A fistful of digital 'fury'

NEW DELHI: When digital technology meets martial arts, it can produce some really scary moments.

Hear Mickey Stern and John Brenkus, executive producers for Fight Science, part of NatGeo's upcoming series on the arts, Fists of Fury. They saw a samurai sword slice completely through a ballistics-gel torso.

They tell in an exclusive interaction: "Watching the sword slice through the ballistics-gel torso, and knowing what it could do to a human body was the most scary moment for us. Examining the data of killer moves that had never been made on a human being, and realising what was possible… there is a frightening level of performance that some of these guys can go to."

But 'examining the data of killer moves?' What would that mean in terms of making a series on martial arts? Well, if Nasa technology can be used for making a TV serial, anything could be possible, they say.

This is a series on martial arts in which NatGeo offers its viewers a riveting journey into the extraordinary world of martial arts.

"A one-stop shop for all martial arts fans", an announcement from the channel says that "Fists of Fury gives viewers an insight into what is martial art myth and what is not, an insight into what it takes to be a martial arts champion, a countdown of the best killing weapons, revealing the reality behind the deadly martial arts using scientific breakthroughs and gripping footage."

The series will be telecast from 12 February at 10 pm. Talking about the Nasa technology used to make the series, Stern and Brenkus told "A company called Tekscan created in-shoe pressure sensors for Nasa space suits - sheets of plastic embedded with thousands of receptors.

"These provided constant real-time feedback to the computer - a perfect topographical map over the surface of the foot, where we watched the centre of gravity and the base of support, and the exact amount of pressure being exerted over any part of the surface area.

"Glen Levy, demonstrating a ninja technique of climbing plum poles (ever-ascending poles that become more pliant as they get higher), turned in a jaw-dropping reading. He told us that when he is doing balance techniques, he visualises his centre of gravity all the way down to his ankles, and that he uses all 10 toes as antennae.

"On the read-outs, you can see his toes working like the fingers of a piano player. He was incredibly precise and incredibly quick and minute in his adjustments. He really did move like a cat. The scientists from Tekscan were looking at it and saying, "This is not a normal human reading."

It was a technologically back-breaking series to make. In all, 32 motion picture cameras were used. So how did it all add up to go into the creation of the series?

The producers explained: "Ultimately, we took the data captured by the martial artists - wearing tight suits studded with reflectors, and duplicating moves they had already made for the live-action cameras earlier in the day - and imposed it on a 3-D model in three layers: one for bones, one for muscles and one for nerves.

"The angles of motion, the velocity and acceleration of particular motion, the length of an arc through the air… all are things that are measured from the data points that are driving animation.

"A third layer that we applied, which is very seldom done, is body scanning. So when you take perfect data, real high-end CGI, and scans of the person's actual body, you've got as accurate a model of that person's movement as you could possibly create using current technology."

The producers also said that they used crash dummy tests. But why? They say they wanted a government-certified system which could be held up as one not something that is experimental science.

"We wanted to know with 100 per cent certainty what force these fighters were capable of generating. The experts in the crash testing industry know more about real-life impacts on the human body than anyone else in the world.

"This isn't "theoretical science" - this is about real trauma to real bodies, and we wanted to capture that. We insisted on a government-certified dummy so that there was nothing experimental about our findings."

In more than one ways thus is a unique series, brining together hitherto unconnected people and technologis. As they put it: "It's the first time we've brought together the crash test industry, the sports biomechanics industry and the Hollywood animation industry in one place. We pooled their best technology and applied it to a single subject - martial arts performance. These are people from industries who have never looked at the martial arts field before. It was entirely new for them."

But is this a comprehensive and all-encapsulating series on the diverse arena of martial arts? Stern says: "There are actually scores or even hundreds of martial arts - we tried to have diversity in geographical and cultural origins. We chose the biggest categories, the archetypal styles - particularly ones that involved grappling, punching, kicking… some hard linear styles and some curving nonlinear styles. We also said let's make sure we represent the "granddaddies," so to speak - you've got to have kung fu, you've got to have tae kwan do, you've got to have jiu jitsu."

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