Home of Happy Feet

The Savoy Ballroom was a legendary dance hall on Lenox Avenue between 140th and 141st Streets in Harlem, New York. It was known as “The World’s Finest Ballroom” and “Home of Happy Feet”.  From  1926 to 1958 it’s twin bandstands showcased the world’s finest jazz musicians. The dances born on its mahogany dancefloor would sweep the world and live on to this day.  The Savoy was the heart and soul of Harlem.

Welcome to The Savoy is a project to recreate the now lost Savoy Ballroom, in virtual reality. We want to transport people to the Savoy, Harlem’s most captivating nightspot, to experience the thrills of swinging big bands, breathtaking dancers and jazz age glamour.

We are now undertaking meticulous historical research to model The Savoy in VR, to give new generations the opportunity to experience this magical and important place, either with a virtual reality headset or through their mobile device.  Our lead historian, Sharon Davis, intends to freely share all research here and we welcome contributions from the public.

Project Team

The Technology

Video: Photorealistic reconstruction by Alter Equals. Produced by Factory 42.

Recreating the Savoy Ballroom in virtual reality will involve cutting edge technology and software. The project is a challenge since The Savoy was demolished in 1958. All known interior photographs of the ballroom are in black and white, and were all taken at different times spanning many decades. Photographs were usually focused on the dancers or musicians, and rarely feature the details of the ballroom itself. Quite a challenge! Luckily our team involves world-leading experts, who will be using multiple technological approaches to do justice to the legendary ballroom and its legacy.

Photogrammetry is the technique used to extract data (shapes and textures) from pictures to recreate photorealistic environments and objects. This is the technique most commonly used for a project like ours. But a purely photogrammetric approach is not the best solution for a faithful recreation of the Savoy, due to the limited photographic resources we have. So we will be using a hybrid approach using different sources:

Layout documentation and reconstruction: using blueprints selected by the historic team we will rebuild the layout of The Savoy (walls, stairs, bandstand, dance floor, boxes…) to get the volumes, position and shape of the ballroom’s interior without texture, colours and details. The archive pictures will then be sorted and distributed in the layout created.

Camera calibration & details modeling: photogrammetrists will accurately position the pictures using the software Enwaii and modeling artists will focus on adding details.

Ambiance, materials, color palette and lighting: a team of lookdev and lighting artists will create a faithful color palette, textures, materials and lighting to recreate the look and ambiance of The Savoy, using photogrammetry techniques to extract data textures (eg: roughness), their artistic skills and direct feedback from the historic team.

Character Capture: the characters need to look as photorealistic as possible, capturing and replaying a large number of performers (main characters, dancers, musicians, crowd) in virtual reality taking into account quality, cost effectiveness and replay optimisation. Different techniques will be used depending on their importance and distance. We will test several techniques capturing a short routine with two dancers to evaluate capture and post-production costs, quality, flexibility and the processing power required. We will integrate the captures in Unity and use a comparison app to find the best combinations and we will clone the captures to understand how they will impact the computer’s resources.

Audio: to recreate the unique acoustic of The Savoy, we will use the existing floor plans and the 3D model to simulate the acoustic response using the CATT Acoustics software (or equivalent). We will then transpose the response into Unity and use detailed individual sound sources and their behavior to create a faithful, 3D and reactive soundscape and immerse the audience in the unique atmosphere of The Savoy.