Umbra: Interactive Dance with Projection

Umbra: Interactive Dance with Projection
Umbra is an artistic dance performance that uses some neat interactive projection mapping. With only a webcam to track the movement of the dancer, dynamic and real time effects are mapped around the performer for a haunting an surreal effect.
The piece was done by Craig Downes, an audio/visual freelance artist from Belfast, and we were fortunate enough to get details straight from the source. Here’s more about Umbra from Craig in his own words.

The story behind Umbra

Umbra is the latin word for shadow. The dance represents breaking from the shadows that haunt us, some may be small others much bigger. The movements that are performed are in essence the actions that we take to break from the past. As the piece progresses we see the fade to darkness before bursting back into light and the future path ahead. The coloured shadow represents us coming to terms with the past and moving on. Finally as the piece ends we see the shadow continue to follow and fade, representing that although the past is still there, we know that it is time to move on.

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How it was made

It was made in Max/Msp (wikiSDK), a visual programming language that helps you build complex, interactive programs without any prior experience writing code. It’s been used to create many projection mapping tools/experiences, including VPT.

It uses a Logitech C920 webcam which hooked up to Max, where the magic begins. Code is then written so that the webcam tracks the dancers movements. Once this was working the ghost-like shadows where created using Jitter (the visual programming part of Max). This allowed for the feed to put through a small video reverb to create these ghost like shadows. RGB values and greyscale were coded and effected using different elements of jitter.

It was sent to MadMapper using Syphon. Syphon is an application that allows users to send graphics content from one application to another. Once in Madmapper it was important to ensure the frame rates were being maintained at the right level whilst being transferred as they were going to mapped be to a large scale.

Also, once in MadMapper a few placements of the shadow were tested before we see the final ones in the video. The magic all happens in Max; MadMapper was used large scale giving me the ability to move the images freely where ever needed.

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What’s next

The first instance of Umbra was shown at the University Of Ulster Magee. By sharing it online, hopefully it might be picked up or incorporated by other theaters and dance companies, or at the very least continue to push the boundaries of current and larger scale projection mapping practices.

Kevin Karsch
Kevin Karsch is a PhD student working in the intersection of computer graphics and computer vision. His research involves computational approaches to understanding images, and has interned at Microsoft Research and Adobe Research. More...