Train of Thought

Mark Halliday

Glorianna Davenport
Research Supervisor

Train of Thought is a love story about two characters: Jack and Nicole. Jack is a slacker who is in between jobs. Nicole is a young woman who knows what she wants. The story is scripted to straddle the line between dream and reality.

The research grappled with a long-standing topic - story design and story engine. While the viewer controls the line of their experience, a software story agent orchestrates the passage from introduction, through conflict, flight, discovery and final moment. The agent tracks story-element, thread, and character and makes choices according to a matched pattern.

This movie is a result of on-going research at the MIT Media Lab Interactive Cinema Group into new ways of telling stories. We are interested in creating filmic experiences where the story is presented as a directed browsing "space" for the viewer to explore. As the viewer explores the sequences of video clips presented by the system a story is created from a large video database.

"Train of Thought" approaches this problem by generating a 2-1/2D "story space" where characteristics of the story are laid out in X-Y coordinates and the story experience is laid back "into" the screen on the time axis. This allows the viewer to re-examine previously viewed clips and pick up new story threads.

The viewing experience for "Train of Thought" is played out along two story streams, "dream" and "reality". The viewer can choose to move the story forward along one or the other stream by clicking on the micon directly above the stream titles after a video clip has finished playing on the right side of the screen. At any time between viewing video clips the viewer can browse previously viewed clips by moving the pointer over the micons and watching them play out. Micons which have already been viewed in the playout window are outlined in red. The "skip" button allows the viewer to move the story structure ahead one video clip while the "restart story" button clears the story structure and starts over with the titles.

The movie plays out differently each time it is viewed, but you will notice specific video clips repeated in various contexts. This is because each story stream (dream, reality) is described in a video database constructed with the "Framer" knowledge representation language created by Prof. Ken Haase of the MIT Media Lab. Links are described between sequences of video in "Framer" to create interwoven story structures which play out based on user interaction. Research is continuing in three areas: tools for filmmakers to create interactive narratives, building portions of video description databases automatically based on inferencing and new types of cinematic experiences based on unique graphical screen contexts.

Initial investigation into this streamed story structure took place in the context of a class project under the direction of Prof. Ken Haase. This research is being continued under the direction of Glorianna Davenport (Director of the Interactive Cinema Group) at the MIT Media Lab. The research has been supported in part by Bellcore.

"Train of Thought" was implemented on a Mac FX using Quicktime video. The inference Engine was built in ARLOtje and Framer, a representation language developed by Ken Haase.

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Digital Cinema: An Environment for Multi-Threaded Stories
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