Mixed Reality, January 2017

Heros poster image


  • Melissa Painter


  • Experience design
  • Technology strategy
  • Unity3d development
  • Monitoring tools
  • Installation management
Melissa Painter (Founder / Creative Director at MAP Design Lab) brought Helios Dance Theater, MPC VR, and Glowbox together to create HEROES— a two-part virtual performance / art experience set in mixed realities. Premiering at Sundance in the festival’s New Frontier art exhibition in 2017, the piece reinterpreted David Bowie’s iconic song into two experiences, a ‘duet’ between augmented and virtual reality. Melissa worked with two acroyoga dancers (Helios) to capture a choreographed performance to Bowie’s Heroes in the historic United Artists Theatre at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles. HEROES presented both ‘dance’ and ‘venue’ in a refreshing and creative format designed to be experienced with both GearVR Headsets and Microsoft’s HoloLens (AR).
Frame from one of the dance phrases
Frame from one of the dance phrases
Premier at Ace Theatre, Downtown LA
Premier at Ace Theatre, Downtown LA
The first iteration of HEROES transported the viewer, donned in a VR headset, into a striking 360-degree depiction of the theater to enjoy a cinematic and intimate dance performance. The piece began with two dancers submerging into the hotel’s pool (located above the theater), ‘falling’ onto the impressive stage below as their bodies entwined in a fluid dance that ignores gendered stereotypes of strength and intimacy.
Following the VR portion, the visitor was invited to participate in an immersive rendition of the piece using an AR headset, adorned with 3D-printed motifs from the hotel’s pool to offer a bit of glam in Bowie’s honor. Looking through the HoloLens, the room would materialize a floating miniature version of the virtual performance they had just experienced, almost like 3D déjà vu. Following prompts within the environment, the viewer could conjure, manipulate, and multiply the same theater and dancers using a variety of voice commands and body gestures, sending palm-sized dancers spinning through the air— a surreal and custom performance unique to each participant.
HEROES, in its VR form, was built by MPC VR with the Unity game engine using 360-degree cameras and photogrammetry while employing traditional media techniques, such as 2D video capture, painting, animation, and dance. At Glowbox, we were able to transform the virtual performance into an immersive AR experience, implementing the theater and motion captured choreography into a fun and pliable exploration that would be unique to each visitor. Augmented reality in this context changes the way we can consume performance, playing with space, scale, and interaction in ways you wouldn’t see in the velvet seats of a theater. We included an assortment of voice and body commands for the visitor to have agency of their experience, allowing them to control how they experienced the performance the second time around while getting to move their own body too.
HEROES demonstrated how, when combined, multiple mediums and platforms can be amazingly symbiotic, allowing for a wider range of perspectives that complement each other. The piece(s) incorporated dance, intimacy, architecture, history, and interactivity within new media and new perspectives, redefining how we experience performance virtually and physically as they overlap. Our physicality won’t be lost in virtual space, entertainment doesn’t have to separate us from our minds or our bodies.
Behind the scenes at Sundance New Frontiers
Behind the scenes at Sundance New Frontiers
Hand tracking integration with Kinect
Hand tracking integration with Kinect
Modified headset to better fit the experience
Modified headset to better fit the experience
The team behind Heroes
The team behind Heroes


  • Lead Artist
  • Melissa Painter
  • Key Collaborators
  • Tim Dillon
  • Thomas Wester
  • Jason Schugardt
  • Laura Gorenstein Miller
  • Eric Adrian Marshall, Producer
  • Laura Gorenstein Miller, Choreography
  • Caroleen Feeney, Executive Producer Of Dance
  • Diana Mehoudar, Assistant Dance Director
  • Carly Wilson, VR Producer
  • Camera Crew
  • Csilla Kozma
  • Shawn Dufraine
  • Jeff Samuelson
  • Art And Lighting
  • Dimitri Reuse
  • Chris Ernst
  • Jim Spratling
  • Joey Verbeke, Sound Design
  • In Partnership
  • MAP Design Lab
  • MPC VR
  • Helios Dance Theater
  • With The Support Of
  • Unity Technologies
  • Oculus
  • Nokia Ozo
  • The Theater at Ace Hotel
  • House of Moves
  • MxR Labs
  • Principal Cast
  • Helios Dance Theater
  • Stephanie Maxim
  • Chris Stanley
  • Melissa Sandvig

Tools & Technologies

  • Unity3d
  • Hololens
  • Kinect