Conversations offers viewers an immersive, multimodal, interactive narrative experience exploring the events leading up to the escape, recapture, trial and hanging of Ronald Ryan at Pentridge Prison, Melbourne, in 1967; Ryan was the last person publicly executed in Australia. It allows viewers to inhabit the landscape of the escape, to experience the confusion of the crime scene first-hand, and to encounter the key protagonists of the subsequent trial. Instead of presenting viewers with ‘facts’, the installation asks them to negotiate the historical landscape for themselves, to draw conclusions from both their encounter with the scene of the disputed events and the opinions of the characters who dominated their aftermath.
Conversations is a distributed multiuser virtual environment composed of three electronically linked installations that are positioned at remote locations within the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. The visitor at each installation wears a head-mounted display (HMD), and a sensor attached to each HMD monitors the movements of the viewer’s head so that the imagery corresponds to their point of view. Headphones attached to the HMD enable viewers to hear and speak to one another from the three remote locations. The microphones are also linked to a voice-recognition system that allows viewers to interact with the environment using spoken commands. Conversations provides a shared immersive virtual environment where the three viewers can navigate and interact individually with the features of its hybrid space of representation.
A main attribute of this virtual environment is a 3-D, 360-degree view of the Pentridge Prison and its environs. The viewers move between two different renditions of this scene—one is a daytime setting where the sequence of Ryan’s escape from prison is enacted, and the other is a nighttime setting inhabited by the ghosts of the protagonists in Ryan’s story.
Actors who portray the central characters in Ryan’s escape and subsequent murder trial are situated within this Pentridge environment. In the daytime setting, they present viewers with a linear enactment of the escape and shooting. In the nighttime setting, where Pentridge has become a ghost world, these ethereal narrative agents float about and will respond to tell their stories to each of the three visitors when a visitor either looks at or speaks to them puposely.
Computer-generated avatars represent the three visitors, who can wander around the Pentridge setting. Each is identified by colour, and the real-time behaviour of these avatars depicts the viewers’ navigations of the virtual environment, and their interactions with the narrative agents and one other.
Australian Research Council Project Investigators: Dennis Del Favero, Ross Gibson, Ian Howard, Jeffrey Shaw
Australian Research Council Project Title: The reformulation of narrative within digital cinema as the integration of three models of interactivity.
Australian Research Council Discovery Grant: DP0209550