Tidal Traces VR
Nancy Lee & Emmalena Fredriksson
2017 | 4 min
360-video VR dance piece
Tidal Traces is a 360-video VR dance piece that places viewers in the centre of the performance. In it, three characters explore a new and uncertain world—moving between tranquility and ominousness, beauty and peril. Entangled in this tension, the viewer becomes the fourth character, directly composing the dance through their gaze.
Captured offshore on intertidal mudflats near Vancouver, Tidal Traces is a collaboration between new-media artist Nancy Lee and choreographer Emmalena Fredriksson. The two merged their practices through a year-long artist residency to explore the opportunities VR offers for viewing and experiencing dance.
In a traditional stage presentation, the conventional separation between audience and performers places constraints on the intimacy of the experience. Dance films allow for a closer, visually more dynamic experience of movement—as well as possibilities of breaking continuity, time and space—but there is still a divide between viewer and performer, and the performance happens in a different time and space than the viewing itself. So it can lack the physical empathy and immersion of senses that comes with watching live dance.
With Tidal Traces, Nancy and Emmalena aim to surpass these limitations and blend the best of live performance and dance film, placing the viewer viscerally in the middle of a real-time experience in a way that has not been possible previously.
Shooting 360 video
Given how central the relationship between choreography and camera/audience is to Tidal Traces, camera tests began in a rehearsal studio to gauge dancer distance, dancer rotational position relative to the audience’s start position, and camera height.
Shooting 360 video in ocean water revealed several corresponding issues. Despite consulting tide charts for optimal timing and choosing a location specifically for the expansiveness of its tidal flats, there was no way to avoid rising and falling water levels. As such, the crew only had a few minutes to shoot before needing to pick up the rig and find a new suitable location.
Additionally, with 360 video there is nowhere to hide the production team. Being a kilometre offshore made this even more challenging. So for each take, the production crew had to run to the horizon and lay flat in the water. The dancers were the only line of defence if the camera tripod began to tip, or if the 25-pound external camera battery—buoyed by its waterproof casing—floated into the shot.
Tidal Traces is a stereoscopic 360 video captured with the GoPro Odyssey camera and stitched with the Google Jump platform, which generated the 8K footage and depth-maps used to create this 3D virtual reality dance experience.
Editing and colour correction were done using Adobe Premiere Pro. Rotoscoping was achieved using Mocha VR’s stereoscopic tools along with depth-map mask compositing and nadir/zenith hole patching in After Effects.
Working with 8192 x 8192 resolution footage was a data management and processing challenge. Even with 2K proxies, it was impossible to edit with real-time playback, so footage had to undergo long renders before it could be evaluated for timing and pacing.
Spatial audio was designed using Reaper and the Facebook Audio Workstation plugins. Multiple audio formats were generated to accommodate different delivery platforms. The binaural audio was encoded in 1st-order AmbiX as well as 8-channel TBE and 2-channel head-locked stereo.