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Watch a Digital Dancer Whirl Through the Underworld

Ancient dancing and motion-capture cameras are a match made in heaven.
GIF by the author

The art of Sufi whirling has spawned documentaries, bands, and light art installations, but Marta di Francesco's motion-capture film VAULTII brings the art into the alternate digital dimension for which it now seems intended. Shooting with the same type of Kinect camera Depthkit she used in her previous film, ISHTAR, di Francesco captures a dancer whirling in a dress reminiscent of Sufi garments, which she explains to The Creators Project, are "intended to encourage certain movement and behaviour intrinsic to the design." Combined with choreography from Marquez & Zangz and music by Johnny Ripper, the resulting geometric patterns, vaults, and curves of movement, seem like they were designed for the Kinect's chaotic, bordering on abstract, motion capture funcionaity, which Di Francesco programmed with fabric-inspired textures for full effect.


One of the most challenging things about this kind of filmmaking is that it needs to be edited frame-by-frame. "It's a digital process but also a very manual one; a manic dedication to details, recreating individual frames that exist on their own independently from the larger film," di Francesco explains. Each rectangle requires input to create its own unique texture and background, kind of like adding special effects to individual frames of film pre-CGI. "Its not easy to work this way," she says "but it was the only way I found to create something unique, something that feels hand-made, whilst the source is very much a digital and so automated process."

ISHTAR, which came out in December 2014, followed a woman's journey through the underworld, appropriately emblazoning a motion-captured dancer in front of an inky black background—but its painstaking editing process gave di Francesco the visual tools she needed to tell a different kind of story in VAULTII. She couches her subject in an ever-changing stream of off-white shapes and textures, mimicking the "tension between the hypnotic repetitiveness of the circular moves," that drew her to whirling dervishes in the first place. "The dancer is at once with the surroundings and yet she is flowing through waves of knots into her own stream of consciousness," she elaborates.

Watch VAULTII in its entirety above and check out a few of our favorite frames below:


Images courtesy the artist

Check out more of Marta di Francesco's work on her website.


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