In a simulation, driven by simple rules, we meet artificially intelligent creatures, called “Agents” who live on their planet, cooperating to survive. That is until you arrive with the power to maintain the balance of their peaceful existence, or, you can throw them into a state of chaos. The choice is yours, what will you do with the responsibility of your agency?
Agence (from Transitional Forms and the National Film Board of Canada) is an experience that uses real-time technology, artificial intelligence (Reinforcement Learning) and user agency to craft a story that is never the same twice. Through collaborative authorship, we are able to drive emergent behaviour and storytelling with each viewing, which we’ve coined as a “Dynamic Film”.
What is a Dynamic Film?
One of the most incredible notions we can attribute to storytelling is that it is ultimately responsible for shaping human history. Over time, we have developed empathy and compassion around being able to interpret the world from another’s point of view. A Dynamic Film is an experience that puts the user at the centre of a powerful story and lets them affect it in realtime.
Isn’t that a videogame? Well, yes, but no. Yes, it certainly sounds like a videogame in nature in terms of interactivity, immersion, and real-time decisions, but the objective is different. Games are often rooted in goals, points or achievements. That isn’t to say they don’t have a story, but too often their goal is not to craft, or discover a narrative.
As a filmmaker who grew up on videogames, I can say, there is a deeply rooted, cultural foundation, that games need goals. So, when we’re trying to tell an immersive story, the natural trajectory of audience expectation trends heavily in the direction of achievements. However, a Dynamic Film such as Agence, allows users to interact with emergent narrative without the consequence of winning, failure, progress or defeat. It creates a path to great storytelling with unique outcomes from every interaction. Certainly, videogames are built upon a story as much as any other medium, but we’re taking a much more filmic angle to this definition.
With dynamic media, even if the choices are nuanced and subtle, we are (in part) putting an onus on the individual for what kind of content they will create. As this medium becomes more and more sophisticated, I believe that media will not be a one-way street, it will be an interrelated, interdependent dance between user and algorithm, turning what we now call films and games, into real, living simulations. This will help society grasp the power of each other’s creativity and imaginations, and harness a better future using audience agency.
Crucial to Dynamic Filmmaking is three-way authorship, which allows for humans and intelligent machines to shape each other’s experiences. The narrative is crafted by three parties: 1) the filmmakers, who establish the narrative structure and environment, 2) intelligent “Agents,” using reinforcement learning or scripted (hierarchical state machines) AI, and 3) the viewer, who can interact with the system to affect the simulation. Through collaborative authorship, we can drive emergent behaviour and storytelling with each viewing, creating endless possibilities for narratives to rise to the surface.
The Intersection of VR and Dynamic Filmmaking
Virtual Reality adds an additional dimension to Dynamic Filmmaking, as it takes you one step closer to a possible reality you can immerse yourself in, and gives us the power to experience what the world might be like in someone else’s shoes. With Agence, we provide the user with the opportunity to understand the responsibility of their own agency. Users become self-reflexive and even emotional at times when an Agent falls off the planet into the nexus below. It’s hard to predict what you will feel as each action and reaction is unique.
We use two types of AI to drive the behaviour of our Agents: Game AI, programmed through heuristic functions, and Reinforcement Learning AI, where neural network “brains” are developed to think autonomously. Outside of the experience, tech-savvy collaborators can actually train Reinforcement Learning brains with resources from our website… any brains submitted will be reviewed with a chance to be featured in the film!
I believe that the merging of Dynamic Film with virtual reality experiences will allow us to be closer as a species through rich storytelling. So, in essence, when I think of why Dynamic Filmmaking and VR matters, it really comes down to why the story matters. This new medium allows us to share the same dimensional space as the virtual beings we create, to observe and empathize with these artificially intelligent creatures in ways that previously weren’t possible. In that sense, I believe dynamic stories will allow humans to understand what it means to be machine, and machines what it means to be human.
The classic rule for futurism, as far as we’re concerned, is to identify patterns in the past that can help predict and/or shape the future. In this case, we wanted to push storytelling forward using more advance artificial intelligence (AI), and we looked to the earliest days of silent films (before dialogue was possible) for inspiration. So, there is a focus on visual storytelling to create algorithms that drive the character behaviour. By emphasizing visual storytelling in projects, we can narrow in on the physical behaviours of AI characters. Looking ahead to the future of Dynamic Filmmaking, we hope to build upon this foundation by adding more dynamics for script, music, and speech generation.
Dynamic Films take the audience on a journey through branching pathways, toward a moment of inner change, making them see the world a little differently than before they began. Games, without a story, do not necessarily move people to transformation outside of winning, losing or simply playing the game perpetually. But stories, particularly the dynamic kind, have the power to influence culture and shape a hopeful future.