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Many Worlds: The Movie That Watches Its Audience

The Plymouth-based creative has made Many Worlds, a film that watches audience members as they watch it, allowing them to influence the sequence of scenes as the film unfolds.

The film was developed at the interdisciplinary centre for computer music research at Plymouth University in the UK. Through it, Mr Kirke is rethinking the way we watch movies by building on his previous research into the use of bio-signals to detect people’s emotions and their state of minds.

Arousal analysis

The goal is for the audience to become immersed in the plot. The twist is that as they do so their emotions are used to direct the movie’s progress, editing it in real time.

“One day we may be able to put a camera at the front of the cinema to pick up the arousal of the entire audience,” Mr Kirke tells the BBC. But for now he is starting more simply.

For the technology to work, the filmmaker requires four volunteers from the audience to be attached to sensors.

One viewer’s heart rate will be monitored, another’s brain waves will be tracked, a third’s level of perspiration will be observed, and the final volunteer will have a device strapped to their arm to measure muscle tension.

These are all indicators, Mr Kirke suggests, of physical arousal that can then be fed into a computer and analysed in real time.

Four endings

To test his hypothesis, Mr Kirke has made his own short film building in a number of junctions where alternative narratives can be played out, depending on the emotional trigger provided by the monitored audience member.

In effect he has made a movie that can branch off into multiple story lines when activated.

“The actors have had to act out four different films within one overall film” he says.

Mr Kirke then played footage that diverged from its expected narrative.

When Mr Mitchell started to get tense, the film flicked to a more relaxing sequence. But when the journalist was later encouraged to relax, the footage at the next branch point switched to a dramatic moment with an undercurrent of expected violence.

First step

This fledgling interactive film is a first step, but a more rigorous test will require a film to be made with many more decision points than Mr Kirke and his collaborators have been able to engineer.

Nonetheless, the film-maker believes that it is inevitable that this kind of technology will be embraced by all the major studios from Hollywood to Bollywood.

In the future, he believes the director will relinquish control to the audience’s collective emotional state.

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