michael naimark

MultiMediale 2 catalog (German),
Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnologie, Karlsruhe, Germany, 1991

Moviemap Basics

Michael Naimark

In late 1977, the first prototype laserdisc players were introduced to a small group of research institutions, including M.I.T., where work began in investigating their potential for making virtual environments. A real environment was selected - Aspen, Colorado (in part because of its distincitvely picturesque presence). During 1978 and 1979 Aspen went through a quiet media "sweep:" crews filmed up and down every street, photographed every building (some inside as well as outside), and interviewed its citizens. In many respects Aspen became the most exhaustively documented place on the planet.

Back at the lab, a strange cultural marriage was occurring between moviemakers and computer people. (Remember that back then computerized video editing didn't exist; all tv news coverage was shot in film; computers were mostly controlled by punch cards; and the video game craze had not yet begun.) It was no secret that these two groups drank in different bars. But a sense of quest was shared: to convey a sense of place in a way never before possible with media. And everyone knew it required both the raw emotional impact of the visual image and the control only possible with computers. The result was the Aspen Moviemap.

Moving Around in the Real World

When we navigate through the real world, we take for granted some rather remarkable qualities of space. For one thing, space exhibits what Bazin referred to as "unity." If you were to give me directions from my place to yours, I deeply assume that the various distances, turns, and landmarks don't float around and change. The only way I can go from point A to point B is through seamless, continuous traversal. When I take two steps forward and two steps back, I am back where I started. There are no "cuts" in the real world.

Another remarkable quality is our ability to navigate through space. On an individual level we have the freedom to move our heads to absorb the panorama, and the freedom to walk or run around with the agility to avoid crashing into things. On a societal level, we have developed external means for moving across land, sea, and air. When either freedoms are restricted, we feel confined.

Moving Around in a Movie World

Cinema's "first and foremost" quality is montage, or cuts, so believed Eisenstien (who was fond of referring to them as "collisions"). Indeed, the ability to go from Paris to London or from a desert scene to a close-up in an instant is what makes movies different from the real world. "Movement" is conceptual rather than perceptual. But the price paid is that "unity of space" is lost.

Also, movies evolved as a storytelling medium: they are linear. Movement is possible (such as a tracking shot), but always under the control of the director, not the viewer. Movies were never made for browsing.

Moving Around in a Computer World

Before realtime 3D visual databases, we often referred to "moving around" in a computer as working our way through symbols such as text and numbers. And as every computer user knows, going "forward" two steps then going "backward" two rarely gets you back where you started.

Issues of navigation have surfaced now that we are creating 3D visual worlds. Such issues as navigational control and conventions for allowing "cuts" are state-of-the-art challenges in the research community today.

Moving Around in a Moviemap World

A moviemap exhibits both the visual quality of cinema and the user-control of a computer (admittedly both with some compromises). A moviemap is made by shooting a real place along pre-determined routes. These routes could be based on existing paths such as roadways, walking trails, or watersheds or they can be based on arbitrary or conceptual paths such as in the air or through a cocktail party.

These routes must then be shot in a way to give the user control along them, best achieved by shooting at regular spatial intervals. Film and video cameras are made to shoot at regular temporal intervals, so moviemap production requires specially modified stop-frame cameras and methods of sensing distance to trigger them.

Another element of user control is the ability to choose which way to go at intersections, where routes cross. Intersections must be carefully shot from the same points-of-view for seamless "match-cuts." They are never perfect: changes in light, clouds, and transient objects are inevitable.

Another possible element is using the moviemap as a front-end to other multimedia material into which the user may "jump:" to see the interior of a house, to read the menu of a restaurant, to hear the story of a traveller. (One can imagine a Bruegel painting of everyday life with such "hyper-picture" qualities.)

Everything is stored on a fast-access medium (such as laserdisc) and controlled through a user-interface that best matches the qualities and limitations of the material. Remember: you can't go "everywhere," but only places that were actually shot. Thus giving the user a steering wheel (and the expectation that they could zig-zag down a street) when only the center of the street was shot leads to disappointment, usually. We need to be honest. We also need to be sneaky. We have a great deal of exploration and learning to do.