Illuminated Flying Objects

Interdisciplinary workshop with BA students (Z-module), Aug/Sept. 2020

During two weeks, groups of students from different art and design programs, conceived and constructed helium drones (airships or balloons with drone navigation control) and developed a spatial installation concept including a 3D sound design. The illumination of the helium drones is achieved either by remote controlled moving lights or by projection mapping. The movement of the drones is controlled by a computer-aided tracking system.

The Z-module with the German title Tanz der fliegenden Lichtobjekte resulted in a variety of exciting flying objects, including a floating manta ray (cf. picture below). The workshop is based on the findings and methods of the artistic research project Helium Drones.

Teaching staff:
Martin Fröhlich (Immersive Arts Space)
Roman Jurt (Design & Technology Lab)
Nadia Fistarol (MA&BA stage design)
Johannes Schütt (Institute for Computer Music and Sound Technology)

Photo by Urs Berlinger ©ZHdK 2020

Helium Drones

Photo by Lars Kienle, ZHdK ©2019

The Helium Drone project seeks to explore the aesthetic properties of installations based on floating devices that can autonomously navigate in space. In its complete state it will be a flocking swarm of diverse drones in different forms and shapes, each behaving in its individual way and interact with each other and the spectators on the ground. It will use the tracking system for location and navigation and the projection mapping system to wrap them into dynamically created ‘skins’.

A technological groundwork is laid out, with the goal to design a framework to quickly prototype and build helium drones with different shapes and propulsion concepts that integrate easily with the current technical setup of the IASpace. This involves the research for suitable materials and processes to build the floating volume, design of mechanical structures, electronics and network protocols, the evaluation and testing of motor and servos and the integration of motion and sensor data for autonomous flying capabilities (among many other things).

Involving many different skills, from designing and building physical structures to programming behaviors and creating interactive textures that are projected onto the creatures, it will be attractive to a wide spectrum of disciplines and a playground to experience multidisciplinary teamwork. There will also be an open source toolkit with instructions that can be made accessible to the public.

Photo by Lars Kienle, ZHdK ©2019

A spin-off of the Helium Drones project will be presented at the REFRESH conference: A short performance with the title Floating in Dancing Lights will premiere on Thursday, Sept 17th, 19:30h at the Immersive Arts Space.


Project lead, motion tracking, projection mapping: Martin Fröhlich
Robotics, motion control, sensor integration: Max Kriegleder
Micro-controller, networks, protocols: Joel Gähwiler
Materials, rapid prototyping, construction: Roman Jurt
Theory: Serena Cangiano

Home in the Distance

Home in the Distance is based on a short story, written by director and vfx artist Andreas Dahn when he was about 17 years old. In his residency at the Immersive Arts Space he turns his story into a 3D animated short film.

In contrast to the traditional animation and vfx workflow, which is heavily based on storyboarding and previsualization, the conscious decision was made to leave out these steps, in order to find out if new technologies make it possible to create a more emotional and spontaneous film experience.  

The character was sculpted by hand with dough and photogrammetry was used to create the virtual model. Rigging was done with Human IK in Autodesk Maya. Students from the 3D Akademie Stuttgart helped to model the set and props. In addition, an actor`s performance was motion-captured with OptiTrack in the IASpace at the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK). The camera work will be done with a VR tool, developed by Mirko Lempert (Stockholm University ot the Arts) and Simon Alexandersson (Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm) and rendered in realtime in Unity.

Andreas Dahn (writer and director) on the left, with Pascal Holzer (actor) on the right, during MoCap recording.

Crew at ZHdK
Cast: Pascal Holzer
Mocap coaching: Corinne Soland
Mocap recording: Norbert Kottmann
Further ZHdK support: Valentin Huber, Robin Disch, Marco Quandt, Lucien Sadkowski, Andreas Birkle, Chantal Haunreiter, Claudia Hürlimann, Thomas Gerber, Stefan Jäger,  Martin Fröhlich

ZHdK Residency
The residency at the Zurich University of the Arts has been made possible by the Ernst Göhner Foundation, Switzerland, as well as by additional support of the ZHdK film program (led by Sabine Boss) and by the Immersive Arts Space (led by Prof. Christian Iseli).

Crew at 3D Akademie Stuttgart
Props & set modeling & texturing: Gerrit Gaietto, Katharina Rodak, Kimberly Niesner Pierre Urbanek (Head of 3D Akademie)

Further crew members
Unity VR support: Mirko Lempert, Simon Alexanderson
Junior producer: Jana Günther
Assistent director: Aimée Torre Brons
Sound design: Luis Schöffend, Marc Fragstein
Title design: Timo Kreitz
Screenplay translation: Karen Ma
Special thanks: David Maas, Renate Schirrow, Ella Steiner, Felix Bucella, Alireza Sibaei, Astrid Weitzel 

Performance Capture Workshop

Neil Newbon and participants during the workshop

The UK based company Performance Captured Academy (PCAUK) was invited to introduce the basics of Motion and Performance Capture to the participants. Neil Newbon, Performance Capture Artist and Director together with his team gave an inspiring look into the possibilities of creating characters through body language. The participants got used to their tracked body movement, played with different somatic types and shapes and learned a new on set vocabulary. Creature work as well as basic walk cycles were part of the training.The workshop endend with a performance of Newbon at the Actor/Avatar conference, where he invited performers from the workshop to join in.

The technical setup included the motion capture tracking system, guaranteeing real time performance of up to eight virtual characters in virtual environments. Furthermore, a face performance tracking system was used with a face rigging software.

Cast & Crew

  • Performance Capture Mentor Team: Neil Newbon, Saleta Losada, Frazer Blaxland (PCAUK)
  • Motion Capture & Unity: Tobias Baumann, Norbert Kottmann, Benjamin Thoma, Oliver Sahli, Chris Elvis Leisi
  • Overall Support: Martin Fröhlich
  • Project Lead: Corinne Soland


Zurich University of the Arts ZHdK
Immersive Arts Space 
Pfingstweidstrasse 96
CH-8005 Zurich
+41 43 446 53 53

Location map

Immersive Arts

Prof. Christian Iseli

Chantal Haunreiter: Manager
Kristina Jungic: Space producer
Sébastien Schiesser: Space technician
Corinne Soland: Motion capture coach
Nadja Kirchhofer: Administrative assistant

Research & Development
Martin Fröhlich: Operating lead / projection mapping
Tobias Baumann: Motion capture / face capture
Florian Bruggisser: Volumetric capture / 3D laser scanning
Valentin Karl Huber: Virtual production / photogrammetry
Norbert Kottmann: Virtual production / previsualization
Eric Larrieux: 3D audio / interactive audio
Chris Elivis Leisi: Virtual reality / game applications
Aguirre Patxi Exequiel: Animation / tech workflows
Oliver Sahli: Virtual reality / game applications
Stella Speziali: Projection mapping / visual concepts


Members of the ZHdK can find additional information on technical equipment, support services and project registration here:


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Immersive Arts Space

The Immersive Arts Space is a university-wide art/tech lab that serves as a research, teaching and production platform. The aim of the IASpace is the implementation of innovative and interdisciplinary projects in the context of a technologically-supported artistic examination of immersion, virtuality and simulation. The activities in the IASpace are oriented towards contemporary aesthetic and methodological directions in international design and art. They are based on a transdisciplinary approach and a critical stance.

Generating live visuals and interactive music using Motion Capture.  (Photo by Martin Fröhlich, ZHdK 2018)

In its pilot operation, a wide range of applications for motion and performance capture, 3D audio, projection mapping and volumetric capturing methods are evaluated. These technologies can be applied in the fields of Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) as well as complex real-time visualizations and simulations. The equipment of the IASpace is also characterized by a juxtaposition of highly professional technology on the one hand and consumer products on the other. Tablets, smartphones and low-cost low-tech solutions are primarily used for fast prototyping.

Immersive Arts

Based on the concept of immersion, Immersive Arts deals with mediated and performative processes of involvement in which the boundaries of the medium or the work dissolve and the viewers or users seem to become one with their mediated environment. In the 1990s, the term immersion was primarily used in connection with game theory, virtual reality and other technology-supported art forms. Yet it also refers to a long tradition in art history of creating illusions 1). In this context, the so-called perceptual immersion (also called spatial immersion or presence) is prioritized. The intensity of the immersive experience is governed by the realism of the imagery and sound, and by the potential to physically interact with the mediatized environment2).

Immersive Arts is located within a force field formed by the convergence of film, games, music, sound design, and the visual and performing arts and is dedicated to the transdisciplinary artistic exploration of state-of-the-art technology. The contemporary horizon of experience in this field draws upon virtual reality, augmented reality, real-time simulations and the mixing of media and performative practices to enable technology-based research and teaching.
Immersive Arts is related to and overlapping with the fields of Digital Art, Virtual Art, Interactive Art, Sound Art, Pervasive Games, Immersive Theatre and Expanded Cinema.

1)  Cf. Grau, Oliver. Virtual Art – From Illusion to Immersion. MIT Press, 2003.
2)  Another primary form is story immersion (also: narrative immersion), which can become apparent, for example, when consuming a film or a novel. Empathy and imagination play a pivotal role in this experience. The terminology here can be traced back to media psychology. On story immersion see among others: Lu, Thompson, Baranowski, Buday, & Baranowski, 2012 as well as Suckfüll & Scharkow, 2009. On perceptual immersion or presence see Lombard & Ditton, 1997, Kaplanis, Bech, Jensen, & van Waterschoot, 2014.