Celestial Motion uses a combination of contemporary dance and motion-capture technology to explore the human relationship with the Sun. The VR piece was made by the Guardian’s in-house VR studio with Alexander Whitley Dance Company, and in association with Sadler’s Wells.
Choreographed by Whitley, Celestial Motion was adapted from his original stage performance 8 Minutes, which premiered in June 2017 and has been on tour this year. Whitley collaborated with physicists from STFC RAL Space, taking inspiration for his original piece from solar science research images and data.
In the 360-degree film, (best viewed with a Google cardboard headset on the YouTube app) users are transported to a cosmic landscape where they see the dancers, both in their human form and as ethereal digital figures performing the same choreography. “Exploring the new creative possibilities opened up by digital technology is a defining principle of my company” Whitley said. “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.”
The groundbreaking 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 FENYCE, 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. A fully interactive version where you can switch between the two worlds is available on the Guardian VR app via the Daydream platform.