct a course that explores both choreographic and animation approaches to movement, by integrating both dancers and animators. (I don’t know of any example of such a course existing in college curricula, but if you have knowledge about it – please send us a note.)


This Motion Bank project has inspired us to try an exercise in getting animators and dancers working together. Using our two co-scheduled Spring 2013 courses (Expressive Animation and Interdisciplinary Creative Research Seminar), we designed an experience for our animation and dance students that engaged them with Thomas Hauert’s Careful Scientist exercise.


We began by introducing the students to Thomas’s exercise by looking at a video of his performance.  In the Careful Scientist exercise, Hauert defines a limited set of instructions or rules for moving the body. He defines the rules of the system in such a way that they challenge mind/body habits.  In order for the students to better understand the work, concentration and coordination necessary for this exercise we had them practice some of the basic concepts by trying these movements in groups with others assisting.  Next we presented the students with some of the data of the Careful Scientist that we had motion captured during one of Thomas’s residencies at ACCAD. This provided a rich data resource of 3D positions and timings that describe the movement.  We then challenged the students to reuse existing motion captured movement data to re-imagine and design a new system of relationships, driven by existing movement data to become a new movement phenomenon. Three outcomes from that assignment follow,  accompanied by the students’ explanations.


Flowers by Maddy Varner and Daniel Diller

Concept: “We are using the data of an unnatural movement process and placing it on a natural environment. We are creating movement in the animation that is driven by external forces (like wind) while the careful scientist is propelled by internal choices. “

Tech Notes: “Upper Arm Pointing data occurs on the X and Z axes of the shoulder joint and is assigned to the direction of the flower stems movement (making them look like they’re being blown by the wind). Shoulder Rotation data occurs on the Y-axis of the shoulder joint and is assigned to the wilting and blossoming of the flower heads. Elbow Flexion data occurs on the Z and X axes of the elbow joint and is assigned to the growth of the flowers. Forearm Rotation data occurs on the Y-axis of the elbow joint and controls the color of the flowers. “


Spork! by Jonathan Welch

Concept: “I used a motion capture of the Careful Scientist by Thomas Hauert to create a visual parody on the hybrid theme prevalent in art and technology work. All the motion is a combination of the Careful Scientist, at different speeds and directions, with altered key frames to influence the gestures and correct for problems translating a human’s motion to the altered anatomy of the characters. The combined motion is intended to be dis-articulated, awkward, and hyper extended; alluding to a dysfunctional parental couple whose behavior is compounded through their child. “
Tech notes: “To start, I sped up the motion capture data, duplicated it, translated it forward, and attached both to the spoon. Then I duplicated the motion again, and broke it down into key frames in places where the hand went through the head and moments that I decided to make the existing gestures more like an argument. I wanted the fork to have a slightly different personality, so I took the key frame motion path, duplicated it, reversed it and attached the motion to the fork. The spork’s motion is the same as the spoon, without the argument key frames, and not quite as fast. “


Ontology of Thomas Hauert’s ‘Careful Scientist‘: Judith Butler’s reading of Derridean “Citationality” by Carolin Scheler and Kaustavi Sarkar

Concept:  “Dance scholar Susan Leigh Foster describes improvisation in dance as ‘bodyful’ dwelling in the perceptual gap of the conscious and the unconscious. Continuing the quest of the unknown through digital inscription of dance, we argue that digital ontology exists in corporeal materiality of the performing body as performatively, affectively and digitally mediated in the animation of Hauert’s Careful Scientist. Through Butler’s reading of ‘citationality’, in which ‘matter is constructed not as a site but as a process of materialization that stabilizes over time to produce the effect of boundary, fixity, and surface we call matter’, the digital is ontologized in Hauert’s performativity.”

Tech Notes:

Diagram to explain motion capture data mapping to 3D geometry

Diagram of motion capture data mapping to 3D geometry

ACCAD animation specialist and motion capture expert Vita Berezina-Blackburn has continuously pushed our Center in thinking about unconventional ways to use captured motion. As an animation artist and collaborator on Bebe Miller’s Landing Place her work demonstrated the aesthetic beauty that can result from expertly combining captured motion and form. Take a look at some of Vita’s work from Landing Place.


– Maria

Building an Algorithmic Model of the Careful Scientist

Posted on June 15th, 2013

For the past several months of this project, we have been focused on understanding and deconstructing Thomas Hauert’s choreographic tool, the Careful Scientist.  The Careful Scientist is an exercise used by Hauert and his company  to develop improvisation skills and encourage reflection on human anatomy and consciousness. The exercise involves a very specific set of four actions on joints in the arms. Working within a set of constraints, the dancer generates sequences of these four actions – an activity which helps to retrain tendencies and develop new possibilities for performance.


As seen in the video above, Hauert establishes the following four actions:

  1. Changing the direction the upper arm points in space
  2. Keeping the direction of the upper arm and rotating it around the shoulder axis
  3. Extending or flexing the elbow
  4. Rotating the forearm

The constraints of this exercise are then to simultaneously execute these actions in the left and right arm, to avoid symmetry of actions in the two arms, and to work towards overlapping motion – adding changes in duration and amplitudes to stagger the start and end time of actions on the two sides.


The exercise can be performed at increasing levels of complexity. Hauert often begins by demonstrating the exercise without the element of overlapping timing – by stopping and starting actions on the left and right sides simultaneously. More complexity can be added to the task by including the legs, knees, and hips while lying in a horizontal position. From performing this exercise, one becomes aware of the bimanual nature of movement programmed into the human body and through practice is able to overcome these tendencies.


The first level of our analysis was to use the motion capture data of Thomas performing the Careful Scientist and apply it to more mechanical, robotic digital models.  Observing the Careful Scientist from an outsider’s perspective – this activity seems very robotic, calculated, and unnatural.  The robot model was designed so that each of the joints was indicative of the nature of movement it can accommodate and to remove some of that complexity and ambiguity of the human body.  This visualization made certain attributes of the actions evident, such as axes and limits of rotation which facilitated a clearer articulation of the rules of the exercise for us as researchers.


An algorithm was then written by graduate research assistant J. Eisenmann to generate the same kind of Careful Scientist data. This data, rotation orientations over time, was similar to that which we had gathered with motion capture.  In this step we define parameters of movement based on Thomas’s rules, through code. Processing was used to create the program with the constraints and limited actions of the Careful Scientist exercise and to generate ‘performance data’ comparable to that of a live dancer. This algorithmic data was then applied to the robotic arm models and juxtaposed in this video.



Comparison and contrast of the two highlighted the unavoidable ‘human-ness’ of the motion capture data compared to that which was computer generated. ‘Human-ness’ is used here in a very loose sense to include a several observations:

  • There is a difference in isolation of movement: The human data looks ‘noisy’ as it includes some natural secondary motion and sway that comes with the human body. The computer is able to isolate one single point of rotation at a time and thus appears more static
  • Overshoot and Recoil: In a world without momentum or gravity, the algorithmic robot arms can stop a motion immediately whereas with the human data there are the elements of overshoot and recoil when a joint stops moving in one direction and another action begins
  • Fluidity of Motion: The previous observations discussed also lead into the idea of fluidity in the appearance of the motion. The human arms ease in and out of actions which feel much more connected while the algorithm’s movement is more staccato in a sense
  • Data analysis of the human performance reveals ‘errors’: There are moments where dancers violate the constraints of the exercise (performing the same action on both arms, using an action twice in a row, etc.) These types of mistakes are not made by a computer program
  • Tendencies within the constraints: Human data show preference for certain actions or action sequences; also Hauert typically rotates a joint such as the elbow the full extent of rotation rather than stopping somewhere in the middle. The algorithmic version appears to have more ‘randomness’ of motion

In reflection, this visualization was a helpful tool in defining the Careful Scientist for ourselves and identifying the inner-body conflicts Hauert seeks to overcome. It could be helpful in explaining the Careful Scientist exercise for new audiences to show the rules on a simplified form such as the robot model rather than a human arm. This tool would not necessarily be conducive for communicating Hauert’s larger themes in his work and goals for movement generation to a broader audience, however.


–Malory Spicer, Graduate Research Assistant, ACCAD