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MUTABLE CINEMA, a participatory narrative engine.

Mario Mrquez Lartigue

Pedro Gonzlez

Kiyoshi Osawa

Desierto de los Leones #8011
Mexico D.F. cp 01800
+52 55 5810 8686

Pachuca #157-401
Mexico D.F cp 06040
+5255 5212 0549

Mexico D.F.
+5255 5212 1522



Mutable Cinema is an interactive installation that allows a player

to perform live editing of a movie in front of an audience. As the
player navigates the interface in real time, he or she generates new
patterns from the broad narrative database, such that each
performance delivers a different interpretation on the cinematic
A player interacts with the installation via a computer screen
beside a large projection screen. Game play involves choosing
from multiple parallel story paths and selecting different camera
angles and points of view. The challenge is in deciding what to
play on the big screen and what to leave out. As the player
explores the audio/visual database he or she generates a linear
montage that becomes the narrative viewed by the audience.
The cinematic content is specially created with multiple parallel
story lines to form a multifaceted, and multidimensional, narrative
space. This space is explored as the player actively chooses their
own sequential path across the interface to access different
narrative outcomes. There is sufficient complexity in the back-end
design that each player, based on their performance, can generate
their own unique story.

1. STORYLINE: Select an event

Here we find the macro components of the narrative: The
Blocks. Each Icon represents a Block. A Block is a
sequence from a larger narrative. We fragment these
sequences into smaller groups that we call Nuggets.

Mutable Cinema strives to provide an enjoyable multimedia

experience that will enhance forms of social communication and
modes of participatory learning.

2. PLOT BOX: Select the next clip to play

Here are the Nuggets. A Nugget would be the equivalent
of a scene in film. As in film, a scene is made up of a
number of shots that have some kind of relation to one
another. In the mutable film the blind date there are two
types of nuggets:
Nuggets bound within the white boxes are
sequences that are related by subject matter and
arranged in action-reaction columns.
Nuggets outside the boxes are sences that have no
direct relation to other scenes and are used as
transitional pieces.
In Mutable Cinema, the shots themselves are called
Chunks. A Chunk is a narrative unit (lexia) represented by
the icons insides the nuggets. The bright green circle
behind a chunk shows that it is currently being played. A
dark green circle shows chunks that have already been
played (but still accessible if the player chooses). And, the
green circle outline represents the chunk that is currently
cued to play next.

Categories and Subject Descriptors

H.2.4 Systems
* Multimedia databases
* Relational databases
* Rule-based databases
* Transaction processing



Interactive Cinema, Participatory Storytelling, Performance
Editing, Perception & Montage.

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3. EDIT BOX: Change view angle in real time

Each chunk contains three video angles or points-of-view.
The green box shows which angle is currently being
displayed to the audience.


Establishing this visual organization scheme provides the player

with useful information about the narrative characteristics of the
Chunks, and an easy way to control the plot, even if they have not
seen them before. This general organization allows a new player
some implied control over the plot outcome yet also preserves
enough uncertainty to allow the video content to remain novel,
interesting, and even surprising.

We decided to rename the grouping structure used in film because
we needed to make a clear distinction between the way we write
and produce the narrative content and the way we organize it in
the nonlinear database. For these reason we use the following
labels: Block, Nugget, Chunk, and Angle.

In the Blind Date story we decided to make the Y-axis into

parallel storylines based on attitude; however, future stories could
utilize this dimension to represent different locations, characters,
or other plot variables. The main idea is that the system is capable
of representing many different types of storylines depending on
what type of content the Producer wants to address. In this way,
we have created a new media tool for experimenting with a wide
range of interactive narratives: Branching, parallel, and dynamic
object oriented sequences of interactive storytelling and
audiovisual performances.

One of the key features of our system is that each piece of

information contains different metadata that can be used in
relation to the rest of the database. With this feature we can create
either a simple open or closed system. The open system allows
the player to move freely across all movie clips and create a
narrative without any structure imposed by the system. The closed
system can use the metadata to build a complex navigation
structure that limits the players path according to a predetermined
The Mutable Cinema Demonstration piece currently operates in
the open system of game play.

Since creating this prototype we have learned that there is a dense

interrelationship between the interface and the storyline. The
interface determines how we structure our story and how we go
about filming each chunk in order to populate the database
according to our intended message. The storyline determines the
interface, as each chunk is dynamically populated on the Plot Box
according to its content, and this dictates the players direct
experience with navigating the story. This tight relationship
between the way we film the story, and the interactive game play
experience, is not just in terms of narrative content but also in
terms of structuring narrative expectations and providing a
satisfactory completeness in the set of possible options. This
reciprocal interaction between interface and content creates an
entirely new dimension in film-making and story telling.


The blind date is the first Mutable Cinema movie. For this
initial content piece we shot three parallel stories within a single
meta-plot: Two strangers meeting on a blind date.
The X-axis represents the sequence story time moving from
past (left) to future (right). The Chunks are arranged to flow in a
meaningful way from left to right, however, the player can choose
to loop back and play the pieces in any order they want. This nonlinear approach is used to create flashbacks and other interesting
narrative devices.


The range of stories scripted into this particular Blind Date storyline are set according to the attitudes of the characters: Rude, nice,
and shy. We arranged Chunks along the Y-axis as follows:
Harsh Chunks are along the top, nice attitude Chunks are in
the middle, and shy attitude chunks are along the bottom. The
chunks in between are intermediate, or mixed attitude, samples.

Mutable Cinema is built using: Flash 8, Max/MSP/Jitter, MySQL,

Apache Server, and Quicktime. The installation requires a theatre
venue set up with a computer (dual processor) and monitor, a
video projector and an audio amplifier with speakers.

User Interface Design and Development: David Montie
Lead Programmer and Development: David Kretz
Produced in Co-production with The Banff New Media Institute
The Banff Centre, Banff, Alberta, Canada
Susan Kennard, Director and Executive Producer BNMI.
Luke Azevedo, Director Creative Electronic Environment.
Lindsay MacDonald, Production Coordinator BNMI.

Genevive Godin, Administrative Line Producer Liminal Screen

David Montie, Liminal Screen Technical Line Producer Liminal Screen
David Kretz, Lead Programmer Creative Electronic Environment.
This paper was written by Mario Mrquez Lartigue and edited by David
For more information, and to view video samples of the Blind Date, please