Peter Lord, founder of Aardman Animation, presented the opening day's keynote address. He set up Aardman because of his love of cinema and film-making. While Aardman's main market is television, Lord has set his sights on cinema. It is 'much richer' being closer to live, theatrical, performance, he says. Within the confines of the film theatre, the screen is the undisturbed focal point and demands the audience's undivided attention. This is Lord's ideal marketplace.
Due to current technological limitations, traditional techniques remain the dominant method for character animation, with the visible brush strokes, modelling and suchlike adding a 'tactile' quality. Lord suggests that computer graphics are best for animating inanimate objects. However, he claims that the quality of puppet animation has "levelled out" but that computer graphics still has a long way to go and is therefore more flexible.
Demonstrations filled much of the workshop. Richard Holmes from Virtuality presented the first. The majority of their work has so far been with immersive systems but increasingly they are looking to VRML 2.0. They showed a virtual television studio application complete with a virtual hand held camera. The camera could move and zoom and most importantly record the view of the studio for prototype camera sequences.
Phillips Research has a number of relevant projects. Using a concurrent rule-based language called RTA, they have created character behaviour for artificial life within virtual environments. One example was the 'Follow Me' demonstration. Within a VRML 2.0 environment, a 'guide' character reacted intuitively to (lack of) action from the user.
A second project created a 'virtual play space' in which users could interact with 'other' dragonflies in a game of football. The behaviour of the other insects was entirely individual character-based. They would react to the user but carry on regardless if nothing else happened. Both of the projects are part of a "Universal Avatars" programme.
The new media represent a challenge to do better. New computer tools do not necessarily improve quality, they actually make blandness easier.
Adams has just set up 'The Digital Village' (http://www.tdv.com) with a group of 'traditional' media experts. Their aim is to integrate traditional areas of expertise with the new technologies. One of the weaknesses of society at large is the unnatural distinction between 'Artists' and 'Scientists'. Each learning to distrust the other with obvious negative effect. The Artists need the technology and the Scientists need the creative input and support of the cultural and societal Opinion-Formers.
The Digital Village's first project is an interactive story cum game called "Starship Titanic." It has the illusion of intelligent reaction by adapting input to appropriate responses. To balance image resolution with interaction speed, "Titanic" is split into two processes, a data side and a meta side. The two run concurrently but exploit each others 'quiet times' .
Adams believes CD-ROM is merely a transitional stage to local broadband media. Dr Alastair Sibbald from CRL (Central Research Laboratories, an off-shoot of EMI, http://www.crl.co.uk) demonstrated a system for the recording and reproduction of three-dimensional sound. Although the project requires a special recording system, it has specially designed algorithms for reproducing 3D sound from two stereo speakers and ordinary playback equipment.
Although this is a long wish list, the conference concluded with the formation of sub-groups. These groups are to look for solutions.
Electronic Imaging and Media Communications
University of Bradford