These Ghostly Dancers Are the Closest We've Come to 'Star Wars' Holograms

Japanese artist Daito Manabe debuts newly-invented holographic technology at Sonar+D.
July 5, 2017, 7:12pm

The holy grail of hologram technology is achieving 3D projections, as seen in films like Star Wars and Total Recall. In a hybrid dance performance at Sonar+D in Barcelona, Japanese artist Daito Manabe showed off new technology that comes startlingly close to that ideal vision.

Through Tokyo-based studio Rhizomatiks Research, Manabe has explored projection-mapped dance performance, augmented reality music videos for Nasoj Thing, and avant-garde drone choreography. Recently, Manabe debuted two new installations that explore this territory in new ways. The first, phosphere, which debuted within Sonar+D's SonarPLANTA space, is a performance that paired dancers with a robotized system of lights, smoke machines, and video projectors. The other work, border, is a virtual reality installation that turned the festival's Realities+D area into a highly immersive augmented reality experience, in which a giant white sphere suspended from the ceiling digitally mutated with the surrounding space.


For phosphere, Manabe and Rhizomatiks Research collaborated with choreographer Mikiko and the dance troupe Elevenplay to create what he calls a "new breed of dance performance." Wanting to go beyond augmented reality, the idea was to feature human dancers interacting with virtual dancers in an actual 3D space.

"Up until now, the futuristic holograms you've seen in Star Wars and wherever have only been simulated in the real world using the old 'Pepper's Ghost' technique," Manabe tells Creators. "It's what they used to create the Tupac 'hologram' a few years back. Instead, I wanted the real deal. Although 3D is still nascent and thus a little primitive in terms of conceptual artistic expression, I dove in and developed an entirely new system for phosphere."

Until now, dancers moved on stage in a separate dimension from 2D image projections. The phosphere system allowed Rhizomatiks Research to create 3D images that could be thought of as interacting with dancers in the same dimensional plane.

There were a number of technical challenges. First of all, normal cameras weren't sufficient to film the dancers, so Manabe had to blend both 3D scanning and motion capture. Ultimately, the virtual images on their end had to be entirely 3D. So, if they wanted to illuminate a dancer's fingers as they moved onstage, the system could focus the light in real-time.

"Focusing light in one pinpoint area is called 'imaging,' and can theoretically be used to create a 3D image," explains Manabe. "It's still not perfect yet in the present environment, but I suppose that imperfection also lends something to the project."

"The original performance was based on the principle of blurring the boundaries between stage and spectator, reality and virtual fantasy," he adds, noting that for ten participants on stage, the performance required eight engineers. "It was an immensely complex undertaking."

For border, Manabe realized that Microsoft HoloLens and other see-through augmented reality, or mixed reality, with head-mounted displays that composite graphics over real world images can't really transport the viewer into a fully virtual world. On the flip side, head-mounted displays such as the Oculus Rift and Vive can only provide a fully virtual experience. Manabe wanted to, in a manner of speaking, blend the two formats.

Manabe has never created an entirely virtual piece. And, in fact, he is more interested in the border between the virtual and the real. So, in borders and other works — like his collaboration with Björk on a live streaming music video — he explores this divide.

"Amidst the deluge of VR-only pieces nowadays, I wanted to surprise viewers by exhibiting work that peripatetically shifted back and forth between VR and reality," says Manabe.

Click here to sere more of Daito Manabe's work.


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