Digital Media and Dance

Digital Media Designer, Set Designer


Peer-Reviewed Outcomes/Dissemination:

April 2018

Performance: Space Place Theatre, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA

October 2018

Solo Conference Presentation: The Art of Content Creation

LDI 2018 Conference and Tradeshow. Las Vegas, NV

March 2019

Solo Conference Presentation: From Artistic Inspiration to Final Design

USITT 19 Conference & Stage Expo. Louisville, KY

Photo Gallery:


Link to: Video of presentation at LDI. (Note: I discuss multiple projects on this solo panel talk.)

Key Creative Team:

Choreographer/Performer/Sound Design/Costume Design | Arianna Russ

Photographer | Dana Keeton

Lighting Design | Jeff Crone

Program Notes:

We recognize that it is our responsibility to acknowledge the predicament of unequal power dynamics between men and women that are often found in art and dance-making. While the concept, artistic decision-making, and digital design of Belladonna has been a truly collaborative effort, we acknowledge the complicated relationship that often arises in the projection of male-referenced ideology and creative content onto women's bodies. We believe it is our obligation as informed, empathetic and progressive creatives, to present work that not only acknowledges, but also helps to shift the paradigms that govern the experience of marginalized individuals.


Belladona was a collaboration with MFA dance student Ari Russ for her thesis show and the culmination for her Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio Summer Fellowship award for motion capture and solo dance performance (for which I also served as her advisor). It was also the culminating performance for a 2017 Old Gold Summer Fellowship Award, a developmental program for probationary tenure-track professors, that I received from the University of Iowa.


Since my graduate studies, I have been interested in using motion capture as a form of artistic expression in live performances. I had used the low-cost Microsoft Kinect sensor as a motion capture tool on several productions during graduate school. For my research development, I was interested in learning more about low-cost and also high-fidelity motion capture techniques, as well as methods to use other raw data sets as a basis for design. The use of low-cost, low-fidelity motion capture was used to create visuals in this performance, while the use of manipulating other data sets was explored in the research project Live Geometry.


As this performance was Ari’s thesis, she drove the themes and research topics of what the performance would be about. We collaborated on the staged explorations of the themes. In her MFA thesis paper, Ari writes:

“[Belladonna is about the] multiplicities that comprise female and feminine identity. Belladonna delves deeper still into the representation, expectation and cultivation of femininity. [It] serves as an assortment of perspectives and contexts from which I view the complexities of what it means to exist in the female/feminine narrative—not only as a display of my own performance but as a performance of universal and multifaceted femininity. From a simultaneously feminine and feminist perspective, my thesis investigates what it means to be a woman in the 21st century.”


Given the nature of the theme Ari was exploring - the male gaze, feminine power, power structures in dance, etc. - we felt that it was important to constantly be aware of the power dynamic in the room given that I was Ari's professor and a male making decisions about what was to be projected onto her body. We agreed that Ari would have final say and control over all imagery. It was important to Ari and I that all of the images on stage stem from her body. All of the digital artwork was created from photos and live videos of Ari.


For the first section of the dance, where Ari is on the pedestal with her naked back to the audience, I used the Kinect depth sensor to follow and map custom visuals onto her back. The visuals were created using Trapcode Particular, a powerful plugin for After Effects that creates custom particle systems.  Particle systems are created by using one or several small images that can be used to create/generate artwork and complex effects by controlling the behavior of each particle using various parameters and settings. I used a still image of Ari from her days as a Milawakke Bucks cheerleader that was published in Sports Illustrated. I photoshopped out the background and used this tiny jpeg of a highly male-gaze, objectiviing view of Ari as the basis for all the abstracted artwork that was projected onto her back. I created two different versions of tiny, abstracted Ari’s that I mixed live during each performance.


For the second section, Ari posed on another pedestal while images of her naked body were projected onto a scrim. For these photos, we hired a female photographer, Dana Keeton. Ari chose all the photos and edited them for final inclusion in the performance. As this section was specifically about examining the male gaze and Ari being a passive object of desire, I created an Isadora patch that let me, as the media operator/VJ, randomly pick different photos every night. Ari never knew the order of each photo or the duration of how long each one would last (except the first and last photo in the sequence). While unbeknownst to the audience, it was important to Ari’s process that as a male I was controlling this sequence, even though she ultimately was the one in control since she approved all the images and co-created the idea.


For the beginning of the third section, I created an Isadora patch and live manipulated the RGB feed the Kinect camera of Ari in realtime. I also used the depth sensor of the Kinect camera to motion track Ari’s vertical and horizontal movements in space to give her dynamic control of the visuals. I controlled the mix of these two video feeds and each performance was slightly different. As this section progressed, the video feed that Ari controlled with the motion of her now liberated body took over, until finally she removes the projection scrim and steps out from mediated views of her body.

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