A Virtual Experience

Installation Description:

The goal of this effort is to demonstrate one of the first fully immersive Virtual Environment installations that is inhabited by virtual characters and presences specially designed to respond to and interact with its users. This experience allows a visitor to become visually and aurally immersed in a 3D computer generated environment that is inhabited by many virtual animals. The animals enter and exit the space through portholes and doors which materialize and dematerialize around the viewer. As a user explores the virtual space, they encounter several species of computer generated animals, birds, and insects that move about independently, and interactively respond to the users presence in various ways. For example, if the user moves towards a group of birds gathered on the ground, they might take off and swirl around the user with realistic flocking behavior, fly off into the distance, and return to the ground in another location. Several four- legged animals will approach the user with different gaits and behavioral reactions. The visitor might also turn toward the 3D localized sound of other animals as they follow from behind.

(Click on images below to view full-size versions)

Development Team:

Public Installations:

Equipment Configuration:

The hardware configuration of this installation includes a Head-coupled, stereoscopic color viewer that is comfortably used like a pair of very wide- angle binoculars looking into the virtual space (Fakespace BOOM-2C Viewer). Realistic, 3D localized sound cues are linked to characters and events in the virtual space by means of special DSP hardware (Crystal River Engineering Beachtron). And, the virtual environment and characters surrounding the user are generated by a high performance, real-time computer graphics platform (Silicon Graphics Reality Engine).

Software Desription:

Following is a description of the artists' objectives and algorithms:
"We know how an animal moves, not just what it looks like. In our computer simulations of virtual animals, the geometric representations are deliberately designed to be simple in order to emphasize the motion of the animals, rather than the details of their appearance. For us, the essential expression is in the abstraction of the motion, and what it suggests to the imagination of the viewer.

The motion of the animals is modeled with computer programs that simulate the physical qualities of movement. many of the techniques employed are inspired by the robotics field. Legged animals respond to simulated gravity as they walk and run in various gaits. They are able to spontaneously plan footholds on the ground so that they appear to be dynamically balanced. Birds and other flying creatures accelerate when flapping their wings and bank realistically into turns. Flocking and herding algorithms direct the patterns of flow for large groups of animals.

All animals maintain a degree of autonomy as they adaptively alter their motion in response to their surroundings, avoiding collisions with both other animals and the Virtual Environment user. Animals may follow general goals, such as "walk along any path from door X to door Y" or "fly toward region Z and land on any unoccupied spot on the ground". However, their precise movements are unpredictable since they depend on the constantly shifting circumstances of interaction between each of the animals and the user."

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Revised: 2-20-95