Student project evolves into digital fitness program
It sounds like every parent’s dream — a website that provides detailed answers to age-old questions they usually ask their college kids: Are you eating? Are you taking care of yourself? Robin Wood, a Virginia Tech mom in Richmond, Va., has found these answers and more through what her son, Charles, created.
Charles Wood graduated with a bachelor’s of fine arts in visual communication design from the School of Visual Arts, College of Architecture and Urban Studies in spring 2008. While enrolled at Virginia Tech, he created BodyLapse with animations that show him as he transforms his body through exercise and diet.
The animations are created with a computer-controlled camera that Wood partially built himself and partially borrowed from Hollywood motion-control operator Joe Lewis. Lewis collaborates on projects with Bill Tondreau, a three-time Academy-Award winner in the development of motion-control technology.
Wood found Lewis’ contact information through an Internet search and called him to solicit advice on completing his camera system. After a lengthy conversation about what he was trying to accomplish, Lewis and Tondreau agreed to loan Wood the right camera equipment.
BodyLapse began as small project in a cyber art class. “It was Charles’s choice to ramp it up after that,” said Dane Webster, area coordinator of creative technologies, co-director of the Collaboration for Creative Technologies, and assistant professor of animation and 3-D modeling in the School of Visual Arts. “He wrote a grant through the college for funding, made his contacts in Hollywood, and it took off from there. He’s a force in his own right.“ Robert Schubert, associate dean of research in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, helped Wood apply for a student-initiated research grant, which paid for part of the equipment Wood needed.
By using an iPhone to photograph everything he ate, all the exercise he did, and other experiences surrounding the production of this project, Wood created a new level of information in real time, where food, exercise, and process information was updated and accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. BodyLapse is human-centric artwork that uses many technologies that serve one purpose: to allow one person to visualize his health.
Wood borrowed motion-control motors, head, and computer and recruited filming help from Jessica Harllee, now a fourth-year visual communication design student from Herndon, Va. Wood is continually recorded in several different motions — such as riding a bike, lifting weights, or doing pushups — in different angles every few days. The user is thereby allowed to playback the animations from varying angles, speeds, and body positions. Users can pause him, rotate him, or view all the various levels of weight in a certain body position. Changes in Wood’s body can be viewed rapidly or frame-by-frame. Over the course of 18 different animations they can experience body change over time, over weight, and from different perspectives.
“BodyLapse is a small testament to the ‘Documentation Generation,’” Wood said. “We are people who choose to share the details of our lives in real-time, by creating timelines of our experiences for all to see.”
Wood and Harllee were invited to exhibit BodyLapse at SIGGRAPH 2008, the 35th International Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques in Los Angeles in August 2008. More than 28,000 artists, research scientists, gaming experts, developers, filmmakers, students, and academics from 87 countries joined together for the annual conference and exhibition. Wood was one of 230 international individuals and companies exhibiting at the conference. Other exhibitors included Pixar Animation Studios, which got its start at a SIGGRAPH conference.
Harllee continues to design and code the BodyLapse website and an installation that will be available for exhibition once the project is completed. Wood and Harllee now work at a digital advertising and marketing agency headquartered in Blacksburg, Va. Wood said BodyLapse is a work in progress until he reaches his goal weight of 170 pounds.
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Video: See a demonstration of BodyLapse
What started as a small project in a cyber art class has evolved into a comprehensive program for Wood, the creator of BodyLapse and a 2008 Virginia Tech alumnus. Here's some of the hardware used:
- The motion control rig: consisting of a dolly, pan/tilt head, computer, and camera
- A studio
- Cinematography and lighting
- Optical alignment
- Digital capture process
- BodyLapse blog
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