Dance Tools for Animation, Movement, Sets, and Coordination

During this workshop we explore different types of dance tools, a suggested process for learning, and tools available from Spot On, MetaHarpers, Multi-scene, and Barre.

We dance in our shower. We dance in our kitchen. We’ve danced in our living room in just socks and underwear like Tom Cruise in Risky Business – admit it.

In SL it’s a little more work, we need tools to control our avatar and do those magical dance things we want to do. There are four main categories of tools/functions to accomplish this, and you have options for each.

Types of functions:

  • Animations/Creating Dance Animation Sequences
  • Movers – to move or turn your dancer’s avatar position
  • Rezzers – for transporting and rezzing sets and set props in different locations
  • Coordination – using a central tool to coordinate the individual functions for your performance

Do you have to have every one of these tools before you create a dance? No! I highly recommend starting from the top, learning the tool well, and then focusing on the next. Trying to learn everything at once is generally an act of frustration that can shake your confidence and even dissuade you from dance.

Foundation Tool 1: Animation and Choreography/Sequence HUD

A dance is made up of individual animations played in an order to create the body movement of dance. Animation HUDs allow you to control those animations easily and all work basically the same way.

By loading animations into the HUD contents and wearing the HUD, you now have a list of animations on your screen. Press the animation button, and the hud will play the animation. Move through the pages to choose different animations.

Animation HUDs designed for dance allow you to create animation sequences. A sequence is basically a list of animations in a specific order. There are two types of sequences, timed and untimed. A timed sequence is a list of animations with a time associated. For timed sequences, after the sequence is started it will continue playing the animations in their timed order. Example:

0|Animation 1
8.9765|Animation 2
22.4522|Animation 3
46.1299|Animation 4

Untimed sequences are a list of animations in an order you designate. To play the sequence, you manually select each animation when you would like that animation start. Example:

Animation 1
Animation 3
Animation 1
Animation 4
Animation 2

There are two primary ways to create a sequence: recording or manual timing. In recording a sequence, you select the record button on your HUD and play animations in the specific order for the amount of time you choose. After selecting stop, there is generally a button that will post in local chat the specific animation names and timing based on when you changed the animations. You also have the option to manually create this timed list or edit the recorded timings.

Once your sequence is created using either method, you can then play this sequence from your dance animation HUD for your performance.

There are three primary animation HUDs used in dance:

  • Spot On Smooth Dancer
  • MetaHarpers Choreo HUD (Dancer or Director editions)
  • Barre Dance HUD (Groups Version)

Each animation HUD, while similar in basic functionality, has its own benefits:

Spot On Smooth Dancer:

  • Easy to use, designed specifically for creating dance choreography/sequences
  • Integrates with the entire Spot On suite of tools
  • Easy to record and edit sequences
  • Has 5 hot key buttons and can also add shout commands in sequences to trigger other tools – like movers, set rezzers, effects, etc.
  • Maximum of 40 dancers
  • Can’t play different sequences for groups (the Spot On Performance Director is required for groups)

MetaHarpers Choreo HUD (Dancer/Director Edition):

  • Integrates with MetaHarpers show tools, including the camera system
  • Can see multiple pages at a time – example: animations and invite pages
  • Can create and play sequences for groups
  • Maximum of 80 dancers
  • Many other features
  • Note – I have very little experience with MetaHarpers system, only just beginning to learn it. Please check their website for additional info and the difference between the dancer and director HUD: MetaHarpers

Barre Dance HUD:

  • Can handle a large number of dancers. I frequently use it for 50-60 avatars
  • To my knowledge, may be the most popular tool for large crowd dances and freestyling
  • Can rez poseballs for people to sit on for dance invites, wear an inviter for people to touch, or manually invite avatars

Which dance animation HUD you choose is going to be your own personal choice. If you are interested in a specific dance company, you may wish to find out which tool they use. Also consider the resources available for support, website, workshops, support groups. In addition, identify what your goals are and which tools may fit your needs best. Definitely take a look at Spot On and MetaHarpers websites!

Foundation Tool 2: Mover System

Animations will naturally add movement to your dancers but animations play from “avatar center”, the spot where your dancer is standing. A mover system allows you to “physically” move your dancer to different places on (or off!) the stage, to turn them at angles, and even raise or lower them. Ready to leap tall buildings in a single bound?

A mover system can greatly enhance your dance, allowing you to put your dancers in formations or add additional movement to draw attention. Mover systems generally have a pad or spot for each of your dancers to stand on and waypoints to create a “route” for your dancers to follow.

Do you have to have a mover system to perform a dance?

Not at all. Because animations naturally move your dancers, it is not absolutely necessary to use a mover system for your performance. If just beginning to choreograph, focus on learning your dance animation HUD, creating sequences, and becoming comfortable with how to use it for a performance before adding a mover system to your toolbox. A simple pose ball can be perfectly adequate! The best dance mover routes will never overcome poor or or rushed choreography in a dance performance.

Examples of why you may want to add movements to a dance:

  • Make a dramatic entrance or exit, moving dancers in from the sides for example
  • Turn your dancers at an angle or facing each other, changing the audience view (and appearance!) of the animations
  • Enhance walking or spinning animations, moving dancers to create natural animation movement
  • Add interest by changing placement/formations of your dancers
  • To emphasize specific points of the music – example: move dancers to the edge of the stage for an “in your face” effect
  • Draw attention to different areas of the stage/interact with stage props, leaping over rocks, etc.
  • Move dancers across stage or even down into the audience
  • For at least some mover systems – you can link objects to movers, and move set props during your dance

Is this ALL the reasons? Not even close! It is only limited by your imagination and limitations of your mover system.

Additional things to consider:

  • Often less is more. “Too many” moves may be distracting to your audience.
  • When you move your dancers, it is much more natural when the animation matches the movement – walking, spinning, moving feet, etc. If the animation has your dancer’s feet planted to the floor and you move them, this creates a slide. Unless your dancer is a blob or some other kind of creature, slides usually look unnatural and distracting.
  • Don’t add movement just because someone “said you have to”. This is your creation, do what feels right to YOU for the dance.

There are three primary mover systems used in dance:

  • Spot On Choreography Design System
  • Spot On Formation System
  • MetaHarpers Show Tools

Because each suite of tools is designed to work seamlessly with other tools in the suite, it is generally recommended to remain consistent – especially when learning.

Note: Once comfortable with whatever initial system/tools you choose, there’s no reason you can’t learn others for the additional capabilities it adds to your toolbox! Always keep learning : )

Foundation Tool 3: Rezzer System for Rezzing Sets and Stage Props

So, why would you need a rezzer? What is a rezzer?

A rezzer is a type of tool that allows you to “record” the relative position of one or more objects, load the objects into the tool, and rez out the objects in their relative position at another location. Example: you build a dance set on your build platform, record the positions and pack the pieces in your rezzer. Now, you can bring the rezzer to your dance stage and rez your set with the touch of a button. After performing, click a “derez” button or shout a command to remove your stage.

A rezzer provides the ability to easily pack up your set and take it to whatever dance venue you perform at. Easily rez and derez your set, and conveniently store your set in inventory. In addition, rezzers can rez multiple objects at the same time and/or your linked set.

Do you have to have a set rezzer?

Technically no. You could link your set pieces or pick them up together and take them into your inventory. You can then go to your performance stage, rez it and move it into position. Once you’ve positioned it, if you take it back into inventory you may be able to “restore to last position” depending on the sim.

Potential issues:

  • Accidentally wearing your set instead of rezzing it (raises guilty hand)
  • Restore to last position may not be available on every sim
  • If rezzing issues occur due to SL lag/issues, may be more difficult to get your set in place

There are 3 primary set rezzing tools used in the dance world:

  • Spot On Stage Manager
  • MetaHarpers Show Tools
  • Multi-Scene Rezzer

Spot On Stage Manager:

  • Uses a stage locations notecard which contains the center point location of each sim stage. When rezzing a set, everything is rezzed based on location of this center point.
  • Can only use one stage manager which you own within a 96 meter radius. (I generally space mine 200 meters.)

MetaHarpers Show Tools:

  • Set rezzing is seamlessly combined into the MetaHarpers Show Tool which controls all aspects of your performance.
  • Uses a stage centerpoint object to mark center stage. Objects are rezzed based on this centerpoint object.

Multi-Scene Rezzer:

  • Rezzes based on location of the rezzer box and relative location of the set when it was packed. Example: rez the rezzer to the ground and rez your set. Pick up the rezzer and move it 10m away. Re-rez your set. You will see it now rezzes in a different location.
  • Can use multiple rezzers in one location at the same time


Coordination Tools: Pulling it All Together

So, you’re now well on your way with creating and performing dance sequences, using movers in your dance, and rezzing your sets. Now you may ask “is there an easier way to do all this?”

There are two primary suites of dance tools available – Spot On and MetaHarpers

Spot On:

Spot On tools are designed to work with each other, the Smooth Dancer animation HUD can start your movers and rez your set for example. It is limited, however, as it does not have “groups” – allocating dancers into categories or “groups”. Example: dancer 1, 2, 3 in the “Left” group and dancers 4, 5, 6 in the “Right” group. Using groups adds the ability to have dancers perform different animations based on what group they are in, and also issue commands to a specific group. Example: Group left dancers activate a particle on command.

In the Spot On system, the Spot On Performance Director is designed specifically to coordinate the different functions and to also allow dancer groups. Performance Director works with the choreography design system system to identify the dancer number and play the appropriate mover route, can play the sequences created using the Smooth Dancer HUD, and rez/derez of the set can be incorporated in the dance “routine” or with “hot keys” you can easily set up.