Darth Vader does Tai Chi

Here's some clever (if initially long-winded) CGI video of Darth Vader doing a 42-movement Tai Chi sword form, created by John Leo. It works very well, presumably because the lightsaber choreography has some nexus with actual swordplay, as do Tai Chi's stylized sword forms.

Star Wars Tai Chi (Thanks, RJ!)


  1. What this needs is someone to do this in real life: put on the Vader costume and go through the routine while holding a lightsaber pommel. The blade can be put in afterward as a special effect, but the CGI just doesn’t cut it for me.

  2. Impressive amount of work, but it does demonstrate the limits of technology, doesn’t it? Even multi-million-dollar movies and video games still use motion capture rather than simulation. And have you noticed that although we can reliably generate 3D moving images that can fool the eye, we still use voice actors because we haven’t figured out how to fool the ear? This despite the fact that conveying sound requires less bandwidth than video.

    I think both of these will be simulated eventually, but that won’t change the fact that they were more difficult to begin with.

    1. my understanding is that both speech to text and text to speech have focused to much of the whole word and to little on the individual sounds and how they blend together to form words.

    2. Thanks for the comments. Fair points, but I would like you to know that this represents my first serious attempt at character animation. So please don’t judge the entire discipline based on this video.

      I am aware that the motions could do with further refinement. When time permits, I will no doubt improve on it. I based the animation on a frame by frame study of Master Shu Dong Li, founder of the tai chi school I attend.

      1. Hey man, all jokes aside, it looks pretty good.

        I think that it shouldn’t be understated that while Tai Chi is a good choice for a beginner project in that it allows for a variety of movements, the fact that it IS a very graceful art does make it a challenging thing to capture accurately. So no need to apologize for your ambition!

      2. A really ambitious project, congratulations for taking this on.

        I think the subtleties of the form which make it work are almost impossible to capture in the computer, certainly without a motion capture base (which would also need a lot of tuning). If it’s your first serious attempt, then you certainly took on a difficult challenge, since all body parts have to be harmoniously coordinated in every single position and movement, otherwise it doesn’t look right. A “hard” form like Wing Tsun would be much easier to model, as there is less requirement to make visible the flow of movement/transfer of force from the legs to the hands/sword.

        Even commentators without taijiquan training seem to see that it isn’t really right, which says something about how difficult a task it is.

        For me as a Yang style teacher, I have to admit sets my teeth on edge a little – but as I (and probably you) know how long it takes to get a form flowing in your own body, I can imagine how much work is involved in getting a computer figure to move right, even if the key positions are accurately modelled.

        But to be more constructive, if you are interested in improving this here’s a couple of tips:
        • Start from the bottom up – i.e.
        1. Review weight distribution first. There’s a lot of places where it’s not quite right, so the model doesn’t root properly, or the foot lifts too early (particularly drawing the back leg up after going forward off a bow stance).
        2. Between left and right rotation (when left turning becomes right turning), the weight needs to sink slightly (make the figure root) to make opposite movements flow into each other. I could imagine that the vertical hip joint rotations that result from this subtle “sitting” would be pretty difficult to simulate. But this is the key to making the form flow, and it’s why it feels jerky. The jerky bits are always where left turning turns into right turning.

        • The figure will always look a little bit stiff as long as there’s no chan si jing (spiral, silk-reeling energy) expressed outwardly in the movements. It might be enough to look closely at the co-ordination of forearm and pelvis rotation to give a sense of this, together with opening/closing of thighs/shoulders and knees/elbows. You could try modelling a couple of Chen Style movements (where this energy is more explicitely visible) for comparison and see if it gives you clues as to how to get this into the computer figure. Look for instance at Chenyu’s Xinjia (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptMHickAiVo&feature=related), where the Chan si Jing is really clear.

        • I would slow the whole form down and try and make it a constant speed first, before trying to get the “waves” of energy that come from a varied speed. This is the best way to learn and correct a form in reality, and probably the best way to “debug” / see the little errors in a computer model too.

        • Lastly, the fa jing elements don’t work at all at the moment. I don’t know how you can model the force transfer through the body and the sword in these moments, but they don’t look right currently. You may be able to fudge it a little by getting some kind of whipping movement in the body and making the cloak react a bit.

        But all in all well done!


        Ernst Gruengast

      3. Excellent animation. I was lucky enough to have seen a similar yang style tai chi chaun form. The master I saw was much more smooth and precise with his movements, but this animation is soo well researched and put together that I can easily see the similarities between the two. This was a lot of fun to watch, keep up the good work!!!

  3. I was not very impressed with that, actually. Tai chi is above all graceful, with smoothly flowing movements. This animation was jerky and awkward.

  4. Would love to see the Wing Chung Dragon form done as motion capture using Yoda or something, would fit very nicely with this. ;)

  5. Is it just me or is there a very huge number of people who would think a video of someone in a Vader costume cooking breakfast would be amazing awesome?

    There’s a point when it’s just stupid. The only merit here at all is the skill in making the CGI and of course the Tai Chi sword form in the first place.

  6. When working on NATAL, this was one of my first thoughts when it came to a use for the toy. A Star Wars game where the force and lightsaber fights were based off tai chi. Not a lot of area is needed, pretty easily read movements, very graceful, and teaches you tai chi to boot. Of course, trying to push that idea was tough and I didn’t get a lot of headway with it. Maybe someone else reading this could take it up in a similar vein however.

  7. I thought it was kind of neat. I do agree that the motions were sort of jerky, but whatever…

    What you don’t see and can’t really appreciate from this is that the direction of the blade of the sword plays an important role in this form too.

    That’s not really the fault of the animator, just the, ahem, light saber as the “blade” of choice.

    1. Good point about the sword blade. I am well aware that the tai chi straight sword is a precision instrument and the angle of the blade is critical in any effective block or strike.

      One of the reasons I chose Darth Vader, was so I wouldn’t have to worry about animating the blade or tassel. Also the source video I based the animation on did not have sufficiently high resolution for me to see rotation of the hand at times – so I had to guess.

Comments are closed.