Watching a movie has traditionally been a largely passive experience. But what if the person watching could influence what happens on-screen via their brainwaves? An experimental short-film called 'Scanners' aims to create a platform that bridges the gap between digital arts and neuroscience.
Using a wireless brain scanner that reads both muscular and brainwave data, the system allows the user to manipulate the film's structure. Creator Richard Ramchurn said the audience can subconsciously project their feelings onto the film and have these feelings visualized by the shape the film takes.
"Scanners is a film platform that uses live data from people's brains to cut and mix a film where you have an effect loop - a two-way effect loop - whereby, watching the film you change it and it changes you," Ramchurn told Reuters.
Based in Manchester, Ramchurn was inspired to developed the experimental system after reading 'In the Blink of an Eye', by acclaimed film editor Walter Murch. In the book, Murch theorises that the rates and rhythms of blinking relate to the rhythm and sequence of thoughts and emotions.
Using a commercially available electroencephalography (EEG) headset from company NeuroSky, Ramchurn's first prototype set out to prove the platform's potential. The next step was to create video specifically for the project, including shooting the 15-minute film with enough footage for all the varying narrative strands that each viewer could bring to it.
"The initial prototype used off-the-shelf footage and basically just proved to us that there was something there with brain signals feeding back a film experience. Our next stage was to try and really make a film specifically for the platform. And that involved making something that was much bigger than the duration called for. I mean; we made a 15 minute film but it was more like making a feature," said Ramchurn.
"The opportunities that allowed us was rather than making a linear film, we made a film that was much more quantum. We had multiple stories or happenings at the same time. And we were able to show what's happening inside somebody's mind, what's happening in, almost, their imagination at the same time as the reality," he added.
The EEG headset reads the different brainwaves; Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Theta. Ramchurn said he is specifically using the Alpha brain waves, which are important for creativity.
The headset has two sensors; one that sits on the forehead and one that clips to the ear lobe. The forehead sensor picks up both muscular and brainwave data, while the sensor on the ear lobe just picks up muscular data. With this information, the processor inside the headset can separate the muscular data to isolate and identify the various brainwaves.
Ramchurn said that the rhythms of the editing and the way the film jumps from scene to scene depended on the mindset of the person watching it; and this is largely out of the person's control.
The filmmaker recently took the technology to Liverpool for a field test; inviting curious passers-by to give 'Scanners' a try inside a caravan converted into a mobile cinema.
"Watching other people make connections with their brain is really fascinating. And each time I watch someone else create the film, they make new jumps that I've not seen before," he said.
While the platform was developed to explore a possible new dimension of visual art, Ramchurn says the system is the perfect device for exploring dreams because it brings a person's subconscious to the forefront, visualizing it in front of their eyes. He added that scientists are close to developing a device that is capable of making detailed recordings of a dream.
"I'm really excited that science is acknowledging that dreams actually exist and they can be measured. And being able to tap into that data is, for me, gives some real opportunities to tell stories or even create platforms that can communicate with people in a different way,"