Monthly Archives: January 2012

This is a final round-up on the last few days at the National Theatre Studio – these were VERY intense for all of us, and left very little time for blogging. I did however manage to get quite a lot of documentation, which I’ve been sifting through and editing over the weekend and put up here. Here are a few little notes and explanations:

Videos (above, be sure to watch these ones on full screen!) – the first one was made on Thursday, and is probably my best attempt to capture the project so far. We used two cameras – each capturing two portals, so hopefully you can really see the interaction between all four (give it a bit of time..). The angles aren’t quite right as you can see, but this was as near as I could get it. The sound is a direct feed from the computer, so is the best representation of where we’re at with that. It’s correctly panned to that the sound for each portal comes from more-or-less the right place. The interaction between sound and movement seems to be clearest towards the end of this clip.

The second video uses the two cameras but with just two portals (and sound just from the camera mics). It’s a bit more of a rush-job as it was made just before the process showing on Friday – sorry for chopping your heads off, Nick and Sasha! I wanted to include it though because it shows a number of refinements made overnight between Thursday and Friday. The main change is that we finally have a horizon – might seem like a small thing, but it was very important for me, and makes orientation in the space much easier.

The third video (a bit out of focus – sorry!) shows an overview ‘fly through’ of the space, so you can see the scale and shape of it (we plan to have something like this on display on the outsides of the portals, and also hopefully online). You can see how the horizon works – it’s basically a circular space that fades to black towards the edges. This is a very rough approximation of my idea for next stage of the project, where there will be lighting, with a very bright light in the centre of the space. You’ll know where you are because the further you get from the centre the darker it will get.

The last video shows an inverted version of the image – again this gives and approximate idea – this time of what the final world might look like in the darkness of the edges.

Photos (below) are all of the last few days, including the process showing on Friday and dinner afterwards (you can see just how many people we’d ‘snowballed’ to by the end of the residency!). Most of these are from our photoshoot on Thursday. I hasten to add that these are not the actual professional photographs, from Jean-Paul Berthoin (can’t wait to see those!), but just a few that I quickly snapped as we went along.

We were very happy with the way the process showing went on Friday – it all went off without a hitch, I felt it had a real buzz about it, and we got some really great and useful feedback. Many thanks to everyone at body>data>space and the National Theatre Studio and beyond who helped to make that happen (sorry not to list names here, but you’re all in the ‘People’ section).

Next step Mons at the end of March, where we’ll be focusing on the aesthetics of the piece, making it look (and especially sound) beautiful. I expect there’ll be developments in the meantime, and be sure I’ll post them here..

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I didn’t get a chance to record anything or blog anything yesterday, but we’ve been making great progress. This video is a pretty good summary of where we’ve got to. This is the closest I can get to catching three portals together – it’s a nice wide-angle lens, but still the angles of the dividers between them mean that there’s no perfect angle to capture everything.

Hopefully you can see the interaction between the portals though, and get an impression of the sound as it develops – this is just from the camera mic, so it’s a bit rough.

Many thanks to Sasha, Nick and Amina (left to right in the video) – you’ve been very patient as we get everything working, helping us to really test and push the system, and making some great material!

Bit of a milestone this.. we’ve got four portals working together for the first time! Actually, I’ll be honest – three portals. No idea why the fourth didn’t work today, but we’ll get there. Still really exciting, anyway. Here you can see Sasha in ‘Paris’ – her ‘shadows’ are red, Nick’s (in ‘London’, next door) are purple, and Amina’s (in ‘Istanbul’ next to that) are pale blue. We ironed out some serious kinks to do with the scale of the space and the navigation today; there’s still one major issue in that you can only see the shadows from the other portals, and not a live stream of those users, but I feel this is a huge step forward..

One of the biggest challenges facing us in this project has been how the user might navigate around the virtual space.  Today, with a bit of input from Laura Kriefman and Matthew Bickerton (thanks guys..), we cracked it!  Here’s Nick demonstrating it.  Basically, we’ve turned the whole space into a virtual joystick.  There’s a central spot – if your spine is in line with that there’s no movement, while moving any part of the spine (ie leaning or stepping) away from this point will move in that direction – the further away from the point, the faster you will move; and (this is the clever part) twisting the shoulders will rotate your otientation.  It’s perhaps a little sensitive at this stage (we can adjust that), but I think it really works!

We’ve had quite a bit of input from various people over the last few days, with various people passing through to see us at the studios and others in contact virtually. That’s Nick di Vita, Laura Kriefman, Matthew Bickerton and me, Nick Rothwell in the middle… OK, the bottom is something I found lying around in the studios today – great to see the level of set-building the National Theatre are working at these days 😉

We’re still working on the ‘new look’, and have made some progress – here’s a sample, incorporating at least some of the changes proposed yesterday. Strictly speaking we should probably call this the ‘London look’ – as we’re not really focusing on the aesthetics until the Mons residency in March. There’s a long way to go yet!

Although we’re supposed to be working purely on the technical/networking side of the project, we don’t seem to be able to resist tinkering with the aesthetics too.  We’re working on the ‘shadows’ – how the users leave traces in the space.  In Istanbul we had a live representation of the user, and particle trails left by the main points of the skeleton tracking. We’re now experimenting with something in between – ‘scultpures’, which are versions of the mesh left behind as the user moves (kind of like shedding a skin).

This is the first version, actually from late yesterday.  I don’t like it much, yet.  We’ve been discussing it today, and these are our notes as to how we want to evolve from here:


‘sculptures’ and ‘trails’ need to seem like one and the same thing rather than two different entities.


These dominate too much, especially those which are closest to the camera, meaning they completely obliterate the trails. Those which are further away look much better, which would lead me to believe that in the final (telepresence) scenario, the ‘others’ would look OK, but your own sculptures would block out everything else.

Also, the sculptures give no impression of movement – because they are captured at regular intervals, they give the same impression as a moving body photographed with a strobe light – ie with all semblance of movement removed.

Suggested solutions would be to make the sculptures more transparent, and to capture them in a different way – certainly less regularly. They could be sampled as to how much movement is going on at any particular time, or – best suggestion for now – ‘bursts’ of movement could be sampled which will give a better record of movement and make for more abstract shapes.


These need a bit more ‘volume’. Replacing the particle image (currently just a dot) with an open circle will improve this, but we need to produce circles frequently enough that they never look like a series of circles (paper chain) but always like a transparent tube – kind of like an electron microscope image of a hair. It would also be good if the diameter of this could vary – perhaps in accordance to amount of movement again, or even randomly, but within constraints – ie with a ‘wobble’ rather than completely random.

..and so to the start of the second residency in London at the National Theatre Studio, hosted by body>data>space and National Theatre Digital Media. It feels very exciting to be right in the core of London at the very start of 2012, even if it is raining and very cold!

By the end of the Istanbul workshop, we had a working prototype of one portal; the aim of this workshop is to get all four working, albeit still in prototype form, and in one place rather than four different countries. I’ve found from previous telepresence projects (with body>data>space amongst others) that this is a very valuable evolutionary stage, allowing a rapid flow of aesthetic and technical development and dialogue which would be much more clumsy (and slow) over a distance.

In this instance, it might have been hard to find a space suitable to house all four portals at once, but fortunately, the National Theatre have just the space – the Weston Studio, a long tall space which could have been purpose built for us. We’re in there next week, working with some of bds’ regular  dance collaborators (who are particularly experienced with telepresence setups) and culminating with a process showing on Friday 13th (perhaps we could have chosen a more auspicious date, but there you go). This week we’re working in the seminar room on the code – this is also fantastically fit-for-purpose, with a big table we can set all the machines up on and get them talking to each other.