The Space Between

April 27, 2017 § Leave a comment

As artificial intelligence technology continues to advance and mature, we must become willing to confront the thorny questions which surround its development.

“How much access to human lives should AI entities be granted? How far intellectually and emotionally is an AI entity from a human? How will the presence of AI entities affect our relationships with each other as humans?”

How are these intricacies conveyed through art now?

For my final project, I examine the use of distance – emotional, physical, and aesthetic – in three cinematic works which explore AI/human relationships: Her, Ex Machina, and Black Mirror’s Be Right Back. My full paper can be accessed here.

Teeth in the Sand

April 26, 2017 § Leave a comment

For my final project, I designed a computer game centered around the opening scene of Cloud Atlas (the book), in which Adam Ewing happens upon Henry Goose searching for teeth in the sand. In the game the player has to click around the screen to try to find the concealed teeth. I chose this scene because I believe it can be viewed as an outline for what the rest of the novel is going to be exploring. Let me explain what I mean. Goose says that the teeth are remnants from a “cannibals’ banqueting hall, yes, where the strong engorged themselves on the weak” (Mitchell 3). In essence then, these teeth are symbols of times in which humans preyed on other humans. In fact, Goose himself is perpetuating this symbolism because he is planning to exploit the teeth to earn money. The opening scene shows a literal sifting through the sands (of time) to find these evidences and reminders of human predacity towards other humans. I would argue that Mitchell is performing the same act in his novel.

[You might want to go play the game before reading further. Here is the link to it: https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/157372073/.]

Throughout the novel, Mitchell highlights the manner in which humans are always preying on other humans, whether individually or as part of tribes, corporations, or governments. There are two reasons that seem to lead to this rampant predacity. The first is the ‘other’-ization of groups of people such that they can be treated differently. In The Orison of Sonmi~451, fabricants are viewed as sub-human and so horrible atrocities can be committed on them. In Adam Ewing’s journal, the attitude of the white people to black people, and the superior attitude of the Kona towards the Valleysman can also be described in these terms. The second reason for the overwhelming rapaciousness appears to greed, generally for wealth and/or power. Examples of this are the Swannekke corporation in Luisa’s story, John Hotchkiss’s desperate desire for his aged mother’s wealth in Cavendish’s story, and Ayrs’ exploitation of Frobisher.

I wanted to represent these two reasons for predacity in Cloud Atlas with two mini-games. The first is a card matching memory game centered around Sonmi’s story. With this game I wanted to show that the fabricants can be exploited and preyed upon because they, as clones, are treated as identical and replaceable, just as the cards have to be treated as identical.

The second mini-game is based around Luisa’s story. The player has to feed gold nuggets to Ekke the Swan to keep him from getting enraged.  With this game, I intended to draw attention to the insatiable corporate greed for power and wealth that is revealed through Luisa’s investigation.

I hope you enjoy playing the game!  Let me know in the comments if you are having trouble accessing it.

— Mihira Konda

P.S. The software is kind of basic and I’m not sure I coded in the most efficient way so please don’t try to go too fast while playing as it may get really buggy.

Topia: A 4-player strategy game

April 25, 2017 § Leave a comment

For our project, Mollie and I developed a strategy board game called “Topia” that incorporates many of the characters from books and movies we discussed this semester. Below you’ll find the rule set and examples of game cards we created.

W have a short promo video that will give you a rundown of the rules and shows a few of our friends testing out the game! Click here to check it out

instructions-01

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Enjoy!

— Megan & Mollie

Cloud Atlas Clue

April 25, 2017 § Leave a comment

For my final project, I did a Cloud Atlas the movie inspired Clue! game. The following is the instruction portion of my project:

Rules

Come join your favorite characters from Cloud Atlas in a game of Clue! Adam, Robert, Luisa, Timothy, Sonmi-451, and Zachry have joined forces to find out who killed their most precious people: Tilda, Sixsmith, Isaac, Ursula, Hae-Joo, and Meronym. In this alternate universe, Old Georgie, also one of the suspects, has thrust these characters into a world where all time periods are connected through doors. One of the villains- Henry Goose, Vyvyan Ayrs, Bill Smoke, Nurse Noakes, Boardman Mephi, and Old Georgie-has successfully enacted their revenge, but their killing spree ended up snuffing out all of your favorite protagonists’ loved ones. It is up to you to help them solve who, where, and how these innocent people were killed. Each colored game piece is associated with a character’s game card, so choose your player!

On the board game, you will see 8 rooms representing each of the worlds and time periods as well as 2 closets: the Pacific Islands, Scotland, San Francisco, England, Neo Seoul, and Hawaii. Move around the board the number of squares you roll on the die. Look out for hidden passageways as these might give you an advantage!

Your objective, as previously stated, is to find out who the villainous murderer is, what weapon they used to kill the innocent loved ones, and in which room these people were killed in. The six weapon choices are poison, pistol, bomb, bare hands, execution collar, and crossbow. These weapons are inspired by those found in the movie to harm the protagonists.

Begin by choosing your character, one of the 6 heroes with a colored background card. The colors are associated with the moving piece you will use for the board game. Put aside any hero cards you are not using. Then, you will now have 3 different piles of cards: room, murder weapon, and villain. Select one card from each of the piles and put inside the confidential envelope. This is what you must guess correctly in order to win!

Shuffle the remaining cards together and pass them out equally amongst yourselves. Any remaining cards can be put face up for everyone to see. DO NOT SHOW YOUR CARDS. Only YOU must look at the cards dealt to your hand. Using the check-list paper, check off the cards in your hands as these cannot give you the winning answer.

Now it is time to roll the die! The number you get is the amount of squares you are allowed to move. Your objective each turn is to get into a room. You may move up, down, side-ways, and backwards, but you may NOT move diagonally. No two players are allowed on a single square. There is a possibility that you may get stuck in a room if someone is right outside the doorway. You will then lose a turn and have to wait until the player outside the door enters the room. More than one player is allowed in a single room.

Once inside a room, you may make a suggestion as to what you think might be in the envelope. For example, you may say, “I think it was Nurse Noakes with a pistol in Hawaii.” The person to your left will then show a card to you ONLY if it is one of the cards you asked about. If a player DOES NOT have one of the cards you suggested, they DO NOT have to show you any of their cards. A player is REQUIRED to show you the card you suggested if they have it. Once a card you suggested is shown to you, you may check it off on your list.

Once you feel certain about your deduction, state it! But make sure you are 100% positive about your answer as you only have ONE chance. If you get it wrong, game over for you! Check the envelope to see whether your answer was correct. If so, CONGRADULATIONS! You have won Clue and are a detective master.

*start your game piece on one of the black squares.

*envelope goes in the center of the gameboard, above the Clue! logo.

The following is the commercial to the game: https://youtu.be/WArjpgfM9ZM

Here are a few of the cards:

Cinema, AI and Desire in BladeRunner

April 25, 2017 § Leave a comment

For my final project, I did a video essay revolving around ideas of cinema and AI while using examples from the 1982 film, Blade Runner. My video essay is at the link below:

A Theatrical Retelling of Isaac Asimov’s “Runaround”

April 25, 2017 § Leave a comment

I am very involved in the theatre program, especially the technical/design side of theatre, so for my final project I decided to take the story of “Runaround” from the short story collection I, Robot by Isaac Asimov and stage it with lights and sound. I am calling this a “Theatrical Retelling” not because that’s an actual phrase that people use, but because I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate. In this blog post I will detail the design process, including my reasoning for the artistic choices that I made as well as a more technical/educational explanation of how stage lighting works. You are also welcome to skip over all that and just watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXL4KNS_lfQ&feature=youtu.be

Overview:

Reading “Runaround” I was able to break the action into five major “scenes”/settings: the radio room, the subbasement, the tunnels below the mining station, the shadowy area on the surface, and the “Sunside”. Below I have included a general explanation of my sound choices, my visual research for each scene, the rendering I created with Virtual Light Lab, and a photo of the finished product.

Sound:

For this product I primarily focused on lighting design, but I did spend quite a lot of time on sound. I found sound to be difficult for this story in particular because it is mentioned several times how quiet it is (I just quickly ran a search on the story and the word “silence” is used at least seven times). So for my design I wanted to find songs that conveyed the sensation of an unsettling, tense silence. The songs I ended up using are “Legion (Aftermath)” by Zoe Keating, “Kanada’s Death, Pt.1” by John Murphy (from the movie Sunshine), “Escape Velocity” by Future Heroes, and “Wars of Faith” by Audiomachine. “Legion (Aftermath)” and “Kanada’s Death, Pt. 1” both heavily feature elongated notes—in the case of “Legion” played on string instruments, and in the case of “Kanada’s Death” played on a series of instruments that I am not qualified to identify, some of which are probably string instruments. I found this to be very effective in creating a tense mood. I choose the song “Escape Velocity” for the climax of the story as it had a bit more movement than the first two songs, but still matched the general tone that had been established. Lastly, I chose “Wars of Faith” to serve as a more calming song to close out the story, but not so calm that it would be a jarring transition from “Escape Velocity”.

A Brief Background in Lighting Design:

It would take quite a long time for me to cover all of the nuances of lighting design–I’ve worked on lighting with VUTheatre for four years now, am currently taking a lighting design class, and I still have a lot to learn—but here I will attempt to give you a general overview of the design process to help you understand the rest of this post.

The design process for lighting starts out just like any other area of theatrical design: research. This for both practical and artistic reasons. For example, since “Runaround” is set on Mercury, I had to do research into how lighting would look on the planet’s surface. I also looked to television representations of space-bases to give me an idea of what the interior of the mining station would look like.

From research I moved on to Virtual Light Lab, a lighting design program that is extremely helpful for figuring out gel colors and lighting positions. The renderings I created with VLL are all included below. (Note: gels are basically just little pieces of fabric you put into lights to change their color. I’ve also included photos of all the gels that I used. Brands of gels commonly used by VUTheatre are Roscolux (R), Lee (L), and GAM (G)).

From my renderings I moved on to the light lab. This is a little room in the basement of Buttrick that has a mini stage and mini lighting fixtures. It is very cute and very useful. I staged all of the scenes with real lights and photographed and filmed the final product.

Now that you have a very general idea of what is happening, let’s move onto specific scenes:

Scene 1: The Radio Room

I wanted the lighting in the radio room to mimic modern fluorescent lighting.

e3d6f658073597ebe64ebae8246570a4.jpg

(Modern fluorescent lighting. http://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/e3/d6/f6/e3d6f658073597ebe64ebae8246570a4.jpg)

Here is a prime example of how Virtual Light Lab is not always a great representation of what you’re going to see in the actual light lab. The gel I used was L728, which appears very teal when just looking at it outside of a light. VLL emphasized this blue-ness in a way that didn’t accurately represent the final product.RRGel.jpg(Left: L728 gel; Right: Rendering for the radio room in VLL)

In the actual light lab, L728 appears to be a somewhat warm white light, very similar to fluorescent lights. I chose to go with top light because interior lights generally come from directly above. I used the front diagonals to light the face (I could also have used front light, but that tends to flatten out a figure and I prefer some dimension).Untitled.png(My design for the Radio Room)

Scene 2: The Subbasement

I imagined the subbasement to be a darker, less well-kept segment of the mining station. Reading this story I couldn’t help but visualize “The Impossible Planet”, an episode of Doctor Who set in a station on a planet orbiting a black hole.
Impossible_planet.jpg(“The Impossible Planet”; Season 2, episode 9 of Doctor Who)

I started off this scene with an industrial looking gobo (gobos are little metal disks with patterns cut into them. You put them in lights to create a textured pattern on stage) called “Les Mis Grill 8”, and some back and side light in the L728. I wanted to create the illusion of someone coming down the stairs and turning on a light, so after a few seconds of darkness I flickered R02 (a commonly used shade named “Bastard Amber”) on and off several times before settling it in the on position.

SBGels(Left: Top—“Les Mis Grill 8” gobo, Middle—R02 gel, Bottom—L728 gel; Right: rendering for the subbasement in VLL)

SB.png(Left: Initial look with just back and side light; Right: Look once front diagonals have been added with R02)

Scene 3: The Tunnels

In “Runaround”, the character Powell describes the tunnels: “Notice that these tunnels are blazing with lights and that the temperature is Earth-normal.” Once again, I drew inspiration for this scene from Doctor Who. Another episode called “Under the Lake” has the Doctor visiting a research station deep underwater. Since the station is completely deprived of sunlight, the interior light is made to emulate natural light:

9304556-high-1(“Under the Lake”; Season 9, episode 3 of Doctor Who)

I used R62, “Booster Blue”, to create a cool white light that resembles sunlight on Earth.

TunnelGel(Left: Top—“Wide Louvre” gobo, Right—R62 gel; Right: Rendering of the tunnels in Virtual Light Lab.)

tunnelpic.png(Final design of the tunnels in the light lab)

Scene 4: The Surface

Donovan and Powell first emerge onto the surface of Mercury in the shadow of a cliff. I looked at images of mountain and cliff shadows and saw that they are generally pretty blue.

mountain.png(Mountain shadow. http://www.hotelroomsearch.net/im/hotels/middle-east/il/mountain-shadow-2.jpeg)

In this scene I wanted to create the illusion of standing in shadow, walking towards a light. To achieve this, I started off with a combination of R74 and R84 in the front diagonals and backlight. These are both very deep blues with a low-transmission (meaning the gels don’t let very much of the light from the fixture through). I added in R57, a purple-ish color, on a slow fade to help the transition into the “Sunside” scene.

ShadowGel(Left: Top—R57 gel, Middle—R74 gel, Bottom—R84 gel; Right: Rendering of the shadowy surface in Virtual Light Lab)

Surface(Left: The top of the scene with just the deep blue gels; Right: The end of the scene with the purple gel added)

Scene 5: The Sunside

Astronomy fun fact: Up until 1962, we (meaning humans) thought that Mercury was tidally-locked, which basically means that the orbit of a celestial object coincides with the orbit of its sun in such a way that one side of the object is eternally in sunlight, the other side in darkness. We have since learned that this is not true at all (Mercury just rotates super slowly on its axis), but “Runaround” was written in 1942, so Asimov didn’t know any better. This fact is actually pretty important to understanding the plot of “Runaround”, as it explains what “Sunside” means as well as the general layout of the mining station.

Designing the “Sunside” of Mercury had me doing quite a bit of research into the nature of Mercury’s atmosphere and environmental conditions. To sum up my findings, it is really really incredibly bright and hot on the surface of Mercury. This is for a couple of reasons: first of all, Mercury has effectively no atmosphere to shield the surface from UV rays (aka the Sun); and Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun (just over a third the distance of the Earth from the sun), so the Sun appears several times larger. With this information in mind, my design concept was basically “it needs to be really intensely bright onstage”.

5783baf41b00002600f6d2f2(Illustration of what the Sun probably looks like from the surface of Mercury. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/what-the-sun-looks-like-from-other-planets_us_577ec142e4b0344d514e9182)

For this scene, I wanted to include the effect of the light reflecting off the selenium pool, getting brighter and brighter as Powell gets closer.

Geology fun fact: While selenium is generally thought to be black or grey, it can also exist in a red form.

SeBlackRed.jpg

(The various colors of selenium. http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selenium#/media/File:SeBlackRed.jpg)

I choose to feature this red form in my design for two main reasons: It is very difficult to create the color grey with lighting and impossible to create black (that would be turning off the lights), and red looks way cooler anyways.

Gels: I used several different colors to create the look of a super-intense Sun. I used R07, which is a pretty standard amber to use for sunlight, and I used R96. R96 is actually this eerie lime green that, according to a website called mainstage.com, is handy for simulating unnatural sunlight like you would see after a storm. I combined these two colors at full intensity to create a harsh and somewhat unsettling tone. I used R60, a blue, to fill in the shadow from behind, and G245 at a low angle for the selenium pool.

SunsideGel(Left: Top—R07 gel, Middle Top—R96 gel, Middle Bottom—R60 gel, Bottom: G245 gel; Right: Rendering of the Sunside + selenium pool in Virtual Light Lab.)

The scene started off with the image on the left and slowly progressed to the image on the right as Powell neared the selenium pool.

Sunside(Left: Look at the top of the scene; Right: Look at the end of the scene when Powell approached the selenium pool)

Making the Video:

To make my “Theatrical Retelling”, I took my music and recordings of the above lighting design and put them all into iMovie. I read “Runaround” about fifty times and cut it down to the key sentences. I put these sentences, as well as a few of my own which were more concise than the source material for these purposes, and reconstructed the story.

Here’s the link again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXL4KNS_lfQ&feature=youtu.be

I hope y’all enjoy!

By: Olivia Peel

 

Sources:

Asimov, Isaac. I, Robot. London: Dobson, 1950. Print.

https://www.geek.com/news/what-would-it-be-like-to-stand-on-the-surface-of-mercury-1599267/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selenium

 

 

 

“Evelyn” – A Sci-Fi Short Story

April 25, 2017 § Leave a comment

For my final project, I attempted to write a short story within the genre of science fiction. In the story, called “Evelyn”, progress in both the realms of artificial intelligence and virtual reality result in an interesting research application: the main character enters a virtual world inhabited by A.I. in order to study their behavior. What he finds complicates his understanding of humanity, embodiment, and reality. While the story is too long to post in its completeness, below I have posted an excerpt. In these passages, the main character, Joseph, describes how it feels to enter an immersive, virtual reality:

“When the servers power up, and the headset turns on, there is at first a moment of darkness. Your vision goes black, your skin goes numb – every bodily sensation dissipates, and the mind recedes into itself. You forget the humming of the laboratory computers, Dr. Armstrong’s firm grip on your shoulder, the weight of your own body. You forget the commute you made that morning through vacant streets, forcing down breakfast as you drifted between anxiety and sleep, the self-driving car cradling you down the highway. Without sensation, without memory, you have to constantly remind yourself that you are alive, that there is a real world, that you have a real body.

Then light comes, quickens in a flash, and you can see grass beneath you, twilight draped across distant mountains. A fig tree towers beside you, older than the world it lives in. Its leaves flutter to a wind you cannot feel, reach for a sun that sparked into existence just moments ago. A river is born mid-roar; songbirds harmonize in a celebration of birth. And there you are, at forty-three, a witness to creation.

You close your eyes and take a breath, a deep breath, expecting a cascade of crisp air across your tongue. Instead, you taste a dry, dusty warmth. This is laboratory air, you remember, air that has traveled in and out of the machines, dragging the heat of simulated physics and artificial thoughts away from the circuitry and into your lungs.

The disconnect brings nausea, and the nausea brings fear. You’re floating, without anything to ground yourself – a mind without embodiment.

In several minutes, the nausea will subside, your tastebuds and skin will react to the world around you with precision, and your new body will appear; a slim, powerful body. You’ll forget the body you left behind, now just a vacant shell stretched out on a mattress, its flesh fed and maintained through an IV. This is not you; you’re peeing on the wild daisies, not through a catheter; you’re eating fresh, wild figs plucked straight from the tree; you’re sitting in a one-room cottage writing notes in a journal at midnight, the pencil dulling with every letter you write. The suit simulates every perception, every feeling. In one world you lie down, in the other you stand. In one world you think motion, and in one world, you live it…”

–  Zach Gospe

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