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Karen Palmer: The Film That Watches You Back

Posted by the Residency Team
Friday, 25 May 2018

In her TED talk, former resident Karen Palmer discusses the inspiration behind her immersive, emotionally responsive film RIOT.

Karen begins the presentation with a simple question, ‘how would you respond in a riot situation?’ This is the question she asked herself beginning in 2014 as she watched riots unfold across the world.

This question is what led Karen to create her live action film, RIOT, using AI and facial recognition to take viewers on a journey to experience a riot firsthand. The film has been shown at the Future of Storytelling Festival, the Museum of Modern Art Peru, and Festival of the Mind Sheffield. The project was also featured recently at the SPRING/BREAK art fair as part of New York’s Armory Week, alongside other ThoughtWorks Arts-incubated artists.

Karen explains in her talk how she has harnessed machine learning and AI to examine viewers’ emotions as they watch. The film incorporates branching narratives that change based on perceived reactions, creating an experience where participants become aware of how their emotions affect a narrative. Karen draws her inspiration from a career in media, a desire to empower viewers, and her own experience of parkour.

Continuing, Karen explains the final development stages of RIOT, which will deal with a greater range of emotions, more narratives and a multiplayer experience.

Lastly, Karen credits ThoughtWorks for support and helping democratize access to the AI used in her film. During her residency we created and open sourced a new facial expression recognition system, EmoPy, making it accessible for anyone to use and develop for other applications.