Josephine Anstey

The Thing Growing

Movie 28 MB
The Thing Growing, is a work of fiction implemented in virtual reality, in which the user is the main protagonist and interacts with computer controlled characters. It was originally built for a CAVE VR system at the Electronic Visualization Laboratory between 1997 and 2000. We believe intelligent agents are crucial elements for dramatic VR applications. The Thing was our first attempt at building a responsive character - a manipulative creature designed to encourage the user to jump through emotional hoops. 

The impetus for The Thing Growing was a short story Anstey had been writing. In the story she wanted to explore a relationship that was cloying and claustrophobic but emotionally hard to escape. An immersive, interactive VR environment seemed an ideal medium to recreate the tensions and emotions of such a relationship. See movies

User dances with Thing
The Thing Growing depends on the user's emotional  investment in the story and therefore on her relationship to the Thing.  The visuals are simple and symbolic rather than realistic. The Thing's body is a collection of unconnected pyramids. However, we use motion capture to animate the body which gives the character a life-like presence. The Thing speaks to the user in a very emotional way to communicate its desires.  It has a definite personality which makes it  pyschologically consistent. This personality, and the constraints of the environment and narrative, help us build effective and believable responses to the user.

The Thing
We believe that the use of narrative techniques can enhance interactivity in VR.  Andrew Glasner  suggests that, for the construction of interesting computer fiction,  the author should control the sequencing of events, and the creation of a causal chain of action.  Therefore the narrative in The Thing Growing has the classical bridge structure of plays and films; act one introduces the protagonists and the goal; act two revolves around struggles to reach the goal; act 3 resolves those struggles. The difference in our case is that the user is one of the protagonists and in each act she is involved in interaction. The narrative as a whole is moved on either as a result of the user's actions, or by time. See content

Users in Underworld
I am interested in creating intense VR experiences which the user responds to dramatically.  Ideally I would like users to be alone as they interact with the story so that they do not feel inhibited . 

The Thing Growing has shown in the US, Europe and Japan. The application relies very heavily on the Thing's dialog, therefore we have embarked on a series of translations. Currently The Thing Growing is available in English and Japanese. The Japanese translation was facilitated by NTT's ICC museum in Tokyo.

Avatar of User, Thing & 4 cousins


Further Information:
movies tech
content story in pictures
original story-board shows
The Thing Growing by : Josephine Anstey & Dave Pape.
With help from : Sam Thongrong, Joseph Alexander and Muhammed Ali Khan.
Thanks to: Dan Sandin, Tom Moher, Ann Torke, Hisanori Gogota, Shin-ichi Ishikawa, Julie Zando, the staff, faculty & students of  the Electronic Visulization Laboratory
Japanese Translation: translation Kawai Haruko
actress Takahashi Gara
sound engineer Tominaga Ken-ichi
recording NEO P &T
coordination NTT InterCommunication Center ICC