Where Do We Go From Here Looks At Future Technologies

Cannes Film Festival

Ivan Vejar/@A.M.P.A.S

The Science and Technology Council of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sent 2010 off with a look at innovations that are shifting the way entertainment will be presented and consumed a few years down the line.

Moderated by producer Jerry Zucker, "Where Do We Go From Here?" featured a panel consisting of neuroscientist Eric Haseltine, immersive art and entertainment expert Ed Lantz, production designer Alex McDowell, and transmedia storytelling expert Jordan Weisman.  Science and Technology member Rob Hummel kicked off the evening by informing the full house of guests that the internet and hand held devices are only a scratch on the surface in the changing landscape of production and entertainment.  Devices that redefine how the viewer relates to entertainment by triggering specific regions of the brain are only a few years away.

"I didn’t think we’d ever have a neuroscientist on a panel," said Hummel.  "We are entering a vastly changing landscape.  We have to be prepared for the changes to come."

Zucker entered the stage wearing day glo glasses stating he was ready to be motion captured for "Avatar."  He continued to blend a sense of humor to his musings of how the science fiction depicted in movies no less than ten years ago has become a reality today.

"The future isn’t that far away," said Zucker.

Ed Lantz further elaborated on the point that recent science fiction movies present technologies currently in development.  Working with the German company Iosono, he’s been developing layered sound and image displays that will allow the viewer to physically plug into a virtual world, similar to the virtual world humans were plugged into in the film "The Matrix."  The images presented in the virtual world would be fed directly into a neuro center of the brain, presenting a setting the viewer would physically and visually interact with.

Lantz also described a series of other technologies that will allow personal interaction between the viewer and the form of entertainment.  These include 3D holographic displays that emit from a halo-deck that would present a virtual character that interacts with the user’s physical environment.  He also discussed dome projection theaters that provide a virtual world a large audience is able to interact with.  Currently 700 virtual domes exist throughout the world.  The dome image projection is 4,000 x 4,000 pixels on a completely rounded surface.  Audience members have the opportunity to interact with the projected images through a joystick controller much like those used in a video game, where their character can fly through the projected background.

"What we are doing is going beyond cinema," said Lantz.  "A triad of three types of entertainment is being established: social, drama and challenge.  Users create avatars.  The results are a new form of storytelling."

Production designer Alex McDowell discussed how physics and scientific properties have become crucial to his design concepts for film and theatrical presentations.  Referring to the practice as "5D", McDowell works with scientists at the MIT Media Lab to solve design challenges found in movies such as "Minority Report" which featured a futuristic city outside of Washington, D.C., and cars that could travel in full 360 degree angles.  Included in his research is an understanding of urban planning: recognizing building zoning and height restrictions and developing a conceptual world that match those government regulations and changing landscapes, and understanding the aerodynamics needed in the design of a vehicle that would be able to move up, down, and side to side at any moment.  Another design McDowell constructed for "Minority Report" – the gesture capture board that allowed actor Tom Cruise to swipe images from one screen to another with a touch of his hand, has already been developed in the MIT Lab.  

McDowell also described roles computers have played in the construction of set pieces used in two different theater productions he designed.  One, entitled "Death and the Powers," involved robotic set pieces that were programmed to respond, through movement and light source outputs, to the tones of the actor’s voices.  Each performance of this production presented a slightly different set arrangement depending on the degrees of emotions the actor portrayed. 

Transmedia storytelling expert Jordan Weisman discussed the ways a storyteller can help guide the audience as they begin interacting more frequently with virtual worlds.

"A good source of inspiration for modern transmedia comes from the Beatles," said Weisman.  "Think of how they approached the mythology of ‘Paul is Dead.’  They imbedded clues within their songs, album designs, and material presented to the public.  The mythology grew out of the audience’s response to these clues, and the audience began sharing theories related to their interpretation of the clues."

Weisman referred to a popular teen novel called "Cathy’s Book" as a positive example of transmedia storytelling.  The audience and the characters within the book inhabit the same space in trying to solve a mystery.  Various clues related to the mystery are embedded throughout the book.  As readers discover the clues, they can email characters in the book to discuss their thoughts, place phone calls to "agencies" found in the book, and incorporate app technologies on their mobile devises to pinpoint the location where the answer to the mystery resides.

"The goal is to shatter the fourth wall, allowing the audience and the characters to inhabit the same space," said Weisman.

Neuroscientist Eric Haseltine concluded the evening’s presentation.  With a background that includes work with NASA and the CIA, Haseltine explained his involvement with entertainment production began at Disney in the development of interactive rides found at Disneyland.  The understanding of the human brain provides the background for developing an experience that will be transformative to the audience member. 

After presenting a chart that explored how the average person mentally processed new stimuli, Haseltine emphasized the importance growing technology will in how people process and interact with entertainment

"The lesson from evolutionary biology is this; diversity is key," said Haseltine.  "You don’t know what’s coming at you, but if you have a lot of pitri dishes, eventually you are going to grow a mold."


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