PMI100 Psychology of the Moving Image - Assessment 3
Emotional Recognition Experiment: Video
An unused still from "Post Human" by Oliver Lavender
Media Psychology Theory Research
In undertaking the first assessment (based around abstract animation with simple shapes) I endeavoured to create an animation that told a narrative primarily through movement and gestalt psychology principles. I also tried (unsuccessfully), to use feminist psychology to create a gender distinction within the mind of the viewers. In this case the challenge was communicating through simplistic animation and form, the complex series of events in my narrative.
In contrast, assessment 3 instructed the class to use live action production (video), which brings with it a reduction in the complexity of conveying contextual and narrative information - but conversely, affects the final outcome, though the introduction of literalism through photorealism.
This was further complicated by the way in which I approached my animation “style” which I will discuss in more detail in the production diary.
The most obvious difference I found between the 2 assessments was the ability to use narrative exposition. This was employed through various techniques such as voice acting and text in the video. I was also able to rely on context cues created by location, costume and symbolism to communicate my reception theory.
Beyond this I can not see a significant difference between the two formats (Abstract Vs Live Action). I qualify this by noting that the principles (Gestalt, composition, colour and so forth) remain unchanged. They are universal (as any good principle should be) therefore the transferal from one “medium” to another has little effect on how one should approach film making. The use of these psychological techniques can be used to inform, engage and manipulate an audience on any level.
This could be seen as a “cop out”, but I truly believe that if I am able to make a triangle emote through movement alone, then the same should be be possible with more complex shapes and objects. Over hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, humans have learnt to recognise and respond to facial expressions, body language and tone of voice, which give the film maker an advantage over abstract animations in conveying their chosen reception theory to an audience more successfully.
Unused concept of "90's VR headset headset, black plastic with orange highlight" - Prompt
There is a visual shorthand that has been developed through the language of film and video over the last 150 years, which inherently allows filmmakers to “cut to the cheese” and avoid the maze of obscurity and the murky areas of comprehension. This is not to say that one cannot still introduce confusion with live action content and human characters. The principles remain the same, but new complexities and complications are introduced, such as continuity, which can include techniques such as matching eye lines, implied continuation and direction of movement, blocking, script supervision and many other approaches to clearly define the original intended reception theory of the creator and allow the viewer to easily comprehend narrative and physical action on the screen.
It is when we start to abstract the common discourse, that we potentially introduce confusion at the risk of making a piece more entertaining and captivating. In choosing to represent everyday people or objects in a more abstracted way (i.e. anthropomorphism, metaphor or caricature) that we are able to make intangible but meaningful connections between people, places, objects and their respective symbolism and importance in society and culture.
I didn’t undertake any specific research on media psychology beyond that of which was covered in class this trimester. Instead, I sought to build upon and expand the lessons learnt from assessment 1 and transfer their respective principles in a more literal fashion to assessment 3.
I wanted to explore how these ideas could be reflected in an abstract and literal fashion and was inspired by new mediums such as TikTok, whilst creating my PMI100 animation A & B, and how their “mere” presence (get it ;) alone can change the message they seek to deliver and the way we come to appreciate a piece of media, person or message with repeated exposure over time.
In reflecting on my reply, I have mainly been concerned with what could be deemed as narrative based, creative/conceptual media. When it comes to “factual” (an ironic term for a format that is contrived and manufactured on every level) media such as news, documentary and current affairs harness the power of literalism and symbology to manipulate and indoctrinate the audience to their chosen agenda (political, social, religious etc). This could come in the form of of state sponsored “Police” shows such as Border Force and RBT, which aim to increase fear and compliance around “antisocial” behaviour or news media agendas from the likes of News Corp (Rupert Murdoch) which seek to create political and social divide - in the pursuit of nefarious advantage and positioning in the global news media market. The last US election between Trump and Biden demonstrated how corporations such as Fox news and by extension News Corp are liable to support political figures and presidential candidates who will continue to support their narrative and position as the dominant news media in America and arguably, the world (Ellison & Dawsey).
The point I am really seeking to make is: although news media outlets are predominantly using live action “video” to convey their chosen narrative (vs abstraction such as in Assessment 1), this does not mean that “narrative” can not be abstracted and “massaged” (to use McLuhan’s term) into something entirely different from what could be described as consensus reality (Wikipedia).
Speaking more frankly, just because you see it, doesn’t mean one can believe it, anymore than one can believe a cartoon to be a “real”, correct and or accurate reflection of reality. As the fires of division and rhetoric are stoked around the globe it is becoming more pronounced and deliberate, but conversely increasingly effective, as large populations of users are siloed in the echo chambers of social media networks and their respective political dogmas (Schleffer & Miller), for instance Facebook becoming the safe bastion of liberals and sites like Parlor catering towards conservative (and alt right groups) with relative impunity.
The interface of Replicate.AI
Media Psychology Theory
First of all I should qualify that I created an animation as opposed to a live action piece. This animation could easily be transferred (or translated) to a live setting via simple blocking and location scouting filming etc, or even the use of green screen and digital composting (thus I felt that my final output wasn’t a large departure from “reality”). I also to chose to break with the format of the brief and altered Part A and B to be a continuing narrative. This was based off feedback I received from Assessment 2 surrounding participants inability to comprehend (or perhaps observe) small changes between the two animations and the resulting frustration or lack of interest as a result. I also believe I have learnt the lessons intended from Assessment 1 and wanted to extend myself by working with AI and creating a case study of sorts (or companion piece) to my case study in BCI100 on Dall.E and the future of creativity with artificial Intelligence.
I have structured the narrative in such a way that Part A is the set up and Part B provides the complication/conflict and payoff. I will discuss this in further detail in the production diary.
The various assessments I have been working on this term (in this class and others) have played a significant role in determining my approach to this brief. Throughout my research I came in contact with concepts such as liminal space and emerging internet based art aesthetics like Dreamcore and Weirdcore, which rely heavily on nostalgia and feelings of isolation and “derealisation” to trigger and illicit strong emotional responses in the mind of the viewer through past experience and deep seeded memories.
I discovered that large numbers of the current generation (Gen-Z) struggle with feelings of disassociation and derealisation in previously unrecorded numbers (Shinn-Moris, 2018) (Cummins, 2020). I found this to be a fascinating concept and an interesting psychological approach to explore in this assessment. The younger generations of today are born into a world of social media whether they like it or not - They have never known anything else, which is in turn leading to a myriad of mental health issues due to over saturation and reliance on social platforms for connection and communication (24/7). I wanted to play with these concepts in my animation and try and evoke some of the themes I have witnessed time and time again in the comment sections of various social platforms.
Though the imagery in the film is captured in a first person format I have still used the Kuleshov effect (I think it becomes hard not to, unless you are doing one take scenes/shots, which could be argued, still contain Kuleshov in the form of blocking) to link together the various shots in the film. An example of this could be the transitions from one location to another. For instance the establishing exterior shot of the building, juxtaposed with the interior of the lobby or the opening of an elevator door and the subsequent transition to the interior of said elevator. My aim was to link the viewer from scene to scene in a smooth, seamless and somewhat dreamy fashion.
The Interface of AI Dungeon
Trans-diegetic sound (transitioning from one to the other) was also employed in the form of sound effects, such as foot steps that can be heard in the opening external shot, which lead into the lobby scene where you are first greeted by Courtney. This helps to establish movement and the position of the characters within the scene. Diegetic sound was also used in the form of voice over from the AI that speaks to you in virtual reality via headphones.
Another key concept was ensure the dialog never referred to gender, age, race etc of the protagonist (you). I wanted to keep the dialog particularly non-specific, so as to ensure anyone would be able to inhabit the role without question. This is a technique used in various video games to great success, especially early 90’s text driven graphical adventure titles. I also enjoy the conversational style that arises. It becomes quite psychedelic to only ever be spoken to (or at) and never be referred to by name. I also attempted to use this effect to illicit and enhance further feelings of derealisation and surrealness.
Gestalt psychology was generously used throughout to to create connections, especially through the use of proximity (to denote ownership i.e. the objects that are passed between the characters) and the use of symmetry by way of placement of character in the centre of the fame, to create emphasis and salience where desired. Common fate was also used as a tool to communicate intention of characters and their motivations through movement (similarly to assessment 1).
Heider capacity was also factored in via the amount of characters and foreground objects in each scene (no more than 3 at any one time), which leads into the concepts relating to figure and ground.
In working with AI to generate the images, I was able to produce intense sensations of Pareidolia (and to a lesser degree, Anthropomorphism) by way of psychedelic backgrounds that cycle through different frames (of image sequences) creating surreal Deepdream-esque, other-worldly representations of potential everyday objects.
Most of all I wanted to create a piece that made people feel something. If I can produce feelings of anticipation, fear, isolation and panic, coupled with intrigue and mystery then I have achieved my desired outcome.
I found this while looking for an Apple palm pad which I will also post as it's a thing of beauty...
I tried to create a mood and vibe through the use of colour, setting and perhaps ambiguity. In Part A, I was happy to leave people in a state of ambiguity so far as narrative was concerned in the hope that the pay off in Part B would be worth the wait.
In regards to testing these theories, I had to use my intuition to create a piece of work that felt “right” to me personally and hope that my sense of direction would intuit the correct response. I’m not sure if that is a satisfactory answer but it was my approach nevertheless.
Media Psychology Theory Hypothesis
My hypothesis for narrative comprehension is:
The audience will understand that they are playing a character that views the world from a first person perspective (extra points if they relate the experience back to graphic adventure video games or 90’s symbolism). They will also comprehend that they have arrived at the headquarters of a large corporation to partake in an undefined experiment.
After being greeted by a representative of the company they are asked to sign a waiver and come to understand that they will be placed in a type of virtual reality during the experiment.
They are then escorted to the lab (No 7) where they are greeted by a doctor or scientist who informs them he has been waiting for them.
In regards to emotions portrayed, I believe anticipation will be the most dominant in Part A, followed by fear.
I also believe that the audience will not be able to derive a great deal of meaning from Part A and may even be disappointed that there was no immediate resolution/conclusion to the narrative. Im am “ok with this” as it implies that narrative was entertaining and mysterious, leading them to desire a resolution (that will be provided in Part A). NOTE: It was difficult to know where to split my story to achieve a sense of mystery and intrigue, but also provide enough information and exposition to provide context.
Bonus points for guessing:
That this story takes place in the 90’s.
That the company is rather unethical and somewhat creepy in its approach to testing on human subjects.
That there is a sense of “unreality” and psychedelia involved
My hypothesis for narrative comprehension is:
that the subject is required to undress and hand over any personal items before beginning the experiment. They will also observe hesitation in their characters decision to take part in the experiment as anticipation (anxiety) makes way to fear as the dominant emotion portrayed.
They will then understand that they have been placed in some kind of virtual reality where it is revealed that they are having their brain/consciousness scanned and uploaded to a machine (extra points for the use of the word metaverse) where they soon discover that they are actually about to lose their corporeal form (body) and that this all seems generally wrong and rather frightening and that they want to stop the experiment, but alas!!! … it is too late.
(Bonus points if the audience identifies the 3 subliminal frames of Mark Zuckerberg towards the end of Part B)
It’s important to stress that although I had a general idea of where I wanted the story to go, I was also following the whim of the AI to create a narrative that was 2 parts bizarre and 1 part sensical. As a result, the true nature of these short films is somewhat ambiguous and vague on purpose leaving the viewer to decipher their own meaning through the symbolism used (“Deep Fried” AI visual style, 90s graphic adventure video game aesthetic, sci concepts, vapourware soundtrack and retro technologies such as the Apple MessagePad2000 etc).
The larger premise of this film revolves around the concepts of loss of humanity, digital control of consciousness, the abuse of power and the lack of morality on the behalf of mega corporations, the impending transformation of human to post human forms and the erosion of the social fabric of society through emerging technologies such as VR and the Metaverse..
For both Part A and B, I think the audience will make a comment on the strange aesthetic, lack of conclusion in Part 1 followed by a broader understanding of the narrative in Part 2 coupled with a increased emotional response as result of the increase in intensity of tone, sound and visual stimuli that suggest something is odd (or not quite right) about the situation and what happens to their character is unexpected at the very least.
So where did all this come from?
At the start of the year I was introduced the concept of AI Text To Image generation and was fascinated by the ramifications it posed on the creative industries. I have spent the last 12 weeks immersed in a world of technology and its function within the arts. Conversely I have been exploring art’s relationship with technology, science, engineering and maths. The last assignment I produced (BCI100 Ass 2) involved researching current technologies in text to image generation, which was one half of the equation. The second half came in the form of research I have undertaken for DCX101 to create a tableau vivant. I have been heavily influenced by new and emerging internet art movements (or “aesthetics” as the kids would say) such as Dreamcore and Weirdcore, Liminal Space photography and the work of artists like Jeffrey Smart.
I have included a link to a research collage here which helps inform the the visual look and tone of voice I was trying to emulate for this short film. It was my intention that these 3 assignments are part of a trilogy of work undertaken this term, with convey a connective theme and narrative woven in between them all. This piece directly relates to the wider themes of my major assessment for Design Context and serves as an extension to the bizarre technocratic retrotopian future which I have been building in my mind.
Milanote Research Board
One of the biggest influences for this piece came in the form of a TikTok video that was found under the hashtag #dreamcore. I was immediately taken by the simple animation style, game like conversation and use of symbology and nostalgia to elicit feelings of derealisation and dreamlike irreverence. It was important for me to put my own slant on it. We had been talking about the Metaverse in class and this is when I knew I had the direction I wanted to pursue.
Season one: Darcy’s ghost
After talking about how AI can help artists in the creative process I decided to put this to the test using myself as a guinea pig. I used AI Dungeon (https://play.aidungeon.io/ and finally got some use out of my only Patron support for this concept!), which is based on Open AI’s GPT-3 AI Neural Network model, to create a narrative centred around the following prompt *generated* by me):
“It's the early 90's and you are being paid to take part in an experiment conducted by a giant tech company. The experiment involves artificial reality, transhumanism and the metaverse. You are told you will be connecting your mind to a computer to test some experimental new software. The experiment is relatively safe, they tell you. "relatively" being the key word here.
"It's 9am, you arrive at a large corporate building and are in the lobby when you are greeted by a representative of the company. Her name is Courtney. She's dressed in a blue business suit, her blonde hair pulled back in a bun. She address you with the charm of someone who has done this many times before.”
The AI was able to generate the story almost entirely on its on. This is not to say I didn’t have hands on control of the direction. If the AI would generate something I didn’t like I could spin the wheel again (so to speak) and create a different outcome that was more inline with my overall vision (referenced in hypothesis). I was also able to add and remove words that would help the AI make the right decisions and reduce confusion for a more reliable output. Essentially though, I let the AI run free and treated it like taking a dog for a walk to the park. Sometimes you have to keep it on a short leash - You don’t want it charging away. Other times you follow behind and let the dog dictate the path you take, knowing that you are may find something interesting that you couldn’t find on your own by following in its footsteps.
The many faces of Courtney (Just some of the attempts I made creating a character for the film)
For the visual component, Replicate.AI (https://replicate.com/dribnet/pixray-vqgan) was the go to for iterative image generation. I predominantly used a generator called dribnet/pixray-vqgan (https://github.com/dribnet/pixray) which provided a painterly dreamy aesthetic with a good balance of literal and surreal. The tone and texture complimented the mid 90s corporate vibe I was looking for.
The images were saved out (in a time consuming process), with roughly 33 in each batch, renamed and prefixed with number order where they could then be imported into After effects as image sequences. I would also duplicate the last 16 frames and run and expression which enabled me to select a random frame each time to achieve a hand animated feel without repetition. (Working With Image Sequences in Photoshop & After Effects CS6 - Ariel Markus (https://benmarkus.wordpress.com/2012/08/09/working-with-image-sequences-in-photoshop-after-effects-cs6/ )
This is an extremely powerful expression and went a long way to achieving the style. The initial 16 frames are good for setting a scene but are too noisy to create consistent animation and this is why this expression works so well in creating a random sequence of images. The animation style seemed to be a blend of video game and painterly hand drawn aesthetics with a strange uncanny valley effect caused by the slight photo realism generated by the AI, based of its training on photographs. I wonder what effect this had the audience's ability to comprehend which period or genre this film belongs in. I love this as it really enhances the subtle “derealisation” effect I was trying to achieve.
Here’s the expression, Ariels blog post on the subject is also excellent.
fr = 12; // frame rate;
numFrames = 8;
seg = Math.floor(time*fr);
f = Math.floor(random(numFrames));
for (i = 0; i < seg; i++)
f = (f + Math.floor(random(1,numFrames)))%numFrames;
The sequences were modified and animated mainly with masks and layer effects edited together with the narration, which was generated from Text To Speech (http://www.fromtexttospeech.com/) which I found to be the most reliable generator. These were then comped with a custom VHS look applied.
After the comps were exported out of After Effects, sound was added in premiere where it was further degraded for that retro look and finally edited and exported.
So What's it like then?
To conclude I would like to say that working with AI had many benefits comparatively to working alone. I felt it was able to provide ideas and directions in the narrative and visual domains that i had not always considered. Working like this has its limitations and the AI is not perfect (far from it) but I learnt to just keep refining the keywords and sentence structures to zero in on my desired results. If you are going to work like this get ready to ITERATE! It's rare to get a great result on the first attempt (sometimes it happens and you think, "well gosh darn that's just perfect") but with trial and error, creatives can achieve very surreal and interesting results with the power of Artificial Intelligence.
Full Screen Play here:
Taken from the screenplay I co wrote with GPT-3 (formatted by me! Were not there yet! lol)
Full Unedited Prompt From AI Dungeon:
Full Unedited Prompt from AI Dungeon
Dreamcore is a surrealist aesthetic that uses motifs commonly associated with dreams, daydreams or nightmares, portrayed through media such as images, videos and, on occasion, music. Dreamcore shares many similarities with surreal memes; however, it does not rely on absurdist humour. Instead, dreamcore focuses on emulating the general feeling of a dream.
Its the early 90's and you are being paid to take part in an experiment conducted by a giant tech company. The experiment involves artificial reality, transhumanism and the metaverse. You are told you will be connecting your mind to a computer to test some experimental new software. The experiment is relatively safe, they tell you. "relatively" being the key word here.
It's 9am, you arrive at a large corporate building and are in the lobby when you are greeted by a representative of the company. Her name is Courtney. She's dressed in a blue business suit, her blonde hair pulled back in a bun. She address you with the charm of someone who has done this many times before.
Courtney: "Hello my name is Courtney," she says, "I'll be taking you to the experiment. I just need you to follow my instructions as we've had a few test subjects get lost on the way."
You: "Ha ha, they got lost going to the 5th floor?"
Courtney: "*Sigh* No, they got lost in the virtual world... Never mind, follow me."
You and Courtney enter an elevator, where she hands you a tablet device and further instructions.
Courtney: "Please sign this non disclosure agreement."
You think this is strange as you have already filled in a million forms to get to this point.
Courtney: "Now, the experiment requires total isolation while in the virtual world. To ensure this, you will be placed in a headset that connects you to our state of the art cyber mainframe"
You: "Oh! sounds like that movie Jupiter Ascending"
You arrive at the 5th floor where Courtney leads you to a large room containing 90s era bulky computer equipment with a single chair in the middle. There is a man in a lab coat holding a large, futuristic looking virtual reality headset.
Man in lab coat: "Ahh good, your here. We've been expecting you."
Man in lab coat: "Please undress and leave your personal effects with Courtney, you wont be needing them where your going."
You: "Huh?" You wonder what he means by where your going as you hand Courtney your keys.
Courtney: "Take a seat and allow your mind to relax. The procedure will begin shortly"
Courtney tightens the straps on the chair around your arms and legs and attaches a series of wires to your body.
Man in lab coat: "These wires are for sound, breathing, and brain wave activity. Now please try to remain still"
You: "Uh, okay."
After making sure you are secured, Courtney stands in front of you holding the VR Headset.
Courtney: "During the scan you may experience... some... pain. This is only temporary. It will not be present in your new form."
You: "Wait, wha..?!"
Courtney places the VR over your head. The world goes dark then lights up in a blinding series of futuristic graphics. You hear a voice in your ear.
Voice: "Hello and congratulations on being a participant in the Gates to the Metaverse test project. Before we begin, please make sure that the head strap is secure and that your ears are inside the cups."
At this point your palms are sweaty and you are having second thoughts about all of this.
Voice: "You have been given the chance to become something more than you could have ever imagined. We're taking the next giant leap forward in human evolution and entering the era of post-humanism."
Voice: "We will now digitise your consciousness and transfer it into a non-corporeal form. You will leave your physical body behind and become something greater. But in order to become this greatness, you must be willing to shed the flesh and blood that is holding you back from your transition to a superior state."
Voice: "You will now be free from the shackles of decay and disease that come with this repugnant, corpulent form."
Voice: "This is not the end of your life, but the beginning of something new."
A surge of electricity goes through your body, you're hit by a sudden paralysis and a feeling of dread floods over you. The headphones are filled with static as the voice continues to speak..
Voice: "In a few moments, your brain will be completely digitised. In exchange for your cerebral scan, we will provide you with a new life in a digital paradise. You will be able to create anything you want, live out any kind of life, inside a digital world with limitless possibilities. Once the scan is complete we retain your mind as intellectual property and can recreate you again and again in any kind of reality we want. You're going to be a byte in a new world order. This is the dawn of a new era for humanity and you have a front row seat."
The static in your ears begins to get louder.
You: "Uh, I-I think there's been a mistake."
Voice: "Consent was provided. There's no turning back, please prepare for ascension."
You: "I don't want t...!" suddenly you are unable to speak or resist any longer.
The static drowns out all other sound, you feel the blood drain from your face and a blinding bright white light envelops you.
You're too late. The scan is complete, your body is dead and your brain has been transformed into a digital state. You have become a consciousness floating in a machine.
You have become Post Human.
Thank you for taking part in the experiment, please wait while we transfer you to your new reality.
Ellison, S. Dawsey, J. (2020, November 9). The long love affair between Fox News and Trump may be over. Here’s how it all soured last week. [Washington Post].
Wikipedia,. (n.d.). Consensus reality. [Wiki Article]
Scheleffer, G. Miller, B. (2021). The Political Effects of Social Media Platforms on Different Regime Types. [University of Texas].
Shinn-Moris, L. (2018, September 31). Why Memes Express the Feeling of Disassociating Better Than Words Do. [Vice Article].
Cummins, E. (2020, March 4). Our Screens Are Making Us Dissociate. [OneZero Article].
All other references are directly linked fo ease of access/use (it is a blog after all)