Dancers in "Digital Costumes"

September 30, 2013

Our eyes are always looking for human shapes in abstract forms. (Show us a grilled cheese sandwich, and we’ll find a Grilled Cheesus.) But where is the line between pure abstraction and just barely identifiable human shapes?

That’s the question Universal Everything’s new exhibit for the Science Museum in London explores. UE founder Matt Pyke collaborated with his brother, Simon Pyke, and choreographer Benjamin Millepied to transform dancers’ motions into abstract projections—digital tangles of colored lines, in constant, pulsing motion.

After placing reflective markers all over two dancers’ bodies, the creative team filmed them with 62 synchronized cameras, creating a three-dimensional record of their every movement. Then the team “dressed” the recordings in “digital costumes.” (The dancer models, by the way, are the amazing Julia Eichten and Nathan Makolandra of Millepied’s L.A. Dance Project.)

What does the finished product look like? Well, our dancer eyes are highly attuned to the details of movement, so you’ll probably be able to identify specific limbs in the knotty digital projections pretty quickly. But the effect is still awesome. It’s as if you’re looking at the energy the dancer is projecting, rather than his or her body itself. (And hey, this particular light-line-blob has pretty nice extensions.)

There’s a second component to the project, too: A downloadable app allows anybody to transform a simple scribble or shape into a “dancing” animated gif. Those shapes are then projected on the inner circle of the Science Museum exhibit’s screens, as you can see below: