Using Plush Toys to Direct Autonomous Animated Characters

Synthetic Characters Group & Vision and Modeling Group,
The Media Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Swamped! is an interactive experience in which instrumented plush toys are used as a tangible, iconic interface for directing autonomous animated characters. Each character has a distinct personality and decides in real time what it should do based on its perception of its environment, its motivational and emotional state, and input from its "conscience," the guest. By manipulating a stuffed animal corresponding to the character the guest can influence how a given character acts and feels.

The characters incorporate a novel model of behavior and emotion, multi-target motion interpolation and new techniques for real time graphics. Automatic camera and lighting control helps reveal the emotional content of each scene.

By combining research in autonomous character design, automatic camera control, tangible interfaces and action interpretation, Swamped! seeks to create an evocative and novel experience.

Key Points:
Academic Papers:
Swamped! was the first installation to use the Sympathetic Interface concept developed by Michael Patrick Johnson and Prof. Bruce Blumberg. The following paper will be presented at the CHI 99 conference:

Sympathetic Interfaces: Using a Plush Toy to Direct Synthetic Characters

Video clips:
The video which accompanies the Sympathetic Interfaces paper is available in Quicktime 4 format:
300x200 resolution (27.1 mb)
180x120 resolution (11.7 mb)
More video clips are available on our resources page.

Images of the system in action:

Image of the chicken doll being used  
The doll being used to control the character onscreen 
Image of the world of Swamped  
The world of Swamped!
Image of the happy raccoon  
The happy raccoon
Image of the surprised raccoon  
The raccoon is surprised
Image of the chicken and the raccoon  
The raccoon is frustrated after another failed  
attempt to catch the chicken
Image of the raccoon and the chicken  
The raccoon acts nonchalant while observing the  
chicken's bizarre attempts at flying
Image of the chicken landing on the raccoon's head  
The chicken annoys the raccoon from the air
This work was sponsored in part by the Digital Life and Toys of Tomorrow Consortia of the MIT Media Lab.
Special Thanks:

Professor Blumberg is the Asahi Broadcasting Corporation Career Development Professor of Media Arts and Sciences