The Graceful Movements of Kung Fu & Modern Dance Revealed in Stunning Motion Visualizations

When I first saw what was then the height of motion cap­ture in 1999—The Matrix’s “bul­let time” and kung fu sequences—I was suit­ably impressed, and yet… the extreme manip­u­la­tion of the real (which couldn’t have hap­pened in a more appro­pri­ate film, grant­ed) also seemed a lit­tle like a cheat. In the days before com­put­ers ren­dered 99% of spe­cial effects, part of the fun of watch­ing an effects film was spot­ting the seams. The short “Kung Fu Visu­al­iza­tion” above, from Ger­man dig­i­tal artist Tobias Gremm­ler, deft­ly com­bines both of these aes­thet­ic inclinations—the love of arti­fice and the awe of liq­uid-smooth dig­i­tal motion—in rustling, swirling, shim­mer­ing ani­mat­ed art that para­dox­i­cal­ly shows us the seams of flu­id move­ment.

Recall­ing Mar­cel Duchamp’s famous nude or the dynam­ic sculp­ture of Umber­to Boc­cioni, Gremm­ler ani­mates these mod­ernist dreams using grace­ful motions cap­tured from two Kung Fu mas­ters. Each sin­u­ous mar­tial arts rou­tine is ren­dered with a dif­fer­ent mate­r­i­al tex­ture, with accom­pa­ny­ing sound effects and dra­mat­ic music. “Visu­al­iz­ing the invis­i­ble is always fas­ci­nat­ing,” writes Gremm­ler, “and motion visu­al­iza­tions have been cre­at­ed even in pre-dig­i­tal times with light, pho­tog­ra­phy, cos­tumes or paint­ings.” (Nor­man McLaren’s 1968 “Pas de deux” offers a strik­ing his­tor­i­cal exam­ple.) Gremm­ler’s stun­ning ani­ma­tion was com­mis­sioned for a Hong Kong Kung Fu exhi­bi­tion and “focus­es on the lega­cy of Hak­ka mar­tial arts in Hong Kong.”

Gremmler’s film may show us process in motion, but he remains coy about his own tech­no­log­i­cal means (unless, pre­sum­ably, you buy his book.) Anoth­er motion cap­ture mas­ter­piece, “Asphyx­ia,” above, uses hum­ble, yet high­ly advanced meth­ods unimag­in­able in 1999, “two inex­pen­sive Xbox One Kinect sen­sors,” writes This is Colos­sal, “to cap­ture the move­ments of dancer Shi­ho Tana­ka.” Film­mak­ers Maria Takeuchi and Fred­eri­co Phillips then “ren­dered the data inside a near pho­to-real­is­tic envi­ron­ment,” mak­ing cre­ative use of low­er-res tics and glitch­es. Com­bined with a love­ly elec­tron­ic score from Takeuchi, the result­ing video’s visu­al poet­ry is impos­si­ble to ade­quate­ly con­vey in words.

What “Asphyx­ia” does show us is a scal­ing back of tech­ni­cal wiz­ardry that reveals a deep lev­el of ges­tur­al sophis­ti­ca­tion under­neath. “The project,” write the film­mak­ers, “is an effort to explore new ways to use and/or com­bine tech­nolo­gies… with­out many of the com­mer­cial lim­i­ta­tions. The per­for­mance is cen­tered in an elo­quent chore­og­ra­phy that stress­es the desire to be expres­sive with­out bounds.” Although “Asphyx­ia” is obvi­ous­ly a lower-quality—digitally speaking—work than Gremmler’s Kung Fu Visu­al­iza­tion, it is none the worse for it. Both use motion cap­ture tech­nol­o­gy in inno­v­a­tive ways that fore­ground the artistry, rather than the mim­ic­ry, of dig­i­tal ani­ma­tion. (Some­what like the much-praised dig­i­tal stop-motion Kubo and the Two Strings.) If you want to see how the mak­ers of “Asphyx­ia” cre­at­ed their exper­i­ment, watch their mak­ing-of film below.

via This is Colos­sal

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Soft­ware Used by Hayao Miyazaki’s Ani­ma­tion Stu­dio Becomes Open Source & Free to Down­load

13 Van Gogh’s Paint­ings Painstak­ing­ly Brought to Life with 3D Ani­ma­tion & Visu­al Map­ping

Take a Free Online Course on Mak­ing Ani­ma­tions from Pixar & Khan Acad­e­my

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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