CC prof putting science in step with art of motion
By BRIAN NEWSOME THE GAZETTE
An elderly man laughs while watching a sitcom. A monitor on the wall watches him. When he gets up during a commercial break, the man takes a bad fall. The monitor recognizes his laughter was harmless, but it knows the fall was not. It sounds an alarm signifying that the man needs help. Far-fetched? Not for Colorado College dance professor YunYu Wang, who will lead a team of researchers in a $1.5 million project to create a first-ever computer program that decodes human movement. In a lab full of high-tech gizmos, camcorders and computers, the group will spend three years melding science with the performing
arts in hopes of helping professionals in both areas. If successful, the end product could lead to novel applications for computer animators and cartoonists, physical therapists and performing artists. The government of Taiwan is paying for the research and will receive rights to the finished product. Wang, a visiting researcher at Taipei National University of the Arts, drafted the grant proposal after the Taiwan government sought projects with economic potential that combined the arts and academic research. The benefit, to her, is the research itself, and the ability to share it with others in her field. Twenty computer programmers, 10 artists, 10 dance students and five administrators will work for Wang. Research will be conducted in Taiwan, although CC dance students will have opportunities to participate, Wang said in an e-mail interview from Taiwan. Dance in Wang’s world is not perfecting pirouettes and mastering the mambo. She’s a scholar of motion. Through a language system known as Laban Movement Analysis, she can describe every movement the human body makes. The language was created by Rudolf Laban, a European dancer and dance theorist. When a CC student walks across campus, most people see just a student walking. Wang sees a series of efforts and actions, from the flow of the movement to the energy the walker exerts. “The idea is if I can read the movement, I should be able to tell the computer program,” she said. A sensor to monitor the elderly is just the first of several ideas dancing, literally, in her head. Others include: c A program that can monitor people’s movement when they exercise at home, telling them what they are doing right or wrong, just as a physical therapist or personal trainer would. c A program that could make animated characters move in more realistic ways than they do now. When Wang watches an animated movie, she knows why the character “does not look right, like a real person.” Small joints, especially those that rotate or bend, are overlooked. c A program that would help dance instructors and choreographers explain to students how to improve or avoid injury in their movements, and assist them in reconstructing dances. “It’s going to be the new language for dance,” said Tom Lindblade, head of the dance and drama department at CC. Wang was born in Taiwan and came to the United States as a student in 1981. She stayed here to teach. She wanted to be a dancer at 15 and later decided to make her passion academic. She came to CC in 1991. Although Wang’s work will be Taiwan’s, not CC’s, the college isn’t complaining, CC spokeswoman Jane Turnis said. Students will benefit from Wang’s expertise, Turnis said. In 2007, Wang’s project — and the results the team has by that time — will take center stage at a conference on the performing arts.
NICHOLE MONTAÑEZ AND ANNIE MULLIN THE GAZETTE SOURCE: Gazette research