Movement is a familiar yet complex word. Everyone moves but not in the same way. Movement also has the power to convey meaning, even culture.
“We began to explore ways for students to experience movement and interact with others who are moving in a virtual space,” says Brad Willcuts, associate professor of musical theatre and choreography
in the College of Arts and Letters
. “There is a unifying disconnect in movement in that when you pay attention and note the movement, it isn’t about the clothes or the setting. It has an incredible opportunity for expression.”
Willcuts enlisted the help of Educational Media Design Specialist Daniel Trego, also in the College of Arts and Letters, as well as Grace Krajewski, a third-year student in Lyman Briggs College
. Krajewski, who is majoring in human biology with a minor in dance, helps Trego and Willcuts test the different capabilities of motion-capture suits and explore the possible uses of avatars — a computer representation of users in the virtual space.
“My goal is to go to medical school but as a lifelong dancer, I think it is important to mesh STEM and the arts,” says Krajewski. “I hope as more students experiment with these processes, they realize how much they can benefit from both.”
Building on his explorations, Willcuts and Ryan Welsh, assistant professor of media acting in the College of Arts and Letters, task students in their New Media Laboratory class with using augmented reality to produce a short performance in which they play both characters. Students record their performance as one character, then the other character while wearing a motion-capture suit. The second character becomes a digital recording the students add to the recording of the first character using augmented reality.
“There is a lot to consider,” says Willcuts. “What story do you want to tell? How do you move like a completely different character? How do you interact with someone who isn’t there but still have it be seamless for the final production?
“This isn’t a traditional lecture-style class. We think of it more as a laboratory where artists can experiment with different methods and ideas.”
Throughout the process students learn cinematography, video editing, laying an audio track and digital creation on a small budget. They also explore movement and how it can convey a story.