Anna Ådahl



Default Character (2016) (revised 2017) to view video follow the link.

The film Default Character focuses on the vocabulary, tools and human representation in the various types of softwares that is used for modelling and tracking crowd behaviours.

The film include images from online tutorials of crowd simulation programs, human crowd tracking devices and newly shot scenes of gestures and postures performed by dancer Pelle Andersson.

The featured examples given by the crowd simulation tutorials are perfectly coordinated swarms, mass body crushes, camp sites and religious gatherings such as the Hajj in Mecka.

In the film these clips are confronted with images of tracking devices monitoring crowds and newly shot scenes where gestures drawn from the simulated crowd agent are re-enacted by one dancer. The voice-over, interlaces the information, the instructions from the software tutorials with my own voice and thoughts.

The mass choreographies and crowds which were featured in past Hollywood productions are very costly and are today replaced by digitally generated crowds. These crowds appear as an anonymous mass as they are most often far removed from the camera lens populating a scene of action or urban setting. Acting as props within the featured scene. 

My interest for crowd simulations emerged upon discovering the tutorials online. The human representation and the rational and functional vocabulary used to represent the characteristics of the human/agent within the softwares surprised and intrigued me. Can the managing and treatment of the agent representing human beings affect the outcome of the aesthetics and politics of the simulated crowds? To what extent can these simulations model our future collective behvaiours. Most crowd simulations softwares with articulated human characteristics were developed for battle scens and zombie movies to later be used for crowd management. How does the crowd simulations softwares which originated in the acts of violence affect the simulated crowds and how does this reconnect to early crowd theories of the crowd as mob,  a destructive negative force as argued by Sigmund Freud and Gustave Lebon?

The title Default Character:
Default character is the name given to an agent/character provided by the crowd simulation program. As the program states: “He is a low-res polygon mesh guy who is all set up for you to use.” Once the character is in the system it is referred to as an actor or agent and can be a biped, quadruped or any type of single polygon mesh object that skin to a rig.

Crowd simulations and new technologies:
Crowd simulations are principally made for crowd management and safety purposes, big Hollywood productions and to populate urban and architectural 3D proposals.
Crowd simulation software such as crowd FX and Golaem offers the possibility to create crowds from proposed default characters. The customization of the agents are limited and proposes a small variation of skin and hair colour, clothing, mapping colours and patterns as well as a smaller range of hairdos and hats. The features of the faces are all the same.The crowd simulation softwares are in constant development and aim at developing agents with intelligent behaviours who are able to negotiate space and other agents. The intelligent behaviour is none the less limited based on rational behaviour, algorithms/mathematical calculations and programming. The autonomous intelligent behaviour of the simulated crowd agent is developed with/via multi-agents systems ( an AI system ).
A multi-agent simulation framework is a computational methodology that allows the building of an artificial environment populated with autonomous agents which are capable of interacting with each other and the given space. The crowd simulation engine is the core module of the multi-agent system. Each agent is assigned with an “individual behaviour model” (based on the data generated from the population generator.) a computer system capable of autonomous action in a given environment, in order to achieve its delegated goals. The multi-agent system’s smart bevaviour used for these softwares differ from the Artificial Intelligence, used for independent autonomous agents used for robotics, as it does not apply emotional or affective oriented behaviours.

Human tracking devices:
Human tracking devices are used to track humans in crowds and urban settings. The tracking is made to study the crowd’s behaviour to find adequate solutions for how crowds operate. Human tracking collects data on our collective behaviour which can than be used to program crowd simulation’s behavioural patterns. In the human tracking devices humans are tracked and the graphic output and definition is usually within boxes, dots or pixelated segments.
Optical flow is a specific tracking system used  to detect and track crowds in an image sequence captured by a camera.The output of the system is given as a graphic overlay, i.e. arrows and circles with different colours are added to the original images to visualize crowds and their movements.
Optical flow methods, that use differential techniques, are based on the hypothesis that brightness of a particular moving point is constant over time. In order to calculate optical flows a lot of algorithms are proposed. The system detects crowds with different shapes and motions and tracks them over time. Moreover, it has the function to compute statistics from the collected tracking information.

In Default Character several Human Tracking devices are featured giving us an aesthetic perception of how crowd behaviour is tracked and studied.

A few images of collages/photo montage by constructivist artist Moholy Nagy and Marianne Brandt appear in Default Character.These images are a historical reference to the time of emergence of the systematized crowd subject. When the modern (wo)man emerge form the development of industrialism and how the human (body) was perceived within the new modern systems of industrialization and new economic structures. The constructivist photo plastic images produced by Moholy-Nagy analysed the man and the crowds of the 1920´s and 30´s focusing on the relationship between humans and technology.