360/VR Dance Reel
IMATS and 360/VR
In Fall 2016, IMATS and the Barnard dance department collaborated on a 360/VR video pilot. We used a Ricoh Theta 360 camera, which are pocket-sized, lightweight, and relatively inexpensive (currently priced below $300). Our experience with this camera was that it was relatively easy to use–the recording function just entails an off/on switch (with no settings to customize white balance, frame rate, exposure, and so forth). The post-production process with 360 video includes “stitching” the footage from the two lenses together, then running through a “spatial media metadata injector,” and uploading to YouTube which is free and supports 360/VR video. One then uses a VR headset (we had $15 cardboard viewers) with their mobile phone, and this creates an immersive experience where the viewer can look up, down, in any direction and perceive a “3D” environment.
Barnard College, Columbia University has a globally recognized, highly ranked dance program (QS World Rankings, 2016). There are a wide range of dance faculty, courses, and genres available to students. This was an optimal context to try VR/360 video, and we were fortunate to have high levels of cooperation among faculty. We visited several different dance classes, and recorded tap, ballet, modern, improvisational, classical Indian dance, hip-hop, ballroom, and other genres. We recorded dance warm-ups; showcase rehearsals; and improvised routines. Participant numbers ranged from four to over twenty. We tested different angles with the 360 camera, and attempted various tripod positions, from elevated angles to low-to-the-ground perspectives. These videos all have their own qualitative value and textures, but through trial-and-error we decided our “best practice” for recording 360 video of dance entails: a). positioning the camera in the center of the room, so that it is in the middle of the performance, and at a slightly lower height than eye level, and b). using a tripod (recording tests where participants danced while holding the camera lead to dizzying footage).
We considered the 360/VR videos of dance footage to be exploratory, untied to measured outcomes. However, these recordings were used to review rehearsal performances for shows at New York Live Arts by the choreographers in order to gain additional feedback on which sections needed more practice. Because of the dynamic, “3D” experience of 360 video, there are significant implications for the recording and notation of choreography. There are also implications for learning dance, and the ability to “see” dance and movement in a new way. With 360/VR video, the viewer is able to focus on specific dancers or on specific choreography–this is a contrast with “flat,” two-dimensional video recordings.