Preview :: Scenario at Sydney Film Festival

May 6th 2011


The first 3D movie I ever saw was at Imax. It was about a haunted house. Ghosts flew around our heads, stars twinkled in our peripheral vision; it was choice. But it wasn’t until I made the monumental mistake of watching Avatar in 2D that I really realised the potential of 3D cinema. From most accounts, 3D made Avatar not only watchable, but actually good. In 2D, I can assure you, Avatar is neither of those things.

This week at UNSW, 3D cinema has been taken to the next level with Scenario. Not just 3D, not just 360 degrees, and not just interactive, the latest technology is also artificially intelligent. Picture this: you walk into the cinema with four others, each with your 3D glasses. The screen surrounds you, reaching almost the roof. It flickers to life and you are in a greyscale labyrinth, eerily empty but for a few ghostly figures. Each participant controls one of these avatars. Dark figures appear and rush toward you. They’re trying to prevent you from reassembling the world’s creepiest giant dismembered baby. They respond to your movements, chase you, grab at you. You’ve got to move around the cinema to evade them. This is interactivity plus.

Each AI figure is literally thinking, making over 10,000 decisions every second, says Scenario director Dennis Del Favero. “The purpose of this is to allow the meaning of the work to emerge via the physical interaction between the audience and the digital characters. So rather than the narrative being pre-scripted it evolves through this dynamic interchange”. What this means is that no two screenings of the film will be the same, as different participants interact differently with their avatars and surroundings. The technology has been developed over a number of years at UNSW’s iCinema Research Centre, headed by Favero.

Scenario is showing to the public during the Sydney Film Festival. Although the film itself may not be up to festival goers standards in terms of traditional cinematic qualities (plot, character, cinematography and so on), in terms of an immersive cinema experience, I can’t imagine it getting much better. It’s worth it for the snow fall alone, which is absolutely breathtaking. The plot serves the purpose of emphasising this immersion.

Set in a Grimms Brothers fairy tale like world, the idea emerged from Favero’s research into Samuel Beckett’s experimental television work Quadrat 1 & 2, where the emphasis is on the transactions and interchanges. “This intersected with my fascination with how childhood memories to a large extent underscore how we behave and transact with each other later in life”, says Favero. “Memory is not something in the past, but is something that you live everyday. You filter everything through your memory. This is about your own childhood memories, but also your memories of recent history and of being lost. You have to use your memory to get to the end. You have to remember where the dark sentinel characters are so can out manoeuvre them. They have to remember where you are so they can thwart you.”

Story aside, the wow factor of a fully artificially intelligent cinema should be more than enough to draw the crowds. I asked Favero where he thought this technology might go in the future. “If we speculate on a number of processes that are occurring at present – 3D cinema, serious gaming, social media, machine intelligence- we could envi


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