Tag Archives: props

iMorphia Interaction Workshop

A workshop involving two performers was carried out in order to re-evaluate the performative notions of participation and navigation (Dixon 2007), described in the post iMorphia Navigation.

Previously a series of auto-ethnographic enactments (documented in posts August-December 2015) provided some initial feedback on participation and navigation with iMorphia . It was interesting to observe the enactments as a witness rather than a participant and to see if the performers might experience similar problems and effects as I had.

The first study was of participation – with the performer interacting with virtual props. Here the performer was given two tasks, first to try and knock the book off the table, then to knock over the virtual furniture, a table and a chair.

The first task involving the book proved extremely difficult, with both performers confirming the same problem as I had encountered, namely knowing where the virtual characters hand was in relationship to ones own real body. This is a result of a discrepancy in collocation between the real and the virtual body compounded by a lack of three dimensional or tactile feedback. One performer commenting “it makes me realise how much I depend on touch” underlining how important tactile feedback is when we reach for and grasp an object.

The second task of knocking the furniture was accomplished easily by by both performers and prompted gestures and exclamations of satisfaction and great pleasure!

In both cases, due to the lack of mirroring in the visual feedback, initially both performers tended to either reach out with the wrong arm or move in the wrong direction when attempting to move towards or interact with a virtual prop. This left/right confusion has been noted in previous tests as we are so used to seeing ourselves in a mirror that we automatically compensate for the horizontal left right reversal.

An experiment carried out in June 2015 confirmed that a mirror image of the video would produce the familiar inversion we are used to seeing in a mirror and performers did not experience the left/right confusion. It was observed that the mirroring problem appeared to become more acute when given a task to perform  involving reaching out or moving towards a virtual object.


The second study was of navigation through a large virtual set using voice commands and body orientation. The performer can look around by saying “Look” then using their body orientation to rotate the viewpoint. “Forward” would take the viewpoint forward into the scene whilst “Backward” would make the scene retreat as the character walks out of the scene towards the audience. Control of the characters direction is again through body orientation. “Stop” makes the character stationary.

Two tests were carried out, one with the added animation of the character walking when moving, the other without the additional animation. Both performers remarking how the additional animation made them feel more involved and embodied within the scene.

Embodiment became a topic of conversation with both performers commenting on how landmarks became familiar after a short amount of time and how this memory added to their sense of being there.

The notions of avatar/player relationship, embodiment, interaction, memory and visual appearance are discussed in depth in the literature on game studies and is an area I shall be drawing upon in a deeper written analysis in due course.

Finally we discussed how two people might be embodied and interact with the enactments of participation and navigation. Participation with props was felt to be easier, whilst navigation might prove problematic, as one person has to decide and controls where to go.

A prototype two performer participation scene comprising two large blocks was tested but due to Unity problems and lack of time this was not fully realised. The idea being to enable two performers to work together to lift and place large cubes so as to construct a tower, rather like a children’s toy wood brick set.

Navigation with two performers is more problematic, even if additional performers are embodied as virtual characters , they would have to move collectively with the leader, the one who is controlling the navigation. However this might be extended to allow characters to move around a virtual set once a goal is reached or perhaps navigational control might be handed from one participant to another.

It was also observed that performers tended to lose a sense of which way they were facing during navigation. This is possibly due to two reasons –  the focus on steering during navigation such that the body has to rotate more and the  lack of clear visual feedback as to which way the characters body is facing, especially during moments of occlusion when the character moves through scenery such as undergrowth.

These issues of real space/virtual space co-location, performer feedback of body location and orientation in real space would need to  be addressed if iMorphia were to be used in a live performance.

iMorphia – props and physics

The video documentation below illustrates an enactment of iMorphia with props imbued with physics. The addition of rigid body colliders and physical materials to the props and the limbs of the avatar enables Unity to simulate in real time the physical collision of objects and the effects of gravity, weight and friction.

The physics simulation adds a degree of believability to the scene, as the character attempts to interact with the book and chair. The difficulty of control in attempting to make the character interact with the virtual props is evident, resulting in a somewhat comic effect as objects are accidentally knocked over.

Interaction with the physics imbued props produced unpredictable responses to performance participation, resulting in a dialogue between the virtual props and the performer and a degree of improvisation – for example arms raised in frustration and the kicking over of the chair. These participatory responses suggest that  physics imbued props produce a greater sense of engagement through enhancing the suspension of disbelief – the virtual props appear more believable and realistic than those that not imbued with physics.

This enactment once again highlights the problem of co-location between the performer, the projected character and the virtual props. Co-location issues are the result of the difficulty in perceiving where the character is in three dimensional space due to the lack of depth perception. There are also navigational problems resulting from an incongruity between the mapping of the position of the performers body and limbs in real space and those of the virtual characters avatar in virtual space.

iMorphia – Props

In this experimental enactment I created a minimalist stage like set consisting of a chair and a table on which rests a book.



The video below illustrates some of the issues and problems associated with navigating the set and possible interactions between the projected character and the virtual objects.

Problems and issues:

1. Projected body mask and perspective
As the performer moves away from the kinect, the virtual character shrinks in size such that the projected body mask no longer matches the performer. Additional scripting to control the size of the avatar or altering the code in the camera script might compensate for these problems, though there may be issues associated with the differences between movements and perceived perspectives in the real and virtual spaces.

2. Co-location and feedback
The lack of three dimensional feedback in the video glasses results in the performer being unable to determine where the virtual character is in relationship to the virtual objects and thereby unable to successfully engage with the virtual objects in the scene.

3. Real/virtual interactions
There are issues associated with interactions between the virtual character and the virtual objects. In this demonstration objects can pass through each other. In the Unity games engine it is possible to add physical characteristics so that objects can push against each other, but how might this work? Can the table be pushed or should the character be stopped from moving? What are the appropriate physical dynamics between objects and characters? Should there be additional feedback, perhaps in the form of audio to represent tactile feedback when a character comes into contact with an object?

How might the book be picked up or dropped? Could the book be handed to another virtual character?

Rather than trying to create a realistic world where objects  and characters behave and  interact ‘normally’  might it be more appropriate and perhaps easier to go around the problems highlighted above and create surreal scenarios that do not mimic reality?