life of the party

dance diagram

justin fraumeni / mat johnson / amelia keller / jeremy warner

Light systems for live entertainment applications are traditionally rigid in design. For dance shows and concerts, light schemes are often pre-programmed scene by scene to synchronize with the energy of performances, a process that can be as inflexible as it is time-consuming. Lighting for party environments often reacts to music levels but can be repetitive and predictable. Through the creation of “Life of the Party”, we hope to create a system that will automatically respond to movement in a predefined space and change lighting levels to correspond with motion, adding a layer of real-time human interactivity to entertainment events. This software will be novel in its design and application, and more flexible and interactive than other lighting systems currently available on the market.


It is especially important that we define our requirements with what has been done in mind, to ensure the novelty of our system. From our research, the closest technology related to ours changes light scheme in real time based on music levels. We have found no experiments have been conducted with systems that determine lighting parameters from tracked users movements. Based on group discussion and the comments made by many of the poll subjects, we were able to formulate a basic framework of requirements that we can use as a starting point for our prototype.

Foremost, the accuracy of the system will depend on its ability to quantize the movements of the individuals in the space into interpretable data. The system must be able to unobtrusively measure and take averages of movement within a defined space, and relay that information to the processing algorithms which will control lights. This input system will ideally also function at different lighting levels, to adapt to the dim atmosphere at most parties. Initially, we will be testing it in a controlled light environment, and then adapt some controls later if there is time to add resilience for subpar lighting conditions.

The logic of the algorithms must be able to translate measurements of movement into corresponding and appropriate light sequences in real time. That is, it is to change lighting ideology when the general motion atmosphere of the room has changed, with as minimal delay as possible. It must do so in a translatable way that can be sent to the specially designed lights – ideally wirelessly – in order to decrease noticeability and “clunkiness” of the system that might interfere with the entertainment environment. The lights themselves should be programmable and have the ability to wirelessly respond to the computer processing logic and change scheme instantaneously. They should be able to produce a full spectrum of colors and illuminate a relatively large space.

The success of our system will be dependent on our user feedback. Therefore, we intend to involve our potential benefactors in every step of the system planning and design. This includes iterations of polling and interviewing, before, during and after prototype construction.

evaluation plan

Throughout the course of the prototype design, our team plans to conduct user trials and subsequent prototype revisions in order to fine-tune our system. These would involve potentially bringing subjects (technicians, dancers, and party goers) into the HCI lab to interact with the system in a controlled environment, and record their suggestions for improvement. This is especially crucial with a concept such as ours that has not been implemented in any form before. We need to be flexible enough to modify our requirements to suit user feedback and address these requirements in our prototype. A comprehensive final evaluation will also be conducted and will compare our prototype’s abilities up against the requirements we have formulated for the system.

To gauge interest in such a concept, 32 individuals were casually polled on their interest in interactive lighting. They were all asked the following question: “Does the idea of an interactive, motion-controlled lighting system at parties and concerts sound like it could improve your entertainment experience?” 72% of individuals were receptive to the idea and were enthusiastic about the concept, common comments included “I can’t wait to try it out”, or “That could be awesome!”. Those that expressed disinterest in the idea thought that their party and entertainment experience was adequate already, one participant noted: “I don’t think I’d notice a difference.”

expert interviews

To investigate the subject further, our team plans to query University of Rochester Event Support Technicians or Supervisors who run lighting systems for live performances and gather their experiences and suggestions to shape our final product. Participants will be asked about their experience interacting with clients in the lighting design process as well as their ideas for our system. We will attempt to question as many individuals as possible because the number of individuals that have expertise in live entertainment lighting is limited.


The system is implemented with three hardware components: The Kinect outputs its position and depth metrics to a computer hub containing the program files, scripts, and libraries through a high-speed USB connection, at an update rate equal to the Kinect’s frame rate of 30 fps average. The computer hub then sends update commands to the SakioLEDs through their self-generated, dedicated wireless network.

color select

  • SaikoLED: The custom-built SaikoLED lights provide full spectrum RGB color and utilize an integrated Arduino microcontroller to generate a wireless network, through which color can be manipulated.
  • OpenNI SDK: OpenNI is an open source C++ image processing library which can be used to interface Xbox Kinect with Unix-based systems. OpenNI provides access to the euclidian coordinates of 15 “joint” data points on up to 6 concurrent users within the Kinect’s view field.
  • Kinect for Xbox: Kinect is a motion sensing device originally designed for use with the Xbox 360 platform. The Kinect features an RGB camera and depth sensor, which it uses to track the full body movement of multiple users in three dimensions. Critical to our application, the depth sensor utilizes an infrared laser and CMOS sensor allowing it to quantize position points in low lighting levels.
  • Python Liblo: Liblo is an implementation of the Open Sound Control protocol for POSIX systems. Our system utilized pyliblo, an implementation in python, to communicate between the laptop hub and the SaikoLED’s specific IP address.

dance diagram

controls - github

Connect to the SaikoLED network:

sudo ./moodConnect

Change all lights manually (rgb in [0,1]):

python ./LED-control/ r g b

Change one light manually (node in [3,4,5], rgb in [0,1]):

python ./LED-control/ node r g b

Control the lights with the kinect:


Control the lights with the kinect (multiple user support):


Disconnect from the SaikoLED network:

sudo ./moodDisconnect
user joint position, velocity, and acceleration

OpenNI stores the number of users within its view field in an array register automatically as they appear, and assigns them a corresponding ID. Users can then be referenced by this ID and euclidian position of skeleton joints and extremities can then be extracted. Upon every camera frame, euclidian distance is calculated between the current and prior position of a selected joint of a dancer. The first implementations of Life of the Party rely on the right hand as a representation of dance intensity. Average velocity is computed for each user using a recent history of distance values and time change. This, in turn, is used to calculate an acceleration value for each user. These metrics are now ready to be used in the color selection algorithms to determine the light control command sent.

net positive and net negative assignment

Velocity is interpreted by the program logic as either “net positive” or “net negative”, depending on its direction in euclidian space. Velocities directed to the right and upwards from the perspective of the Kinect are considered “net positive”, and those directed downwards and to the left are considered “net negative”. This interpretation will be critical to the functionality of the color selection algorithm.

multiple user functionality

When the system is extended to multiple users, the highest average velocity and acceleration values for a frame are selected as inputs for the color selection algorithm. Generally, the most active user during each the frame determines the color selection command sent.

color selection algorithm

The color selection algorithm has a base threshold of 1 m/s, average velocities below this are too slow to be used in color selection and considered noise. Average velocities greater than 1 m/s contribute to a direct color change “velocity” around the RGB color wheel, in a direction defined according to the net direction of the velocity: clockwise for “net positive” and counterclockwise for “net negative”. This specification is made because of the fundamental nature of many styles of dance, which feature alternating directional movements. The ideal end result is alternating color change between two colors adjacent on the color wheel, in phase with dance moves.

complementary color jumping

Abrupt, intense movement by dancers results in immediate color change. These movements are characterized by high acceleration values. Acceleration values which exceed a constant threshold result in a color “jump” across the color wheel to a complementary color. You can check out a video of it in action (here).


Before design of the prototype was began, the group conducted an interview with Mark Romano, University of Rochester’s Event Support Technical Coordinator, to get an idea for the applicability of a motion-controlled entertainment light system. He was asked the following:

  • What technology does Event support use to program light schemes for live performances?
  • Could you think of any limitations of that technology?
  • What are the steps taken when working with clients to design light schemes?
  • What are some of the challenges that you face during that process?
  • What do you think can be done to make the process easier?
  • Do you see potential in automated light schemes that change in real time based on motion parameters of a dance performance?

During the interview, Mark described a need for a plug-and-play system that could be implemented in a short period of time, when a rehearsal would be impractical or impossible. He also stated that oftentimes the challenge coming into rehearsal is that dancers won’t know what they want when it comes to light design, a statement that was reiterated when our group interviewed members of Louvre later in the semester. Two iterations of user demo and evaluation took place, in between prototype versions of the system. The first of these involved 11 individuals. The volunteers were debriefed on the functionality of the system and allowed to interact with it freely. They were then queried on their reaction and suggestions as follows:

  • What is your past experience with live dance performance and light schemes? (if applicable)
  • How would you rate the responsiveness of the system? Could you see a high correlation between your movements and the lights?
  • What were some of the problems you encountered while using the system?
  • Could you see yourself using the system at a party or dance event in place of sound controlled lighting?
  • What was your overall opinion of the system?
  • What features could be added to improve the system?

Feedback received during the first iteration was mixed. All users expressed the potential for the system enthusiastically: 100% responded that they saw themselves using the system at a party in place of sound controlled lighting, however many were confused about the correlation between their movements and the color change, in the words of one user “sometimes the color change was too unpredictable.” The first round of user demos led to several key changes in the system, including the positive/negative color shifting concept, implemented in order to increase the correspondence and predictability of the color change to motion. The second iteration of user study recruited members of Louvre, the University of Rochester ballet dance group to perform with the system. The performance, along with the interview that followed Dance Interview, highlighted the improvements, along with several key remaining weaknesses of the system that are revealed when the system is scaled to multiple concurrent users:

  • Delay: The time delay that openNI implements between dropping and adding users to its register can prove problematic to a performance where dancers are entering and leaving the viewfield.
  • Occlusion: While the Kinect has rich 3D image processing abilities, recognition failure still occurs when users are superimposed.
  • Overreactivity: Depending on the style and intensity of dance, sensitivity must be tuned to avoid erratic light change.


Our prototype meets the expectations we set for it back in the planning stage, namely that it could vary a lighting scheme dynamically based on a user’s motion. We also extended this but allowing for multiple user support, in a sort of multiplexing fashion, where the lights would respond to whoever is the fastest moving, based on the feedback from an interview with Louvre dancers after they used an early version of the system that only supported one user. We also received nearly ubiquitous feedback that people would like to use our lighting system in a party scenario to enhance the experience with interactivity. In sum, while our system has faults that can be expected with the application of the Kinect itself, the enthusiasm and excitement of the people that demoed it speaks for itself. The system achieves the goals that we had at the beginning of the project, and while it is a long way from being practically applicable, represents a novel frontier for Human Computer Interaction.

Acknowledgements to Event Support, Louvre Dance Group, ROC HCI, Alex Wilson, Prof. Hoque, Michelle Fung, Computer Science Department, Open Source Software and Firmware (Arduino, SaikoLED, OpenNI). Thank you!

© 2017 / jeremy b. warner / email