The Extimacy Dress WIP blog

Betty Zhang
9 min readDec 14, 2017

This is a summary of the research blog contents originally posted on my Wordpress blog documenting the progress of the project and the research in my thesis.

This summary follows a backwards timeline of the project. The final outcome is available on my website.

Morphogenesis performed by Amy Louise Cartwright wearing the Extimacy Dress at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London, UK. December 15, 2017

November 2017

Rehearsal with Jen Irons for stage performance

We did a couple of stage rehearsals with Jen Irons and sorted out many logistics that associated with the live performance of the dress. In the performance, we are using projection mapping and buttons activating the moving dress. These elements need to be shown along with the story that we’ve build around the dress.

Work in progress video of the entire process of making the dress

We used choreographic methodologies to start off bodystorming through shape making and imagining the scenario working with the technological limitations of realizing this performance.

We did a photoshoot and video documentation of the concepts explored in this project. We learned some more changes to be done for the dress because it will be moving a lot and the dancer discovered how she should move with this costume on. This also changed the choreography slightly, and we continued using voice direction in directing the video.
These are some of the final storyboards for the video giving the video an overall guideline and to know what shots we need to take.

By now, I’ve finished making the motors for the costume and started working on the exhibition as well as choreography with the dancer, Amy Cartwright.

To project on windows, there are a lot of limitations such as lighting, material, clarity etc. I tried to project the video with regular paper covering the windows on the left but clearly it was invisible during the day. In the evening, I tried with projection film and complete darkness in the rooms and the image was much more clear. To make this exhibition work, the space will need to be as dark as possible with the film covering all windows.
Sketch for the exhibition space, having projections in the windows. After consideration, we extended this video installation to all 10 windows across the gallery.
Storyboard for a 10 window format, a lot can be played with here because of the format. We can have the dancer walk across the windows or use mirroring and play with size to give different effects.
This is a mock up of the dancer in the windows, we used this to test and see what colours and contrast worked the best for the exhibition.
While voice directing, I let the performer, Amy interpret the story and emotions in her movements
The final electronics to be attached to the dress. We found that the felt is not strong enough so it needs to be re-enforced.

October 2017

I was able to get 3 motors to start and stop with 3 buttons. This is the core of the moving dress so I’m pretty happy about that. Now I need to make it more compact and attach to the dress while the performer moves with it. We used a digital pull-up resistor in the code so we don’t have to connect resistors, then we used 3 TinkerKit Mosfet Modules to communicate between the Arduino and motors.
More storyboards on how the performance will go and what movements can be make with the costume on.
We did fitting sessions with the performer to make sure the costume will fit and work well during the performance. I participated in how the structure of the costume would look.

I really enjoy being part of the costume and performance as well as being the main interaction designer. I learn a lot from collaboration and can use my other skills towards the whole project.

There are many parts to the outcome of this project:

  • performance choreography
  • performance visual projection
  • video documentation
  • photo documentation
  • how and when will the costume move
We tried using muscle wire and motors, but the muscle wire turned out to have much more complications, when we heated it up, it burnt all the threads and this means it is very difficult to work with so we might not use it for now, unless we must. Then we attached all 3 accordions to 3 motors and attempted to move then separately. It worked really well and it will be better implemented when the dress is more complete.

Building a story for the dress

The performance happens between when you walk into a room and your body feels like it is attracted to another person and you show a series of micro movements that show that while your clothing is transforming to show that as well until you are performing large gestures and makes contact with person.

performer goes from nothing and calm breathing to faster breathing then last big breath holds at the top and ends with a “hello” like when you are in love with someone even saying an initial hello makes you flustered.

I looked at other music videos and fashion videos for inspiration on gestures and video effects.

Bodystorming was more effective than storyboarding in this case because I could show ideas better in movement than in sketches.

Feedback from Nicolas:

  • Beyond the dance (which is good), how do you choregraph as an interactive designer ?
  • Improv can help but try to build from situations. If it’s too abstract, the message will get over the head of your audience.
Storyboards created to communicate the concept I’ve been exploring.

I had a tutorial about the exhibition of my work for the postgrad exhibition and showed this sketch.

Exhibition idea sketch

Even I was starting to feel like I was making this project too dense and complicated.

The main point that was helpful in the tutorial was Eva told me to look at how the temporality of theatre is usually dealt with. Being careful now to take away from the experimentation by overdoing the exhibition with embellishment and too much meaning.

So I looked at some ways where Aiweiwei and Marina Abromovic documented their performance work. Some images of their work looks like timelapse captures. I will think about these methods for the exhibiton.

By collaborating, we found that parts of the collaboration must move and work together to make it successful. I was figuring out how to make a kinetic dress through technology but this also involves working with Hana on the construction of the costume to make the 2 parts work best together. For example, if we use motors and string to pull open an accordion, we need to think about the material used and the friction between the fabric on the costume. So we worked really closely meeting regularly to compare new discoveries.

Original exhibition idea showing the costume and research for my thesis.

The feedback from curators and course leaders were that I shouldn’t JUST show the costume like a trade show but rather think about how I can show this in a way that brings the audience into the system that the costume lives and talks about. What is the main thing you want the audience to get from all your research and thesis and how can they interact with your exhibition?

This was also another point that Nicolas brought on, which is that I am not designing the costume but rather the interaction. If my thesis is about turning the everyday gesture into a wearable organic interface, then I should be thinking about this as part of the performance. So we thought that it would be good that during the performance, the costume starts normal and reacts only when the dancer starts showing bigger everyday gestures of affection. When the dress transforms, it makes the dancer become the performance from the recognizable everyday human, exaggerating gestures.

Important questions:

  • When does the gesture happen?
  • What are the gestures involved?
  • What’s the context connecting performance, dance, interaction?
I was trying to figure out what the input of the dress should be that makes it transform. But after the tutorial I think at the moment I should just work on output for now and the input can be figured out later and may not need to be as complicated as I had originally thought. My options are to use simple buttons or sensors like proximity, or computer vision and machine learning. Which eventually is where I want to get to with the project but may have to be after I graduate.

Motors, magnets, and muscle wire

The DC motor is much stronger than the servo I had. I made a little spool that would wind the string on the accordion back therefore opening it up. But the problem is it cannot unwind and let the accordion close. For our performance we may not need that and just manually unwind between performances

I’m trying to figure out all the components we need on the garment so she can take it home and sew all the pockets required to keep these things on the garment.
Next, we want to make 3 accordions move on the garment preferably at different times. But yesterday I also made the flip dot that I originally saw from Irene Posche at Digital Weekend V&A. I found the instructions on Kobakant and it was actually pretty simple to make. So Hana is going to have a think about whether we can use this.

Making the costume

I was in the studio with Hana trying to make up the shapes of the costume and which parts will move and how so I can get a better idea of what to work on next week.

We decided the accordions are going to be the major movement piece because it’s seems the easiest to work with and creates some interesting shapes. Then we added some small details with these mesh ribbons which we plan to attach to muscle wire and have them go from long hanging pieces to shrivelled up bunches of detail.

I tried 1 way of moving the accordion pieces which is to attach wires in the 1st and last slices of each section and one stays fixed while the motor moves the other. It worked quite well but the motion isn’t very big.

Some notes suggested by Tom:

  • vibration motor (can be used to tickle the performer? to be tested)
  • remember there needs to be space for battery
  • the sound from the motors can be loud

Likely methods of moving the costume:

  1. motors and wire/string
  2. muscle wire (costly and slow to acquire)
  3. rubber/silicon air bladders

Programs for gesture recognition and machine learning:

  • Wekinator
  • Isadora
  • Real time multi-person pose estimation


  • Leap
  • Kinect

Next steps:

  • Try to make the costume physically movable then try to use motors to control
  • figure out which inputs of gestures to use

September 2017

Affective computing:

My research into gesture and emotions of love led me into looking at the works of Nadia Berthouze, professor at UCL affective computing. She uses the body as a means for emergence in emotion expression. Her research is very relevant to my thesis because it is focused on how the body affects emotions.

But in addition to this, she is also thinking about how we can teach technology to recognize emotions so that it can support and amplify people’s emotions. Can we actually train machines to be empathetic.

She says that the reason why body expression is so important is because the body can show complex emotions. In her lab, they are trying to work on getting machines to recognize emotion and support humans. The data on the body and emotions.

She also recognizes that gestures and emotion are culturally different and acknowledge that what you make may not work on everyone.

The image above is from her presentation shows how she captures gesture through configuration, kinematics, and motion forming the detailed analysis of body expression.

I think it’s important for me to know how gesture should be captured and also the parameters in order to identify general gestures.

This month, we also did some prototypes of textures we could make on the costume and transform with technology. At the same time, I conducted interviews with sexologists Martin Dragan and Kate Moyle on the topic of gesture in relation to sensual stimulation and relationship building. I wanted to find out from professions related to human intimacy how gestures are being used. I then studied dance and choreography and how gestures are used. Through my interview with dancer and choreographer, Katherine Rees, I found that proximity and body synchronization is often used in dance to express emotions of attraction.

August 2017

The sex industry and its effects on intimacy:

In the sex industry, physical stimulation and sexual intimacy are main business drivers. Though lifestyles of younger generations reflect a need for more emotional intimacy. For example in Japan, people are already having virtual relationships rather than real encounters with other humans (‘The Japanese Love Industry’, 2017). They begin feeling connected more to the technology rather than human to human bond. Love is such an intimate and innate part of humanity but this shows that physical intimacy isn’t always the answer. Technology may be able to provide resources; though it is not yet sophisticated enough to care for humans from an empathetic perspective. For instance, voice assistants may be able to order a contraceptive pill for someone but would not question how the person who is in need feels (Fox, 2017). In Moyle’s opinion, humans are trusting technology more than their innate instincts, and technology is unable to understand emotion exactly like how humans do. She spoke about her own experience meeting her husband, that she could remember at one point when they first met, he put his hand on the small of her back and that signified interest to her. These emotional responses are difficult to be understood by a machine, and the spectrum of emotional intimacy in bodily gestures pays relevance to is the future of products.

The love industry is one of the first to adopt new technology and while the industry is trying to create a more real sensory experience to enhance intimate experiences, a successful experience embodies the emotional states of its user and holds the audience in an experience they cannot escape.

I interviewed a couple who met on Tinder to get first hand experience of how online dating worked for them and how the relationship developed from there. I paid close attention to their body positioning with each other during the interview.

The work previous to the above is for the thesis paper. Those are not included in this summary.



Betty Zhang

Strategist, designer, and researcher working in digital innovation, strategic foresight, and customer experience.