[-empyre-] response to Melinda's questions

Hi Melinda,

interesting questions re: beyond manzanar

> did you find the process of writing for 3d vrml like writing a theatre piece? do you construct scenes and imagine users viewpoints from the audience point of view?

My approach to composing VR comes from the work of my father, Philip
Thiel, in the field of architecture and urban planning. His book
"People, Paths and Purposes" develops a theory of experiential urban
that this is how one needs to develop VR spaces in order to harness the
power of immersion and user agency. In interactive 3D VR of course one
has little control over the user viewpoint at any given time, so that we
must either constrain the user's movements with devices (walls, bushes,
fences, etc. that appear logical in the space) or compose the space so
it looks right from any possible angle - as must an architect of real
spaces. Additionally, the SEQUENCE of spaces must be composed as a
musician arranges phrases of music to dramatically structure the user
experience in a compelling way.

The dramatic structure of the piece was an interesting question in our
collaborative process. Zara, coming from theater direction, strongly
wanted to have a classical structure of beginning, middle with climax
and denoument to create an ending, and to achieve this wanted to create
a very strongly controlled user experience. My background is video art
and new media, so I on the one hand wanted to create a strong dramatic
structure, but on the other hand I wanted to experiment with the
possibility of a more open structure, where the user had room to wander
and "construct their own experience." I also strongly felt that the
piece should loop and be accessible at any point in that loop, so that
people could wander in and out of the installation and still have it
make sense.

We began with a roughly chronological structure, but then started
playing around following instinct rather than rules. Elements from
different times and both cultures are woven in to almost every scene -
creating a parallelism throughout the piece that underlines commonality
of experience. I think the idea of "dream logic" is way overused to
justify LACK of structure, but in this piece I can think of no other way
to describe it. We follow a metaphorical and poetic logic rather than a
historical or chronological logic.

Perhaps the structure that resulted could've been developed for a
theater piece as well, but one point was strongly determined by the
medium: I shut every door behind you once you go through, in order to
compell you to always move forward in the piece. In a play one can
direct the actors, but how does one direct users who can go in any
direction whenever they please? There have to be clues that lead the
user on - and in the case of this piece, I trap the user in order to
compell them to look for a new way out of every space. So the element of
user "free will" is definitely different in an interactive 3D VR piece,
and this created dramaturgical decisions that would'nt happen in a
theater piece.

> did you see the work always in the  installation space, ie large 
> rather than on a small moniter? i'm interrested if you think it 
> would be as physically immersive on a small scale.

The feedback I have gotten from many, many people who have seen  my
piece both as a "demo" on a computer monitor and as an installation on a
large screen jives with my personal suspicions: that your body perceives
and reacts to the small image as a "picture," but the large image to be
a "space." I do believe that a piece shown on a monitor can be very
engaging and compelling, but it is simply a different experience. I
would very much like to encounter your Empyre piece on a large screen
sometime - do you ever show it that way?

Thanks for your feedback on how the camp scene worked in Cosmo - I'll
have to try it out and see what you're describing.

And thanks for the interesting questions, it's good to have dialog with
people who have dealt with the same problems! Hope my postings aren't
too long for everybody.

take care - tamiko thiel

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