In August 2021, Alexander Whitley Dance Company approached myself and Felix to make the latest iteration of their Digital Bodies Project for the 2021 Oxford Ideas Festival. Alex had been working with the Parasol Project, a non-profit that works with disabled and disadvantaged young people, to choreograph dance movement based on themes of bird flight. Those themes had crystallised out of conversations Alex had had with the Oxford Flight Group at Oxford University: symmetry, power, weight, morphing, couplings, transitions and pathways.

The brief for me and Felix was simple: using motion capture derived from videos of the dancers at the parasol project, and the themes of bird flight that they were inspired by, create a 4 minute animated film set to music by Neil Cowley and Bel Lucas Boysen. We were free to explore any visual styles, softwares or techniques we wanted.

Digital motion capture often disconnects the performer from the end result and because of the nature of the Parasol Project, we felt that representing the young dancers bodies would be a vital part of the final film. We therefor decided to 3d scan the dancers involved using off the shelf photogrammetry tools available on modern smartphones.

A viewport capture of test mocap and scan data. Final rendering of the test data

Due to the limited time frame of the project, we had to find a visual style that was thematically relevant, fast to work with and would complement the sometimes imperfect motion capture and scanning data we were using. We decided to build on top of a style developed for Door 301, an experimental film I had made in 2020. The soft focus and gentle feeling of the visuals ended up being perfect for integrating the low fidelity assets creating a beautiful digital world that maintained all the subtlety of the dancers we were working with.

The process of going from initial data to final render

Artistic Director: Alexander Whitley
Digital Artists: Quentin Corker-Marin & Felix Marrington-Reeve
Dancers: The Parasol Project
Creative Assistant: Joshua Atwood
Technical Assistant: Rosie Emery
Production and Presenting Partner: IF Oxford
Scientific Consultant: Oxford Flight Group, Department of Zoology, Oxford University
Music: Neil Cowley & Ben Lucas Boysen
Supported by: UK Research and Innovation, Arts Council England, UK Science Festival Network