Still Life

The Féileacán project
  (AAATE2003, Dublin)
Anima Obscura
  (WSIS, Geneva)
High Res Images

Robert Burke, MindGames Group, MIT MediaLabEurope

Jennifer Fleenor of Counterbalance in performance at the closing ceremonies of AAATE2003

Audrey in performance during Anima Obscura 2.0, MediaLabEurope

Still Life is one of the MindGames projects being developed in conjunction with physiotherapists at the Central Remedial Clinic in Dublin. The project uses a movement interface designed to creatively reward a participant for controlling their physical movements in a calm and relaxed way. It can be customized so that a patient is rewarded for practicing a movement over and over again and getting it correct, thereby turning previously monotonous exercises into an engaging interaction. The program is also able to track progress, so that a physiotherapist needn’t always be present to monitor improvement during daily exercises.

The Féileacán project
Still Life leapt from the world of physiotherapy into the performing arts in early September as part of the Féileacán project, a performance that had its debut at the closing ceremonies of the 2003 conference for the Association for the Advancement of Assistive Technology in Europe (AAATE). (Féileacán is the Irish word for ‘butterfly.’)

Féileacán united the teenagers from four Special Schools in Ireland who both inspired and expressed the project’s narrative. The Féileacán itself is a symbol for rebirth that provides the focus of the narrative: the children of the world, fed up with prejudice and poverty, build a spaceship to take them to a better world. The ship evolves into the Féileacán that guides them to a new space where they can breathe new life, encounter new friends, and overcome their fears.

The Féileacán story is told through a dance performance that stars the children themselves alongside Dublin’s Counterbalance dance troupe. The performers are supported by a variety of innovative technologies, including Still Life, that facilitate new forms of expression. Still Life is presented on a wall-sized screen behind the performers, effectively turning that wall into a “magic mirror” in which the performers are reflected. The program tracks their movements and responds in a variety of ways – for example, by causing dancers to glow, orbs to radiate energy, and elements of the new world to be revealed as though they were being painted by the movement of the performers.

Jen Fleenor in performance of Counterbalance in performance during Anima Obscura 2.0, MediaLabEurope

Still Life is just one of the projects the MindGames group has worked on as part of their contribution to the European Year of People with Disabilities. Other projects include Mind Balance – a game that uses EEG brain wave activity as a control interface – and Biomelodics, which uses musical biofeedback to help teach a participant to control their heart rate.

Anima Obscura
In December of 2003, the Féileacán team re-united for a performance at the United Nations in Geneva, for the World Summit on the Information Society.  The performance, called Anima Obscura, dealt with themes of control, and the interplay between the real and virtual worlds.  The entire interactive component of the show's tech was provided by Still Life. 

For Anima Obscura we added several new features to Still Life, including the ability for 3D characters in the magic mirror to interact with elements of the real world.  As one example, dozens of butterflies can now chase around the motion glitter and land on the performers when they stand still.


Still Life has been the first application developed with each revision of Symphony, of which there have been three to date (February 2004).  Still Life is developed entirely in C# -- even the processor-intensive video analysis bits.  Some of Still Life's effects produce and destroy literally thousands of new objects a second -- an egregious abuse of memory that is handled with great panache (and without hiccups) by the Common Language Runtime's garbage collector.


High Resolution Images (from various performances)
Can be found here.  And here are some articles from the local papers pertaining to the performances.

- Robert Burke, Architect and Lead Developer