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Is dotless motion capture the future of Strictly Come Dancing?

In the future, you may be able to make Anton du Beke feather step and dosado with the click of a mouse button. 

The latest game/demo to hit the BBC’s experimental funtimes Taster website is 3D Dancer, an interactive video that lets you pan the camera around a computer-generated ballerina. BBC R&D engineers used advanced motion capture technology to create the model, based on a performance by ballet dancer Caroline Crawley. 

At certain points, you can rotate the camera around the model using your mouse, to get a closer look at the various arabesque turns and port de bras. It’s hard not to imagine digitised versions of Brendan Cole and Aliona Vilani being given this treatment in the future. 

While motion capture tech has been around for years, that’s required actors to be festooned with dots or surrounded by expensive camera rigs. That’s fine if you’re the Wachowskis and you’ve got time (and millions of dollars) to spend digitally airbrushing 3D markers, but for TV producers, it’s simply not up for consideration. 

The RE@CT project, an EU-funded joint venture, aims to do away with the dots and bring bullet time to the small screen. 

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BBC research and development staff Florian Schweiger and Graham Thomas said nine HD cameras were used to film the clip. The video was directed by Alia Sheikh, the BBC technologist behind last year’s amazing 600fps 4K experiment, who shot the action against a blue screen background. 

The blue screen made it easier for the cameras to track Crawley’s motions, making it easier for the 3D sequence to be created, and for a computer generated background to be created. 

It’ll probably be a good while before the technology has developed to the stage where this could be used in a live studio setting – if the BBC decides to go in this direction. Members of the RE@CT project are now looking to see how else dotless motion capture could be used in TV studios. 

In the meantime, the technology will be used to develop a number of other applications, including one which lets users choreograph their own dance sequences in the browser. This, along with ‘other forms of interactive application’ could make their way to the BBC Tester site later this year. 

You can check out 3D Dancer here and watch the video below to see how the team put everything together. 

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