The Un/Real Duet: Intimacy & Agency through Interaction with a Virtual Character
by Freedom Baird

Master of Science, February 1998.


The duet is a wonderfully appealing mode of interaction between two individuals. Its playful intimacy fosters an environment of shared agency in which expression through a common language yields a creative product. Our experience of art in a host of media primes us to enjoy duets that transpire, not just between two people, but also between a person and a virtual character. These virtual characters are both real in that they have form -- visual, aural, mechanical -- and make us feel things, and unreal -- they're fleshless, bloodless ink on paper, data in chips, scanlines on a screen, collections of logical constructs.

This thesis presents the un/real duet as a useful form for structuring an interaction between a human participant and a virtual character. Theoretical and practical contexts explored are:

* Use of personal portraiture and immersion to establish intimacy * Crafting character by modeling consciousness * Gestural language as communication during the duet * Recombinant poetics as the creative product of the duet

Presented and critiqued is the installation, "Sashay/Sleep Depraved," in which a participant uses emotionally evocative gestures to interact with a larger-than-life-sized virtual character, the Sleeper, by constructing an animated dream. Media Lab technologies integrated into the installation and discussed here include: automated editors, 'fish' sensors, and the Isis scripting language. An accompanying video tape demonstrates the installation in use.

Finally, two strategies for developing an un/real duet are offered: a method for establishing intimacy and agency, and a model for producing virtual characters. The thesis concludes with a consideration of our motives in creating these characters.

Thesis Supervisor: Glorianna Davenport

Get the entire thesis in PDF form (880 KB).