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Flying Whale Takes Storytelling to the Next Level

Did you know storytelling is perhaps the oldest and most universal form of communication, but storytelling technology hasn’t changed fundamentally for over a century? Researchers at Intel Labs believe we’re on the verge of a storytelling revolution, with disruptive technologies that blur the lines between digital and physical worlds.

Who: A few thousand techies. When: January 2014. Where: Large Las Vegas trade show. What: 1,000-foot whale flies into a hotel ballroom.  
This scene played out at Intel CEO Brian Krzanich’s keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), when a larger-than-life whale named Leviathan went from 2-D to 3-D, swam out of a movie screen, and hovered over the amazed crowd.

Based on Scott Westerfeld’s steampunk novel of the same name, Leviathan was the result of a collaboration between Intel Labs and the USC School of Cinematic Arts World Building Media Lab. The demo was designed to offer a glimpse of the not-so-distant future of storytelling, where we will enter virtual worlds and interact with fantastical characters.

Tawny Schlieski, Intel Labs research scientist, explains, “Intel is exploring this new storytelling platform with tools that will enable people to move and play naturally inside built virtual worlds.” She compares the current stage of storytelling research to the dawn of motion pictures in the 1870s. “In the beginning, scientists like Eadweard Muybridge were setting up a dozen cameras in a row, taking pictures of horses as they ran, and then putting those pictures together to make moving pictures. It was hard to imagine just based on those experiments the radical shift in communication that would eventually occur when motion picture technology was put in the hands of storytellers.”

What’s coming next is so unlike existing forms of storytelling that it’s hard to conceptualize, but it will involve lots of processing power, multiple layers of software, and perceptual computing and augmented reality technologies. Unlike film, where you view the action through the lens of the director’s camera, you will enter a virtual world and create your own action. Unlike attending live theater, you’ll become part of the cast of characters. And unlike reading a novel, you could help determine the plot.

How might it play out? Perhaps you’ll go to a theater and assume the role of a genetically engineered jellyfish in your own version of Leviathan. Or maybe—within the confines of your living room walls—you’ll travel to ancient Rome for a meet-up with Julius Caesar. Whatever forms these storytelling technologies take, their impact on how we play and learn will be behemoth.

Intel Labs

Intel Labs

Intel Labs develops technological innovations today for a better tomorrow in enterprise, consumer, and academics.

Intel® RealSense™ Technology

Using common senses

Intel® RealSense™ technology takes perceptual computing to the next level by understanding sensory input and movement-supported platforms.

USC Cinematic Arts

2014 Future Voice Award

Intel’s Leviathan collaborator, the USC School of Cinematic Arts World Building Media Lab, won the Interaction Design Association’s 2014 Future Voice Award.