Education Futurists

Darton College

This Georgia institution is using motion capture technology to develop detailed virtual anatomical models and study the kinesthetics of dance.

Instructional technologists and faculty at Darton College (GA), one of the two-year colleges in the University System of Georgia, are building on a history of innovation in 3D imaging of the human body. In 2006, they were recognized as Campus Technology Innovators for their work in rendering stereoscopic 3D images for the study of human anatomy and physiology (see campustechnology.com/articles/2006/07/2006-campus-technology-innovators-3D.aspx).

Since then, technologists at the school have pushed ahead into the realm of motion capture—technology that allows students to examine the motions of the human body in precise, 3D anatomical detail. One of the first applications is a unique pairing of motion capture with virtual anatomical modeling, used in the dance department to analyze the subtle movements of a dancer’s body. Leading the project: Darryn Ostrander, director of the Instructional Technology department, along with key contributors Andrew Lenard, web designer, and Michael Watson, instructional technology specialist.

In a recording studio equipped with OptiTrack Foundation Motion Capture technology from NaturalPoint, eight cameras optically track 34 sensors on a dancer’s suit and gather full-body motion data. The raw motion data is exported in a common format, rendered in three dimensions with 3D Studio Max software (now known as 3ds Max) from Autodesk, and mapped onto a Human Anatomy Model from Zygote Media Group—creating a virtual dancer. The virtual performer is anatomically accurate and faithfully reproduces the exact movements of the recorded dancer.

Vendor & Product Details
Autodesk: usa.autodesk.com
NaturalPoint: naturalpoint.com/optitrack
Zygote Media Group: 3dscience.com/3D_Models

As Ostrander explains, the system puts 360-degree viewing controls in the hands of instructors and their students, who can review the recording of a dancer from many different angles as they critique interpretation as well as technique. They can study the anatomy of the dancer in three-dimensional space and analyze every movement more fully than would be possible even with a live dancer in a traditional studio with mirrored walls. “Dance is the type of thing that’s normally done only ‘in the moment,’” says Ostrander, “but we are able to freeze the dancer’s recorded motions and play them forward or backward, more slowly or faster, [and from various angles], to view all the intricacies of the dance.”

Jennifer DeBritton, director of dance and a professor at Darton, comments on how the technology is used in her curriculum: “At Darton we now have a big push for online classes, but [in the past] I wasn’t sure how to make dance an online class. So far, I’ve been using this technology primarily in hybrid classes, or for ‘in-the-classroom’ classes. But I’m offering our first fully online class in dance this coming fall, in which the technology will be used for part of the material covered.” Due to the processing overhead of 3D rendering, the online students will access Flash videos rendered with pre-selected viewing angles and posted on the web. (For an example, see online.darton.edu/mocap/examples.html.) But the Flash format will still allow the student to play, pause, or replay the motion being studied as needed.

Students of dance someday may also be able to create their own performance videos with the system, DeBritton notes. “Students have gotten really excited about possibly using this in concerts—they want to see it in performance, which is a driving force for those who are dance majors.”

Going forward, the college is making plans for a motion capture facility that can be shared by the dance, athletics, theatre, allied health, occupational health, and nursing departments—and more innovative applications will surely follow.

About the Authors

Meg Lloyd is a Northern California-based freelance writer.

David Raths is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer focused on information technology. He writes regularly for several IT publications, including Healthcare Informatics and Government Technology.

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