Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Making a Dance Show 3

Making a Dance Show 3

This is the third in a series of blog posts about making a dance show. Please read posts 1 and 2 first.

I have now created the script and the set. I have the costumes ready and the actors in place. I haven't gotten the audio of the play done yet. Ideally, I would want the complete recorded play finished so I can do the choreography from beginning to end. I am including in the definition of choreography for this play the movements and animations that the two actors, Nottoo and her Shadow, make between songs as well as the dances. BUT, since I don't have the audio yet, I decided to start choreographing the dances and add the movement between songs later.

Choreographing the First Song - Quien Sera

In this dance I wanted to have Nottoo dancing with the Director present but not visible. Nottoo's Shadow is also dancing behind Nottoo to the right doing the exact same dance as Nottoo. Since this is the first dance with the Shadow, it is really the audience's introduction to the concept of a shadow. I want the shadow to behave like a RL shadow during this song. The song I chose for this is Quien Sera. It's a song that my mother likes so it has some extra meaning for me. It has both Spanish and English in it and is like me with one foot in each language. The version I decided to use is by Arielle Dombasle. Here it is on youtube. I also like this song because it is upbeat and should be fun to choreograph.

I have previously described how to do choreography to a song. I followed this process by listening to the song several times to identify where I heard changes. Here is what I found. Note I calculated the time between changes also:

0:00 - 000 sec - start - plays 9 sec
0:09 - 009 sec - first horn sound starts - plays 6 sec
0:15 - 015 sec - volume increase and other instruments start - plays 16 sec
0:31 - 031 sec - voice starts - plays 32 sec
1:03 - 063 sec - language changes and horns start - plays 14 sec
1:17 - 077 sec - voice starts - plays 17 sec
1:34 - 094 sec - instrumental starts - plays 15 sec
1:49 - 109 sec - voice starts - plays 13 sec
2:02 - 122 sec - support singers start - plays 12 sec
2:14 - 134 sec - lead singer starts - plays 24 sec
2:38 - 158 sec - end

This list of changes in the song identify where I can consider dance changes. All of this took about 15 minutes.

I mentioned that I plan to use the DanceMaster Pro 6 to control the dances in this show, but to do the initial choreography, I decided to use my Barre HUD. This dance is simply one dancer and a follower doing the identical dance sequence. Once I have choreographed the song, I will buy new copies of the chosen dances and put them in the DanceMaster Pro 6 with the sequence timing. The Barre HUD also has all of my dances, so it is relatively easy for me to use the Barre to identify possible dances I want to use for this song.

The step of choosing dances for this song means I listen to the song over and over, while trying different dances that I think might work. I might use 5 to 15 dances for the song depending on what I find and the selected changing points. I chose possible dances for this song in two ways. First, I just listened to the song and played dance sequences that I felt fit the music. My club experience dancing to a DJ really helps with this approach. The second way is to use the DANCE QUEENS database. Since Quien Sera is identified as a mambo, I searched out the mambo dances and tried them. With these two approaches I made an initial list of about 60 medium speed candidate dances for the song. I then listened to the song paying particular attention to swaying motions since the song is also named 'SWAY'  and has the word sway in the lyrics. This gave me a shorter list of candidate dances (listed with loop times):

*White Silk|26.2|
*All my Glory|24.7|
*Heat Wave|24|
*Crushed Velvet|26.9|
*Pussy Galore|22.5|
*Yes Master|24.2|
*Yes Mistress|28.9|

All are from the same maker, A&M, which should make the choreography easier. Next, I compared the dance loop times with the change points in the song. The match up wasn't particularly good with loop times of 22 to 27 seconds and change times in multiples of 12 to 16 seconds. Fortunately many of the dances do not venture too far from the centerpoint and maybe I can find transition points in the middle of the dances. This initial selection of the candidate dances took about an hour.

Next, I tried the different dances from my short list with the music. I paid attention to the lyrics and tried to find places where I could have a significant dance movement occur when there was a significant music event. When there is 'boom' in the music I like a boom-like move in the dance, or a crescendo in the music matched with a crescendo feel in the dance. This adds to the challenge of making a good dance sequence to a song since it takes me beyond just matching speeds and centerpoints. Of course to help with the choreography I used the choreography grid looking down. The grid is especially helpful for working with transitions.

Choreography Grid Looking Down

After about an hour of trying the different dances and massaging the order, I had a basic sequence that I liked, but with some transitions and timing that were a bit off:

[NAME]Quien Sera Test|*White Silk|26.2|*Yes Mistress|4.8|*Heat Wave|32|*Crushed Velvet|31|*Yes Mistress|15|*Yes Master|27|*Hip-notized

I had to make some trade-offs on the final sequence. I accepted a couple of less than beautiful transitions so I could have the dance match the music by swaying when the lyrics said sway and by being on the floor when the lyrics said on the floor. I also added two Amimation poses, one at the beginning and one at the end. All in all I was happy with the final product. The whole effort to choreograph the first dance took about 3.5 hours.

Here is the sequence:

[NAME]Quien Sera|*AMIMATION* Sexy Pose_015|2|*White Silk|28|*Heat Wave|32|*Crushed Velvet|30|*Yes Mistress|15|*Yes Master|26.5|*Hip-notized|21|*AMIMATION* Crouching_001

When I looked at my iTunes counter for the number of times I had played Quien Sera from the beginning it said 88. Wow! You had better like the songs you choreograph for a show.

Using the DanceMaster Pro 6 for the First Dance

Bryndyn Burton, the creator of the DanceMaster and I had a long discussion yesterday about the DanceMaster and its capabilities and limitations. Since I am writing this from my perspective, I hope he will add comments as he sees necessary. I like the capabilities of the DanceMaster and it can do some things that other show control systems cannot do, but it is a challenge to work with because of its complexity and as we (you and I) go through this together, I may express some of my frustrations with it.

When you first get the DanceMaster Pro 6 (or the other versions) and open the folder in your inventory, you see a few objects and 14 notecards ... and they are long, detailed notecards.

14 Notecards in the DanceMaster Pro

Bryndyn likes to provide detail and that is helpful, but right from the start you are looking at trees when what you care about is the forest. So, to give you a little help, here is what you need to know overall about the DanceMaster Pro.

The DanceMaster Pro allows you to control several things important for a show:
  1. The animations and dances that each avatar performs
  2. The position and orientation of each avatar on the stage
  3. The movement or change in position and orientation of each avatar around the stage
It does more such as rezzing objects or controlling particles, but the three things identified above are what really sets the DanceMaster Pro apart. In simpler terms it means you can, for example, have an avatar walk from point A to point B and dance a sequence while another avatar runs around the stage. All of this is controlled by the DanceMaster Pro and, once set up, is operated by one or a few clicks.

To set up the DanceMaster Pro you really need to worry about three notecards that are placed inside it:
  1. *DM dances - This notecard identifies the dances and animations that you use in your show. You have to put the dances and animations in the DanceMaster then list them on this notecard. Like with HUDs the names must be spelled right and you are forced to use a system of labels, but this notecard is easy to set up.
  2. *DM formations - This notecard identies the position and orientation of each avatar relative to the position of the DanceMaster controller. Positions are identified primarily through specific formation types, like a line or circle, and require some calculation to figure out exactly the right numbers to enter on the notecard to place your avatar at the position and the orientation you want. In learning the Dancemaster, this was one of the most challenging things for me. But, don't worry, now I sort of know this and I will explain as we go along. For now the concept of relative position and orientation is all you need to know about this notecard.
  3. AnyNameYouWant or PCL Notecard - The final notecard is one you add to the DanceMaster. It is essentially the step-by-step program that you create to go through the show. It is like the detailed sequence of events. It's a pain learning the commands that you can use and the format of the commands, but this is how you join the dances with the positions and orientations of the avatars AND how you change positions and orientation.
So, let's get the dance sequence for Quien Sera created above into the Dancemaster Pro 6.

The first thing I had to do was to set up the Dancemaster Pro and get it operating. You only have to get it set up once, but this can be a challenge. I decided to place the DanceMaster Pro on the roof of the stage. I set it up centered at the same place as the stage, but 9.0 m above the floor of the stage. This makes the DanceMaster Pro easily accessible to me, but not visible to most audience members.

Placing the DMP

I also oriented the DanceMaster Pro so it had no rotation (x at 0 degrees, y at 0 degrees and z at 0 degrees).

To get the DanceMaster Pro working you have to follow the one-time start-up procedure. Okay, here is a complaint. The start-up instructions are not in the Read Me First notecard and not even referenced in the Read Me First notecard. It's not so obvious how to get it started until you find the twelfth notecard named DM Pro Quick Setup Guide. Once you find this, the steps are laid out for easy start up. I did this in five minutes since I had learned how on a previous show.

One of the key outputs of the start-up procedure is that you define an x, y, z position that is called the origin. All positions that are specified in creating the show are relative to the origin. My origin is 32.0000, 8.0000, 1751.0000.

Remember that there are three important notecards that are inside the DanceMaster Pro: *DM dances, *DM formations, AnyNameYouWant or the PCL Notecard. When you edit the DanceMaster Pro and look inside the contents tab, you find the initial *DM dances and *DM formations notecards are loaded with content. The content is useful if you are setting up the DanceMaster Pro for a club or if you are in training mode, but for making a show like we are doing, the content is not only unnecessary, but uses up some of the resources you may need later. You want to be able to see the initial content in these notecards, so what I do is copy this content to two notecards that I place in my inventory where I have all the DanceMaster Pro content. This allows you to see the content when you need it. Next, I delete all of the content in the *DM dances notecard that is in the DanceMaster Pro and replace it with

*group*: 1

and I delete all of the content in the *DM formations notecard that is in the DanceMaster Pro EXCEPT the first three lines. My *DM formations notecard looks like this


Finally, when I look in the DanceMaster Pro I do not see a notecard called AnyNameYouWant. You have to create this and add it to the DanceMaster Pro. I decided to call mine *SOMBRA. Hahahah, a catchy name. Initially *SOMBRA is empty.

This completes the one-time set-up of the DanceMaster Pro.

Everything else I do with it is to add content. I need to say that the set up sounds a lot more complex than it is (once you know how). Don't be too put off by the set up and I will help you if you need it.

Once I had the DanceMaster Pro operating, I was ready to put the dances from the sequence I had created above into the DanceMaster. Since I had not followed my own advice to always buy copy dances, I TPd to A&M and bought all of the dances in the Quien Sera sequence. The Amimation poses I had were copy so I did not have to buy them again. Once I got back I edited the DanceMaster Pro 6 and placed all of the dances in it.

Then, I again edited the DanceMaster Pro and opened the *DM dances notecard inside it. I entered the dance information for Quien Sera into the notecard. There are a few important things you need to know to work with the *DM dances notecard. First, you are limited to 144 dances/animations in one DanceMaster *DM dances notecard. I expect to use at least 100 in this show. A really large show could exceed the limits. The second important thing to know about the *DM notecard is dance names can only have 10 characters. Hey, what a restriction since some have as many as 25 characters or more. To get around this there is a system for labeling dances so the name label length is 10 or fewer characters. I use this system for all of my dances. Here is how it works. Each line starts with the label followed by a colon (:) then the dance name as it is in the Dancemaster Pro. Here is an example:

groove:Into the Groove Dance

The dance name is Into the Groove Dance and the label used is groove.

When I make labels I like to use the label name to help me know where the dance fits. I think just seeing what my *DM dance notecard looks like will help explain this

You can see that I am using labels like QN-1 or QS-6 for the dances. You may also notice that I have repeated the dances. The reason I do this is that in your dance notecard you also have to identify the avatar for whom the dance is intended. This is done by adding another colon (:) in the line and a position number. The position number is discussed next, so for now just accept that Nottoo is position 1 and Shadow is position 4.

Remember the *DM dance card only identifies the dances used. The actual time for each dance is included in the *SOMBRA notecard that we will discuss in an a bit.

Whew, one notecard done and now to the second, the *DM formation notecard.

The *DM formations notecard simply identifies where the avatars, Nottoo and Shadow in my show, are . Each place where the two avatars stop must be included in the *DM formations notecard. By stopping, I mean the centerpoint of an animation or dance. Since the version of the DanceMaster Pro I bought can handle up to 6 avatars at once and I only need two of the positions, I need to find a way to modify the settings to fit my need.

The Dancemaster Pro uses preset formations such as lines, circles, grids and more to identify the locations. For each of these pre-defined formations the six positions are set. For example for a line, the order is avatar 1, avatar 2 ... avatar 6 in a straight line. The avatars are evenly spaced on that line. For example, let's start the line at x ,y ,z coordinates 32, 8, 1750 and we end the line at 37, 8, 1750. Avatar 1 is positioned at 32, 8, 1750, avatar 2 at 33, 8, 1750 ... avatar 6 at 37, 8, 1750.

For a circle formation with a circle of say diameter of 4 m, the six positions are set every 60 degrees around the circumference of the circle.

You choose the position number you want each avatar to be on. I always choose position 1 for the lead avatar, Nottoo in this case. In my previous two-person shows using the danceMaster Pro 6, I have used position 4 in one show and position 6 in the other for the second avatar. For this one I will use position 4 for Shadow. The main reason why I do this is that there you can only have 12 formations of each type (line, circle, etc.). Most of my formations are lines, but when I have exhausted all 12 line formations and need more formations, I can use circles just like lines by using position 1 and 4 since they are on opposite sides of the circle.

Let me show you an example entry for a formation in the *DM formation notecard

The first line is the name of the formation, in this example, L1. Line two defines the type of formation, a line in the example. Line 3 is the starting point of the line RELATIVE to the point called the origin, which was defined in the set up. If the origin in our example is at 32, 8, 1751, the start of the line is at 29, 8, 1751. Line 4 identifies the end of the line using the same approach. The last line in the example defines the orientation of the avatars, in this case facing right compared to the direction of the DanceMaster Pro. There are a lot of options in the formations that I wont go into, but now you should understand the basic idea.

So, I had to set the formations for Quien Sera. Where did I want the two avatars, Nottoo and Shadow during the Quien Sera song? Although I went into great detail about the choreography of the song, Quien Sera is really a pretty simple song to choreograph ... two dancers dancing the same sequence and the avatars not changing their centerpoints. If this were the entire show, I would have just used two poseballs. But, this is only a small part of the show. I planned for Nottoo to be positioned at the same centerpoint throughout the song, and I envisioned Shadow to be behind Nottoo about 1 m and 1 m to the audience's right. I wanted Nottoo in the center of the stage and a bit toward the audience.

My origin point is x ,y ,z 32.00000, 8.00000, 1751.00000. The stage center is x 32, y 8 and the audience is in the south direction. With all this information I decided I wanted Nottoo facing south at 32, 6, 1751. That meant that Shadow would face south at 33, 7, 1751. Since I have selected position 4 for Shadow, I need to calculate where the end of the line is to put Shadow where I want her. The end of the line is position 6. The DanceMaster has a means to help you with these calculations and I will use this help in future dances for this show, but for this dance I just calculated the sixth position using my geometry skills and found the end of the line at 33.67, 7.67, 1751.

All this boils down to my line formation that looks like this:
I know some of you have glazed eyes right now and are ready to say that show dancing is better done with freestyle choreography on a HUD or at most sequenced choreography with a HUD maybe using a controller like the DB system or XPOSE. There are many shows where the control system can be a HUD and it can be a very successful show, BUT if you have a show where precision in terms of dancing, position and movement (without jumping) is needed, you cannot achieve it without something like the DanceMaster Pro ... period. We still have one more notecard to go, so bear with me if you really want control.

This dance is the easiest in the show and I intend to make the other dances much more complex and intertwined. The choreography and use of the DanceMaster will get even more complex as we go on, BUT once you understand the basics, the more complex dances and movement will be easy to understand. I really hope that this show and the detailed description will help people advance their show creation skills.

Okay, off the soap box. Let's do the last notecard, *SOMBRA.

The final notecard is the step-by-step program that needs to be written to join the dances with the formations and allow movement and timing to be controlled. I don't know how to program, but I do understand the idea of a step-by-step process and that is all this is. The DanceMaster uses something called Performance Control Language or PCL, which is a simplified language that Bryndyn developed for the DanceMaster Pro. I don't plan to make you a PCL expert, since I am not one, but I will show you what I developed for this dance and explain what the lines mean.

Let me begin by explaining the three types of information in the PCL notecard.

The PCL notecard *SOMBRA has three basic types of information. Control Statements are the first type and are preceded by a period, for example:

.wait 10

means wait 10 seconds before you continue.

Sometimes, the control statements can be used as a marker, for example:

.section Part 1

is a reference point in the notecard. This is a helpful control statement for testing individual sections of the PCL notecard.

The second type of information are commands for the animations, formations or objects that the DanceMaster controls. With this concept you can see the the PCL notecard is executed by the DanceMaster one line at a time. So, something like

.wait 2

means that the dance with label QS-1 (for Shadow) starts, then immediately dance labelled QN-1 (for Nottoo) starts and they both go for 2 seconds before the line following the .wait 2 is executed.

formation L1 is another reference that means open formation L1 and the avatars will be moved to the exact positions defined by that formation in the *DM formation notecard.

The third and last type of information in the PCL notecard is just information for you. Any time you see a double hash mark // all of the information on that line that follows is ignored by the DancceMaster. This is helpful as it gives you a place to put in plain English (or your own language) what is going on at that point. As you will see when we finish all the dances that the PCL notecard will be long and these human language cues help a lot.

Here is the PCL notecard so far:

In the notecard there are a few things I have added that I had learned are needed to make it work. These are included in the instructions. What I want you to concentrate on is where .section Part 15 begins. You can see I first set up the formation L1 that positions Nottoo and Shadow, then I start on the sequence. You can see the labeled dances starting then waiting the appropriate length based on the choreography I did earlier. At the end I put a .pause statement for now.

I loaded all the notecards into the DanceMaster Pro 6 and reset it according to the instructions. I had learned previously how to make the DanceMaster run and ... ta da ... it worked. Nottoo and Shadow danced the sequence using the DanceMaster Pro.

All of the work to put the Quien Sera sequence into the DanceMaster took me about an hour.

A Final Comment for Today

We have covered a lot of information in this post. Don't despair. I have done choreography for a long time and those of you who are experienced choreographers will know that the choreography work for this first dance is pretty simple. If you are new to choreography, you need to gain experience in choreography for simple shows before you learn the DanceMaster for complex shows.

The DanceMaster part is not simple. The first time I did one dance, Razon de Vivir, using the DanceMaster it took me 125 hours to do it. About ten hours were spent choreographing and 115 learning the DanceMaster.

In this post you have learned to do the one-time set up of the DanceMaster and you have seen how to transfer the dance sequence made in the Barre to the Dancemaster as well as define the positions of the two dancers. You may need to read this note several times or even buy a DanceMaster and begin to play with it. If you are willing to work at it, you can learn the Dancemaster. It won't take you 115 hours the first time because you can refer to these posts and I will help you (so will Bryndyn), but be aware that the DanceMaster is the most complex system that a dancer can work with. It makes learning the Huddles or Barre or INTAN a piece of cake.

I will continue with the next post in a few days by showing you how to use the DanceMaster to move your avatar from position A to B without a jump, like walking from A to B.

So, that's all for now.