2 catalog (German),
Zentrum fur Kunst
und Medientechnologie, Karlsruhe, Germany, 1991
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.
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.
Around in the Real World
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.
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.
Around in a Movie World
"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.
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.
Around in a Computer World
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.
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
Around in a Moviemap World
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.
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.
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
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.)
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.