You were well established in China as a stage artist and later as
a television journalist. Why did you decide to come to Canada?
A lot of people who work in the arts in China never leave, often
because they don’t have the language skills to work somewhere
else. I could easily see the rest of my life unfolding there, but I
was eager to see what was happening in the rest of the world,
so I started studying English so I could pass the proficiency
exams and go abroad. Maybe I just like a challenge.
What did you do once you arrived here?
I started my academic career over again. I was interested in
computer animation and found some important mentors at
Concordia University who introduced me to the emerging area of
computational media. That included Peter Grogono in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, and Jason Lewis,
who holds the University Research Chair in Computational Media
and the Indigenous Future Imaginary. They helped me create the
Illimitable Space System, which became the subject of my PhD
thesis in 2012. This technique uses a Kinect camera from an
Xbox game console to collect data about how actors or dancers
are moving on a stage. This information is then processed by a
computer to create images that can be presented while the performance is happening.
How has it been to bring engineers and computer programmers
together with people who make their living in the arts?
The technology we are developing makes it easier for directors and
performers to express themselves, without having to accommodate
the equipment on stage. The technology has constraints but it is
also progressing. A lot of people expect the graphics to look fake,
but once they see it they realize that these projections do not just
capture the movements of the performers, they are a separate
performance that is happening at the same time. In my thesis, I
described how this technology was changing the attitude toward
what is called “poor theatre,” where the stage has almost no props
and actors wear only plain outfits. The multimedia technology looks
Spotlight on Miao Song
and computational media
very simple and takes up very little room, but it has the potential to
turn “poor theatre” into “rich theatre,” adding extra dimensions that
have never been incorporated into traditional theatre forms. I believe
that this technology will become a very big part of these art forms.
Where have you applied this technology?
I initially used it to enhance a film documentary I had made, so
that viewers in a theatre could create virtual reality images like
those you would see on an interactive website. It subsequently
appeared at a Chinese New Year gala hosted by the Montreal
Centre of Chinese Culture and Arts. I later incorporated the software from the Illimitable Space System into several scenes of a
play called “Like Shadows,” which was a collaboration between
Concordia University and the Central Academy of Drama in Bei-jing. The play was performed for the public in 2014 and it might
have been the first time ever that real-time interactive media was
used for a traditional theatre production in China. Each of these
performances has provided experience and data that have given us
the confidence to keep working on this system. It also gave me the
confidence to become founder of the Canada China International
Film Festival, which began just this past September. The festival
included an Entertainment Technology Summit and Exhibition
where people from industry and academia could meet to exchange
ideas and technology, and form partnerships.
With these new modes of presentation, do you ever worry that
the original beauty of traditional art forms might be compromised
Traditional art is beautiful; it’s eternal. But I do believe that this
new technology can give you a lot more possibilities for expressing
yourself through art. From the bottom of my heart, I believe there
is no conflict. This is a way of bringing traditional art into the wider
entertainment industry, so more people can experience it. That
includes the artists themselves, who may only think about showing audiences how they see the world; this interactive technology
makes artists learn how audiences see the world.
SMART IDEAS TELLING CANADIAN STORIES
Smart Ideas: Q&A
This series sponsored by the Federation
for the Humanities and Social Sciences
features notable humanities and social
sciences researchers with smart ideas for
a better tomorrow. This month, we speak
with Miao Song, an affiliate assistant professor in Concordia University’s Faculty of
Engineering and Computer Science.
Learn how smart ideas are helping build a better tomorrow
Learn more here: ideas-idees.ca/smart-ideas idees-ideas.ca/bonnes-idees