What do you get when you put two artists and a team of clever techies together in a dark room with a AU$1 million equipment budget? ZDNet.com.au visited the University of New South Wales iCinema centre to find out.
In short, you get a four-metre high, 8000-pixel cylindrical audiovisual centre that displays 20,000 categorised video clips in 3D through 12 projectors.
Since 2002, members of the University of New South Wales i-Cinema centre have been developing the T-Visionarium. It resembles a gigantic aquarium but, instead of housing fish, thousands of 3D-rendered TV clips of between four and 10 seconds long dart around the 10-metre diameter cylinder.
"The T-Visionarium completely immerses viewers in a virtual image space. Also, it has the interactive features to allow you to interact with the AV information that surrounds you," the T-Visionarium's father, artist and director of UNSW's iCinema centre, Jeffrey Shaw, told ZDNet.com.au.
And it's how the viewer interacts with the content that makes the T-Visionarium a memorable experience for its visitors. The technical staff, led by chief architect of the T-Visionarium, Matthew McGinity, spent weeks classifying or adding metadata to the images according to the level of violence, love, anger and fear contained in each cut.
T-Visionarium related videos
"This material was segmented and this results in the narrative building blocks. The viewer is then able to search through this database and re-organise it to certain criteria and also assemble clips to make unique streams of content," he said.
The final result is that viewers can control what content appears on the 360 degree screen. When the T-Visionarium is just idling, the arrangement of clips is soothing and almost hypnotic. But turn the volume up when a visitor takes over the controls -- located at the centre of the T-Visionarium -- and the experience can become quite nauseating.
If the user points and clicks the infrared controller on a violent scene, others with similar qualities dart across the room, rallying around the selected clip. Meanwhile clips tagged with the opposite quality, peace or love for example, cluster on the other side of the room.
"It's not something that you can accommodate on a flat screen, but in a 360 degree space, you can offer synonyms and antonyms of a clip, like a good thesaurus," said Shaw.
But the project is not just about entertainment. According to Shaw, the project is underpinned by research that investigates how people interact with stories in a post-modern world marked by fragmented narratives.
"One approach to that is to look at narrative as a Lego kit of cinematic building blocks which the viewer can sort and assemble. The T-Visionarium has a database of around 20,000 video clips, which were all derived from broadcast TV," he explained.
While tagging the images, chief architect for the T-Visionarium, Matthew McGinity, discovered some interesting features of prime-time television which he used as the primary source for the image database.
"We found that definitely the dominant emotions in television are anger, fear and grief. They totally weigh above the others we have, which are joy and love," he told ZDNet.com.au.
What this means for the T-Visionarium when people visit it, according to McGinity, is that "it can get quite violent in here".
"When they see something strong, they go towards it, and then you can find the whole cinema becoming more and more violent," he said.