Alok Nandi, artist
Marc Cavazza, University of Teesside, for SW architecture and causality algorithms
Sean Crooks, University of Teesside, for 3D design
Jean-Luc Lugrin, University of Teesside, for SW development
Marc Le Renard, Laval Mayenne Technopole, for SAS 3 integration
Grzesiek Sedek, WSA, for sound
Elkin Atwell, WSA, for design experiments with cloud formations (not included in the final version)
“Two working hypotheses are fundamental in setting up the brief:
– the user experience will take place in a CAVE type set-up: the SAS Cube;
– there will be usage of a video game engine
The objectives of this piece are three-fold:
– explore the illusion of immersion
– offer the ability to deambulate in an unreal world, an alternative world
– provide to that world properties of pseudo-autonomy
This project and the dialogue process is key to improve and support the practice of interdisciplinary collaboration in the arts, sciences, engineering and technology.
Indeed, issues and skills can be upgraded by exchange and dialogue.
“The increasing complexity of technology requires both deeper levels of specialization and greater levels of collaboration between disciplines. Differences in work and communication styles, priorities, educational principles, institutional frameworks, funding models, temperaments, and even fundamental values have the potential to become either obstacles or stimulants to effective collaboration. In fact, it can be said that the greatest challenge for those involved in the communication revolution is not technology, but communication between people.” This excerpt from the BRIDGES report published in the LEONARDO Journal of the International Society for the Arts, Sciences & Technology positions the ambition which is desired at high institutional level. CPA15 is answering to that in a concrete manner and the ALTERNE Consortium is exploring key issues where the bridges are needed.
EGO.GRAPHIES | GEO.GRAPHIES
(Or what happens to Oeg, Eog, Goe and Oge?)
Focus of this prototype interactive installation will be the hybrid and ill-defined interrelationships between context and consent. Pragmatic artistic angle will be used in order to examine if Mixed Realities and the combination of art and technology can allow us to explore this complex notion of “context”.
These are four characters, four components of the context. Four entities having each one screen of the SAS cube for expression. Their shapes and/or physical perceived look and feel (as seen on the screens) are still in conceptual design process and will depend on the features used in the development phase. However, out of the title of this piece, one can relate to what will be explored: the interrelationships between
Geo (“earth” in ancient Greek, here in general the place in which we human live) and
Ego (“me” in Latin, in other words the visitor-spectator-player in the interactive installation).
Oeg, Eog, Goe and Oge will be catalysts in revealing sensorial and cognitive components of what is understand as being part of the context. The artistic and design challenges are to explore the “mise en intrigue” modalities where the space of possibilities given to the user are partly pre-scripted or planned and generated. Each of the four characters will deploy specific narratives routes in function of the behaviour of the fifth character, the user of the system, a.k.a. Ego, human character. Ego will be confronted to multiple realities having their own physical rules or anti-rules (Qualitative Physics). Specific features of the graphic 3D visualization software will be implemented after a rapid prototyping of the universe. The whole environment will distort the illusion of immersion, in dialogue with Oeg, Eog, Goe, and Oge.
In this installation, the user navigates in an organic world populated by spheres which originate in determinate areas of the environment. The spheres’ behaviour depends on the perceived “empathy” of the user, which is a function of her navigation patterns, unknown to her. This behavior manifests itself essentially through the effects that follow collision between spheres, which range from soft sphere merging to explosions propagating to the environment. These effects are under the control of the alternative reality engine, which intercepts collision events and computes alternative forms of causality.
This brief makes use of most of the features supported by CaveUT, from tracking and object interaction to stereoscopic visualization. User navigation brings her in close vicinity to geometrical structures which acquire their full dimension as real stereo 3D objects, prompting the user to adopt appropriate navigation patterns around or under such objects. The spheres themselves can traverse the SAS Cube™ volume as floating 3D objects, conferring a high level of realism to the user interaction. In addition, the ultrasonic tracking implemented in CaveUT supports direct physical interaction with the spheres through the SAS Cube™ gamepad, which can be attracted or pushed back by the user.
From Concept to Completion
The overall intent was to provide an experience in an unreal world, a world where there is fusion between context and content.
The translation of this abstract concept into an early approach was first centered in giving specific identities to each of the screens of the SAS Cube: 4 screens giving shape to 4 characters, named by a combination of the letters E G O. Conceptually, there is a continuum between the physical set-up – a cube – and the cube metaphor in naming the 6 entities, in a way dedicated to each face of the cube, though not exactly: as GEO refers to all the context and EGO to the user. In a way, one specific intent was to first focus on a narrative layer by identifying each of the four screens of the SAS Cube™ with some identity components and have them interact with EGO in GEO.
After the first iterations of design, this was not so relevant for two reasons:
– the plastic unicity of the world
– the non suspension of disbelief in an abstract world
Indeed, quickly it was obvious that the four visually stereoscopic coordinated screens needed to be used in a pertinent way and that having an abstract paysage (landscape) was key. The idea rapidly emerged of having spheres (simple objects), so that the focus on the work will be on qualitative physics and causality.
So, one could assume that the entities such as Oeg, Goe, Eog and Oge were in fact represented by the spheres, insisting on multiple, redondant entities.
As mentioned, the piece was intended for a physical set-up to explore the illusion of immersion. De facto, it was important to have a sense of being there. Prototypes on regular computer screens were OK to imagine the aesthetic components of the world but not its field of depth, especially enhanced by stereoscopy.
A negative point, hence, is that the piece will not be ideally experienced on regular computer screens and therefore cannot be shared through the internet. One needs to have access to a SAS cube to continue the work (Alok Nandi)
Assessment of the Technical Choices:
The use of the SAS Cube as an environment for delivering the user experience and Unreal at the game engine level were a priori working hypotheses, in the continuation of several installations in mixed realities and formed part of the path to work in a kind of CAVE environment.
However, the main disadvantage is that there is only one SAS 3 set-up which is in Laval and hence no diffusion possibilities for larger audiences.
But the research and experience with these technologies contributed to the artist’s advance of his objectives to work with different types of screen-based set-ups and later non-screen. From an innovation point of view it allowed to make tangible elements related to causality and qualitative physics.
From a usability point of view, the artist is not so much concerned with making these technologies user-friendly to the non-specialist and thus did not find the collaboration with technical specialists a serious restriction. He phrased this issue as such:
The question is related to a working assumption:
– are we interested to enlarge the overall envelope of issues, themes, perceptual questions (innovation artist) OR
– are we interested of having replicas which are simple enough so many people can use the piece (industrial artist)
As I am interested in the first type of approach, restriction is not at stake here.
An outcome from Nandi’s work is a library of tools which are being built out of the research. But, in his view, “the objective is not to build a Photoshop type of sw, but more on innovative tools and experiences.
The Ego.Geo.Graphies SAS3 piece is intended for a CAVE-type of setting, yet this has opened up new directions, as Nandi now sees combining his research with on-line components. A next phase could be to envisage an on-line version, requiring some specific design and rules revision.
Nandi considers that the outcome at completion has moved away from his initial vision of the concept due to the creation of the 3D environment and its cognitive rendering. The environment designed now has less storytelling components than initially intended but offers a plastic universe, which should be tested, i.e. the notion of empathy.
The “Ego.Geo.Graphies” Experimentation in the SAS Cube™
The SAS3 on-site session was fundamental in getting a comprehensive view of the potentialities of the tool and its authoring interface put in place by the scientific / tech team.
For perspective, being active in new media for 10 years, I was able to compare the features of a system, both in terms in functionalities, user-friendliness and usability. The comparison took place with applications designed with collaborative teams in different sectors:
– web applications, from 1993 to now: one can see the evolution of the authoring tools and hence the efficiency but the lost of a certain flexibility, for specific usage
– mixed-reality applications: from 1998 to 2004, I co-initiated a software platform architecture for mixed-realities Transfiction, a.o. in the framework of the EU IST project art.live: one of the frustation as a media artist/designer was to see that for each visual effect, it was needed to involve the tech team for 1 or two days to get the desired effect.
Not only there was a lack of flexibilty in playing with variables in the universe designed but also, the tech team was need for each manipulation.
These concrete examples allow to understand that in the SAS3 authoring platform the tech team has succeeded in providing a tool where variables can be manipulated easily in order to “get a feel for” the user experience in the SAS 3, without waiting for two days of coding.
This day was also important to confirm a working hypothesis: in interactive installations, the only way to get the right feeling is to be in the real set-up; and in order to provide this right feeling, as a director (like in film editing), one needs to play, to finetune with very narrow variable fields; This was provided by the editing tool in the SAS3.