3.0 Computer animation: the LifeForms modelling programme

The animation software used for the Surrey project was LifeForms 3.0.1. This is the 3D human figure animation environment which provides an interactive, graphic interface to enable a user to sketch out movement ideas in space and time (Schiphorst 1997, 82). This software is available as a commercial programme for the Macintosh and PC platforms. Originally conceived by Tom Calvert at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, LifeForms was envisioned and developed as a creative tool for choreographers. The famous American contemporary choreographer, Merce Cunningham, has been using LifeForms to make new dances since December 1989.

3.1 Functional description of LifeForms

LifeForms maps the viewpoint of movement in time and space, providing three on-screen windows in which to create the dance.

1. the Figure Editor Window, which shows a standard human body in either outline or contoured style, whose separate parts can be manipulated to take up a wide range of different positions. These attitudes can then become key frames in subsequent motion sequences. These positions must be chosen carefully to ensure that there is sufficient detail to specify the desired movement patterns fully (Calvert 1995, 147)

2. the Time Line Window, which offers the opportunity to place selected key frames in a time-structured sequence to compile the animation. Further figures can be synchronised with the first one. The computer automatically interpolates additional frames between the selected key frames to ensure smooth transitions

3. the Stage Window, which displays the developing animation and is also used to determine the figures' spatial relationship to each other and to control their height and direction of movement. It is possible to tilt and swivel the stage to view the action from different angles and to zoom in to enlarge the display.

These three windows or views are interconnected. One can move flexibly between them using a simple interactive and intuitive interface that supports the hierarchical nature of composition. The fundamental task in animating with LifeForms is key-framing, or key-frame creation. Key-frames contain information about a figure's shape, location, altitude and facing angle. In order to make a smooth transition between the key-frames, LifeForms interpolates the values between them. Also, LifeForms allows the user to copy, paste, cut, compress, expand and perform a range of actions on the existing or new animation.

Aside from simulating movement by modifying the figures on the computer screen, LifeForms can edit motion captured data, that is, spatial information directly taken from a (human) body in motion. The same features that are so effective for key-framing animation are also extremely helpful for working with motion captured data. LifeForms includes a selection of up to 160 motion captured animations in the Studio version.

The current template schemes included in LifeForms Mocap gallery do not provide models for non-Western dance5. Thus the method used to recreate our movement sequences was not that of selecting some of the existing LifeForms sequences, as one would normally do, but that of creating them directly on the screen, exploiting the current facilities of the software. To generate representative sequences from the system we have created new key frames based on photographs of the reliefs, video material, text descriptions and movement sequences that have been rehearsed with a dancer.


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Last updated: Fri Jun 1 2001