Dance steps fill e-mall with life

January 21, 2000

Engineers at Edinburgh University have enlisted the aid of a choreographer in a bid to make e-commerce more appealing.

Rachel Price is using dance theory to help computer animation experts in Edinburgh's Centre for Communication Interface Research inject different moods into virtual environments through moving figures. The Edinburgh team, led by Mervyn Jack, is particularly interested in developing software for virtual shopping malls so users can dial up computerised representations of shopping centres.

Professor Jack said previous research had shown that users often saw these environments as lonely and lifeless. They liked it when the team added moving figures in the background.

"We then thought that rather than simply having 'moving wallpaper', we could use the presence of these figures to convey a sense of mood appropriate to the particular situation," Professor Jack continued. "Companies such as Disney employ artists to paint figures. We want to make something that computer scientists and engineers can use. Instead of a colour palette, they could have a personality palette."

Ms Price has used her dance expertise to devise a sequence of movements representing four moods: peace, danger, sad and happy. These are conveyed by animated three-dimensional figures.

Volunteers recruited to watch the sequences were able to appreciate peace, sad and happy very easily, said Professor Jack, but were more confused by danger. "But danger's not a great one for e-commerce, anyway," he said.

The team hopes that it can use the four extreme moods to create a range of others and it will investigate whether the virtual personalities have an effect on the viewer.

The two-year project is funded by Pounds 150,000 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

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