as shown at SIGGRAPH 98
The Bush Soul: Interactive Art Installation, Panoramic Projection
Rebecca Allen

"The Bush Soul" is an interactive art work that explores the role of avatars and human presence in a world of artificial life. (view images)

In a virtual world, the avatar becomes our other body. But what part of "us" is in our avatar? In West Africa there is a belief that a person has more than one soul and that there is a type of soul, called the "bush soul", that dwells within a wild animal of the bush.

An avatar can serve as a place for the bush soul. The avatar carries a person's bush soul into the "virtual bush" by following the guidance of a human participant, but, like a wild animal, it is also "alive" with is own set of behaviors. At times the avatar will make its own decisions, so one must learn to understand the avatar's behaviors and to occasionally relinquish control.

Through the avatar a person enters a world that is "alive" and responsive. Each of the characters in the virtual world is brought to life through a set of parameters that define its personality and govern its behavior towards other inhabitants. Using a behavior scripting language to manipulate these parameters, a character can be endowed with "feelings" towards any object in the world. These feelings drive a character's movements and affect its reaction to an inhabitant when in its vicinity.

Communication and interaction between characters occur through gestures, sound and the emission of energy in the form of light particles. As in real-life, feelings and resulting behaviors can change based on certain interactions or due to time-based events. Complex social environments can emerge from the interaction of simple behaviors.

In this work the artist has created an abstract world that focuses on the "life" of a virtual environment and encourages exploration and participation.

The Emergence Project and The Bush Soul

"The Bush Soul" is the first work to be created with "Emergence". Emergence is a PC-based, real-time 3D software system that supports an active, responsive, networked, virtual world. This system was designed and developed by Rebecca Allen and a team of UCLA computer science and design students for the creation of interactive art.

The Emergence system includes a unique 3D engine to handle the rendering and display of three-dimensional, texture-mapped characters and environments, and a physics based behavior system that enables complex behaviors and interactions between all objects in the environment. In addition, a high-level behavior scripting language has been developed to allow for the specification of behaviors and relationships between characters. Sounds, such as voice, music or ambient effects are linked to objects and characters to enhance the sense of life and space.

Technical Points of Interest

Graphics software supports:

  • Modular design
  • Open GL
  • Real-time performance on PCs
  • Peer to peer networking
  • Collision detection
  • Particle system
  • Hierarchical 3D animation
  • Multiple camera viewpoints
  • Multiple moving light sources
  • Shadows
  • Texture mapping
  • Vertex coloring
  • Stereo sound

AI/Designer Interface supports:

  • High-level modular behaviors (eg move to point, avoid collisions)
  • Separation between motor systems and agent mind (allowing for the application of behaviors to different types of agents)
  • High-level scripting through finite state machines
  • Agents perform simultaneous goal attainment (they can think about multiple behaviors at once)
  • Agents respond to senses (vision, hearing, touch...) rather than global information
  • 3D physics

Software Design

  • Loren McQuade
  • Eitan Mendelowitz

World Design

  • Daniel Shiplacoff
  • Jino Ok
  • Peter Conolly

Sound Design

  • Mark Mothersbaugh
  • Jay Flood

The Emergence Project is partially funded by a grant from the Intel Corporation.

Special Thanks for their generous support:

Intel Corporation
Softimage Inc.