News & Opinion

The Guardian launches new VR experience - Celestial Motion

Celestial Motion is a virtual dance experience made in collaboration with the Alexander Whitley Dance Company, and in association with Sadler's Wells.

Celestial Motion uses a combination of contemporary dance and motion capture technology to explore the human relationship with the sun. In the interactive VR piece, users are transported to a cosmic landscape. Here, they are able to switch between watching dancers in their human form and experiencing a parallel world where ethereal digital figures perform the same choreography.

Choreographed by Alexander Whitley, Celestial Motion was adapted from Whitley's original stage performance '8 Minutes', a commission by Sadler's Wells which premiered at the theatre in June 2017 and is currently on tour. Whitley collaborated with physicists from STFC RAL Space, taking inspiration for his original piece from images and data of solar science research.

The ground-breaking VR experience was created in two halves. The costumed dancers were filmed in YouTube Space's 360 green screen studio in London while the 'virtual' world was created by recording the dancers wearing motion capture suits at Queen Mary University of London where Whitley is an Artist Fellow. The Guardian's VR team worked with creative technologist and lead developer Luca Biada of production studio F E N Y C E to bring the project to life.

Video graphics for the piece were designed by BAFTA award-winning artist Tal Rosner and the accompanying music was composed by electroacoustic musician Daniel Wohl. Stunning images of the sun from the Solar Dynamics Observatory were also incorporated to create the dramatic climax of the piece. 

Celestial Motion is available to view on Daydream and will be available on Google Cardboard and YouTube 360 video later this year.

Shehani Fernando, director, virtual reality, Guardian News & Media, said: "Celestial Motion is our first arts-inspired virtual reality project and one which lets viewers switch between two worlds, further exploring how audiences can interact with the medium of VR. We're extremely pleased with the way in which choreography, visuals and interactivity have come together to produce a powerful immersive performance."

Alexander Whitley, added: "Exploring the new creative possibilities opened up by digital technology is a defining principle of my company. I'm thrilled, to have worked with The Guardian in the creation of this new virtual reality dance experience. I'm as excited by what dance has to bring to this new platform as I am by the opportunity it presents for creating and experiencing new forms of dance performance."

Alistair Spalding CBE, artistic director and chief executive, Sadler's Wells commented: "I’m delighted that Alexander's fantastic work commissioned for our stage can have another life and be experienced in a completely new way, reaching an even wider audience through The Guardian. At Sadler’s Wells we’re really interested in how dance and new technology can work together to create a different language, and add a new dimension to this art form which lends itself so well to these kinds of digital possibilities."

The 360 trailer can be viewed here.

by Emma Handley 10/04/18

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