CPH:DOX ’17: Karen Palmer talks “RIOT”

COPENHAGEN — According to multidisciplinary immersive filmmaker Karen Palmer, the goal of her work is to create immersive experiences that put the participant at the center of the film, having ...
March 20, 2017

COPENHAGEN — According to multidisciplinary immersive filmmaker Karen Palmer, the goal of her work is to create immersive experiences that put the participant at the center of the film, having the narrative respond to the user’s emotions.

“What I was trying to do with RIOT, was to create an experience where making emotion was the engine and driver of the piece. By putting you, the participant, in the middle of the experience, and your emotions driving the narrative,” she said at CPH:DOX Monday in her session, “Your Brain is the Remote.”

That combination of mind and self is central to Palmer’s RIOT: A live-action 3D audio film that uses facial recognition to navigate the user through a riot situation with the goal of making it home unscathed.

The webcam used in the installation picks up the facial expressions of the participant as they watch the narrative on screen and come into contact with different characters, such as a cop.

The person’s facial expressions upon meeting the character — fear, anger or calm — dictates the narrative and where the story goes. Palmer wanted the project to have a gaming aspect determined by the viewer’s emotions and subconscious.

The characters in the project respond in real-time to the participant’s emotions, and Palmer’s found that participants often responded differently than they originally thought they would.

The participant doesn’t need any technology to experience RIOT. “You don’t put any technology on. You just stand in front with your face and your emotions act as the remote control. The barrier to entry is nil,” she said.

With new technology, there is a new way to create change. With a focus on using neuroscience in her work, Palmer said while the participant is experiencing the film, they are moving through certain emotions, and sometimes, are creating new neuropathways in their brain. By doing this, the user can change their behavior and perception.

“To me, that is creating a fundamental change to the participant on a deep level,” Palmer said.

In a sit-down interview with realscreen, Palmer, who has worked on other immersive projects such as Syncself and Limitless, said she developed the idea for RIOT following the Ferguson riots that took place in 2014. She felt that there were injustices that were being glossed over in the media and online. Through RIOT — working with Crossover Labs to produce the project — she hopes to humanize complex situations, like in a riot where someone innocent could get caught up in the environment.

RIOT was commissioned by the Festival of the Mind at The University of Sheffield in September 2016. It has since gone on to places like the Future of Storytelling in New York. Palmer said she hopes to have the full project — which is still a prototype — completed no later than by next year due to its timeliness.

“I don’t want to sit on it too long because of what is happening in the world,” she said, noting events like the recent protests against U.S. President Donald Trump.

She’s hoping to broaden the experience by including different races in the character roles as well as making the morality of the characters more complex as to not create a narrative that all cops are bad and rioters are good.

“I’m hoping to interview Black Lives Matter as well as Blue Lives Matter,” she said, hoping to add those perspectives in the final version of the project.

Palmer said how you feel has an impact on how you think and will impact how you behave and your perception.

“How you feel is everything,” she said.


About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news editor at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joined the RS team in 2015 with experience in journalism following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and with communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.