Leviathan – A Whale of a Tale


Leviathan – A Whale of a Tale

When cinematic storytelling and personal technologies collide, human imagination stretches to new heights. 

If you were lucky enough to be in the audience for Intel CEO Brian Krzanich’s keynote at CES 2014 you would have witnessed the spectacle of a gigantic whale flying over your head, demonstration of the storytelling world ‘Leviathan,’ developed by the USC World Building Media Lab in collaboration with Intel.

‘Leviathan’ is a bold and daring mix of virtual reality, augmented reality, cinema and the novel based on the celebrated steampunk series by Scott Westerfield.

Tawny Schlieski is a Research Scientist in Intel’s User Experience Group. She knows how it all came together because the magic was part of her making.

“It’s a traditional cinematic experience,” she said. “But then it then transitions to an augmented reality mode, where an audience member can pick up an Ultra book, can point it at the screen and register the marker, and once they got through their position in space then we can make the whale fly out of the traditional cinematic two dimensional screen and fly into the audience space itself.”

At the CES Show, demonstrating the blend of virtual and augmented reality that is ‘Leviathan’ 

Leviathan, at its most basic, is a story world, built on Westerfeld’s narrative that explores an alternate version of World War I, which features a giant flying whale as an airship that did battle.

“We realized that it was important for the story to be familiar, and then you would move within it,” said Schlieski.

It’s familiarity with the story that allows for greater sense of discovery when people entered the world. Intel’s interest in the project stems from the company’s desire to continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible.

“From an Intel perspective the idea that intense processing capability can improve your entertainment experience, whether that be gaming / console or other, it’s all ripe territory for investigation,” said Schlieski.

If you are asking, how can I see it? You may have the opportunity to experience Leviathan sometime in 2014 at a museum near you.

The “Leviathan” experience involves a core set of technologies that project the whale, the key character in the narrative on a screen. Then through the use of either an Occulus Rift helmet, 2 in 1 device or a tablet, you are able to see the whale as if it were right in front of you.

“You have a server (computer) that’s running the whale itself, which is a very large and complex animated object flying around in an environment,” said Schlieski. “Then we use Metaio 3D Augmented Reality to scan the physical environment we are in, whether it be the auditorium or booth at CES, and then we fly the whale inside the virtual environment.”

The net effect is that it appears, if you are looking at a device like a tablet or 2 in 1, as though the whale is in the room with you. When you consider that the whale is a 1,000 feet long, in virtual reality, that sensation can shift how you feel about the intertwining of the digital and physical worlds.

Schlieski said that there will be further developments in the ‘Leviathan’ storyworld throughout 2014. But she also said that she could imagine that other universes might be ripe for creating. 

“I’m interested in seeing where this type of world building can go, and our goal at Intel is to refine and perfect the tools for these kinds of experiences, which is one of the reasons we are partnered with USC,” said Schliesk.

She may not have met the next (Martin) Scorcese, but she’s certain things are on the right track to make breakthroughs in storytelling.

Learn more about Leviathan from this mini-doc by The Creators Project:

 

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