Put a dancing cone and two cylinders in a room, and what do you get? If you’re Google and you’ve teamed with interactive design teams, a punk/electronic band, and bundled it all into a VR experience, what you get is an unexpected approach to virtual reality.
The result is Dance Tonite, a VR collaboration that takes the single “Tonight” by the band LCD Soundsystem and uses it as the basis for a virtual reality dance party created entirely by fans of LCD’s music.
The result is a sweet, captivating, birds-eye view of a dance party — with people represented as little cones and spheres — that you yourself can join in (if you have the right gear).
“Because we wanted to involve users creatively, we started looking into the possibilities for participation and self-expression using VR,” said Jonathan Puckey, creator of Dance Tonite and an artist with the interactive design studio Studio Puckey. “We were impressed by how finely you could move and look around in VR, and how much fidelity there was. This gave us an idea. Instead of having users look at or create something, how about recording their movements?”
The team (which includes Puckey, the interactive design studio Studio Moniker, and Google’s experimental design group, the Data Arts team) developed a series of prototypes using WebVR, an open standard that allows users to experience a VR event through a standard URL. The Data Arts group also released the code open source so that viewers could understand how this project was made.
“Whatever we came up with should work on all types of VR,” whether it’s a VR headset for a mobile phone or a room-scale system, Puckey said. “Perhaps most importantly, we felt it would be in the spirit of the Web to make something that also works for everyone who does not own a VR device. The goal is to make it easier for everyone to get into VR experiences, no matter what device you have.”
Dance Tonite was directed by Puckey and Studio Moniker, and manages to capture the idiosyncrasies of each person’s movements — even though all dancers are represented by the same basic shapes. “The constraints encourage creativity and diversity, while the overall experience expands and changes with each new contribution,” said Jeff Nusz, a member of the Data Arts team.
Consider Dance Tonite to be both a dance party and a dance viewing party, Nusz said, as viewers go from room to room experiencing a series of dance performances created entirely by fans. There’s a joy to be hand in listening to the “Tonight” single and watching these ebullient cones and rods dance in a long string of interconnected rooms.
All choreography was recorded using a VR headset and controller that track to reflect the dancer’s physical movements in their virtual environment. “Instead of just mirroring your movements, we turn your room-scale VR kit into a DIY motion capture tool; if you have one, you can add your own moves to the party,” Nusz said. Those looking to add to the party need a room-scale VR kit likeOculus Rift orHTC VIVE.
The team also shared some of the challenges of creating a multi-platform VR experience without frame-rate delay. It was not a simple feat, Puckey said.
“When in VR, one the most nauseating things you can experience is [when] the frame rate doesn’t keep up with your movement,” he said, explaining how the team implemented certain optimizations such as instanced buffer geometry and serializing the position and rotation of a VR headset.
The resulting effect is that of an “irresistible dance party,” as one reviewer said.