Bodies In Motion At HFCC

Pepper, Patrick/Times-Herald Newspapers/Oct 1, 2008: p3A

     In a quiet corner on the campus of Henry Ford Community College, a small group of teachers and students are working to create a new, high tech medium for live theatrical performance. Part Hollywood special effect, part traditional stagecraft, HFCC’s Virtual Theatricality Lab is the marriage of technology and performance art in a way that never has been done before.

     Using motion capture cameras and stereoscopic projectors, the VTL aims to immerse audiences in a three-dimensional environment where live actors interact with digitally produced characters. Actors wearing motion-capture suits are filmed using the cameras in a studio separate from the theater, where the actual play is presented. The images captured by the cameras are animated using specialized computer software, and the resulting image is projected on stage, where live actors interact with the digital apparitions that can range from a whimsical wood sprite to a frightening, teeth-gnashing demon.

     Already the VTL has garnered national and regional awards for its 2003 production of the Shakespearian play “The Tempest”, and its 2006 rendition of the dark folklore tale “The Skriker”. Now armed with a set of new cutting edge, motion capture cameras, the VTL will look to take audiences to a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth in the show “Dinosaurus.”

     The show will feature some of prehistory’s most renowned characters—T-Rex and Stegosaurus to a name a couple—along with a quirky virtual scientist to narrate to narrate the show and interact with audiences. The production will be aimed at children with several showings for area schools, but also will be performed for the general public over the course of three weekends. Attendees will wear 3-D glasses and get a chance to experience one of the most true-to-life encounters with dinosaurs that have happened in the post-Jurassic era.

     Actors who will don the motion-capture suits—a form-fitting black nylon outfit with an array of strategically placed sensors—must learn exactly how their digital counterparts moved.

     While the crew continues to work on its latest production, members also are working to perfect the system they have pioneered. The eventual goal, they say, is to produce a turnkey system that can be cost-effectively installed at theaters around the country to make virtual theatricality mainstream reality.

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