Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
The BBC Breakfast pieces can me seen here (it starts 15:22s):
The clip they chose to feature was not included in my earlier discussion. It is very interesting from the eye movement perspective because it shows how our attention picks out motion and tracks it even when it is momentarily out of view. For instance, when the shot begins the viewers do not know what they are looking at so their gaze defaults to screen centre and the vanishing point of the train tracks.
The sound of a car's engine and the slight motion in the distance captures viewer attention and everybody looks in the same place.
As the camera pans right the viewers continue tracking the car. Because the car and the camera are both moving this means that the viewer's eyes may actually be stationary on the screen but they perceive the car as moving. In the real-world we would either pursue the car by rotating our eyes with it or rotate our head to keep the car at the centre of our gaze without moving our eyes. The pan in this example serves the same purpose as a head rotation.
As the car disappears behind the building the fact that the camera continues to move with the car and we hear the car's engine implies that it will reappear. Viewers try to find the car by saccading to the screen edge in anticipation of the car's reappearance.
Whenever a door or window appears in the building all viewers zoom in on it trying to catch a glimpse of the car. This high degree of attentional synchrony is expressed by the heatmap that appears periodically during the clip. If you want to know more about how this heatmap is calculated look at our paper:
Mital, P.K., Smith, T. J., Hill, R. and Henderson, J. M. (2011) Clustering of gaze during dynamic scene viewing is predicted by motion. Cognitive Computation, 3(1), 5-24 http://www.bbk.ac.uk/psychology/our-staff/academic/tim-smith/documents/Clustering_of_Gaze_During_Dynamic_Scene_Viewing_is_Predicted.pdf
The building ends and all viewers saccade to the edge that they believe the car will appear. The continued engine sounds reinforces our belief that it continues to exist and as the camera pans left and stops tracking we wait patiently. When the car finally appears our diligence as viewers is rewarded.
That one gracious shot demonstrates how a combination of slow, deliberate camera movements and choreography of action can lead to incredibly focussed viewing and induce viewers to perceive actions and details, such as the car's existence and motion behind the building, without actually showing them. Compare this shot to the long-take in my previous analysis to see how two completely different shots can lead to similar coordination of viewer gaze. Masterful!
So, that was what was going on in that brief clip from BBC Breakfast. Now all I need is to get on the couch with Sian and Bill!
Monday, September 05, 2011
Sunday, July 24, 2011
A couple of months ago, I got an unexpected email with the subject “Would you like to speak at DreamWorks Animation”. Naturally, I initially considered it a scam and replied cautiously. Their response left no doubt that it was indeed Hollywood calling.
The idea that a cognitive psychologist from London might be of interest to a Hollywood animation studio might seem odd. What the filmmakers were interested in was my recent work on how we attend to and perceive the real world.
My research usually involves showing volunteers simple patterns or photographs on a computer screen and recording how they move their eyes when trying to make sense of the image. This provides me with insights into how someone uses their eyes to sample the bits of the visual world they are interested in, stitch the details together and store them in memory. In the last few years I began applying the same methods to investigate how we watch film after the realisation that we use the same cognitive processes to watch film as we use to look at the real-world.
Films present an artificial world across a series of camera shots edited together so that only the bits important for the narrative are presented. When Shrek leaves his swamp to find Princess Fiona, for example, we only need to see him leave his house and then arrive at the Fairytale castle to work out the journey that must have happened in between. Films can create fantastical events and spaces that we can comprehend without any effort, as long as the film is edited correctly. But what distinguishes a “good” from a “bad” edit? In my research I have been trying to understand the Psychology of film viewing to answer this question.
Like all Hollywood film studios, Dreamworks Animation want to make their films as enjoyable and as effortless to watch as possible. Confusing films don't lead to big box office receipts, especially not when the film is intended for children.
At every moment during a film, the director needs to know exactly where the viewer is looking, how they are understanding the story and what they are feeling- this is no trivial task. If an edit occurs at the “wrong” time during an action sequence or cuts to the “wrong” camera position, the viewer can become disorientated and confused. In film terms, the cut is said to create a “discontinuity”. Over the 116 years cinema has existed, a suite of heuristics (rules-of-thumb) have evolved that filmmakers can use to help them avoid bad edits. These rules of continuity editing suggest, for example, that when filming a scene with two actors in a conversation, all shots of the action should be filmed from the same side of an imaginary line connecting the two actors. This 180 degree rule (named because the cameras will map out a 180 degree arc around the actors) ensures that the actors don't suddenly reverse direction on the screen across a cut and appear to be facing away from each other. Virtually all film and TV is constructed according to these rules. Watch a scene from any TV show and you will see how the cameras always stay on one side of the action.
While the continuity rules are believed to work by filmmakers the world over nobody understands why they work. Dreamworks Animation wanted to know if my experiments in film viewing could shed any light on this question.
By recording the eye movements of viewers as they watch film sequences I have been able to see which cinematic techniques succeed in guiding the viewers to the point of interest in a scene and whether a cut leads to disorientation. For example, if the action of a scene is easy to follow all viewers will watch the scene in the same way, leading to a clustering in the location of their gaze on the screen.
To get a sense of this gaze clustering watch this trailer for Dreamworks Animations upcoming Puss In Boots (http://vimeo.com/25033301). The gaze locations of 16 viewers are each represented as a dot and a hotspot overlaid on to the video. As the gaze of multiple people clusters together the colours become hotter. Notice how the gaze is clustered on Puss throughout the clip without taking in much of the background. This clip also uses the continuity editing rules to ensure that viewers shift their attention seamlessly across a cut. When Puss tosses his hat off the screen the cut is made right after the hat starts flying. The next shot continues the hat’s motion until caught by an enamoured admirer. Such a cut is referred to as a “match on action”. By using the sudden onset of motion to capture viewer attention and lead the eyes across the cut, the director ensures that the viewer perceives the two shots as being continuous. You can see this in the smooth shift in eye movements from one shot to the next.
At Dreamworks, I was struck with how intimately they engaged with the issues I was presenting. Their day-by-day concerns are with the minutae of film, the nuanced animation of a facial expression, the placement of characters across a cut, the correct lighting to pick out the main character. To make these decisions, though, they have to imagine themselves as their eventual viewer and, until now, they have had no way of knowing what was going in the mind of these viewers. I hope that combining some of the methods and theories from cognitive psychology with their own insights about film, they will get a clearer glimpse of this insight. I believe that studying the psychology of film will help filmmakers continue to improve upon the kinds of unique, exciting, and moving experiences that enraptured me when I was a kid and continue to fascinate us all today.
Monday, July 18, 2011
A post-doctoral researcher (Cognitive neuroscience) AND a doctoral student (Cinema studies)
"[Image: Brain response as measured by fMRI to videos of a robot, android and human]
Your Brain on Androids
July 14, 2011
By Inga Kiderra
Ever get the heebie-jeebies at a wax museum? Feel uneasy with an anthropomorphic robot? What about playing a video game or watching an animated movie, where the human characters are pretty realistic but just not quite right and maybe a bit creepy? If yes, then you’ve probably been a visitor to what’s called the “uncanny valley.”
T! he phenomenon has been described anecdotally for years, but how and why this happens is still a subject of debate in robotics, computer graphics and neuroscience. Now an international team of researchers, led by Ayse Pinar Saygin of the University of California, San Diego, has taken a peek inside the brains of people viewing videos of an uncanny android (compared to videos of a human and a robot-looking robot).
Published in the Oxford University Press journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, the functional MRI study suggests that what may be going on is due to a perceptual mismatch between appearance and motion.
The term “uncanny valley” refers to an artificial agent’s drop in likeability when it becomes too humanlike. People respond positively to an agent that shares some characteristics with humans – think dolls, cartoon animals, R2D2. As the agent becomes more human-like, it becomes more likeable. But at some point! that upward trajectory stops and instead the agent is perceived as strange and disconcerting. Many viewers, for example, find the characters in the animated film “Polar Express” to be off-putting. And most modern androids, including the Japanese Repliee Q2 used in the study here, are also thought to fall into the uncanny valley.
Saygin and her colleagues set out to discover if what they call the “action perception system” in the human brain is tuned more to human appearance or human motion, with the general goal, they write, “of identifying the functional properties of brain systems that allow us to understand others’ body movements and actions.”
They tested 20 subjects aged 20 to 36 who had no experience working with robots and hadn’t spent time in Japan, where there’s potentially more cultural exposure to and acceptance of androids, or even had friends or family from Japan.
The subjects were shown 12 videos of Repliee Q2 performing such o! rdinary actions as waving, nodding, taking a drink of water and picking up a piece of paper from a table. They were also shown videos of the same actions performed by the human on whom the android was modeled and by a stripped version of the android – skinned to its underlying metal joints and wiring, revealing its mechanics until it could no longer be mistaken for a human. That is, they set up three conditions: a human with biological appearance and movement; a robot with mechanical appearance and mechanical motion; and a human-seeming agent with the exact same mechanical movement as the robot.
At the start of the experiment, the subjects were shown each of the videos outside the fMRI scanner and were informed about which was a robot and which human.
The biggest difference in brain response the researchers noticed was during the android condition – in the parietal cortex, on both sides of the brain, specifically in the areas that connect the part of the brain! s visual cortex that processes bodily movements with the section of the motor cortex thought to contain mirror neurons (neurons also known as “monkey-see, monkey-do neurons” or “empathy neurons”).
According to their interpretation of the fMRI results, the researchers say they saw, in essence, evidence of mismatch. The brain “lit up” when the human-like appearance of the android and its robotic motion “didn’t compute.”
“The brain doesn’t seem tuned to care about either biological appearance or biological motion per se,” said Saygin, an assistant professor of cognitive science at UC San Diego and alumna of the same department. “What it seems to be doing is looking for its expectations to be met – for appearance and motion to be congruent.”
In other words, if it looks human and moves likes a human, we are OK with that. If it looks like a robot and acts like a robot, we are OK with that, too; our brains have no difficulty processin! g the information. The trouble arises when – contrary to a lifetime of expectations – appearance and motion are at odds.
“As human-like artificial agents become more commonplace, perhaps our perceptual systems will be re-tuned to accommodate these new social partners,” the researchers write. “Or perhaps, we will decide it is not a good idea to make them so closely in our image after all.”
Saygin thinks it’s “not so crazy to suggest we brain-test-drive robots or animated characters before spending millions of dollars on their development.”
It’s not too practical, though, to do these test-drives in expensive and hard-to-come-by fMRI scanners. So Saygin and her students are currently on the hunt for an analogous EEG signal. EEG technology is cheap enough that the electrode caps are being developed for home use.
The research was funded by the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind at UC San Diego. Saygin was additionally supported by the Cal! ifornia Institute of Telecommunication and Information Technology (Calit2) at UCSD.
Saygin’s coauthors are Thierry Chaminade of Mediterranean Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience, France; Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University and ATR, Japan; Jon Driver of University College London; and Chris Firth of University of Aarhus, Denmark.
Media Contact: Inga Kiderra, 858-822-0661, or email@example.com"
Wednesday, July 06, 2011
In conjunction with Jericho House (http://www.jerichohouse.org.uk/) there will be a talk by Prof Colin Blakemore, FRS:
What's the Point of Art? A view from neuroscience.
Date: 20th July 2011
Location: Lecture theatre, 33 Queen Square
There will be a discussion after the talk, led by Prof Geraint Rees.
Prof Sophie Scott will chair the event.
The talk is open to all. Please register by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
What's The Point of Art?
In the aftermath of the recent cuts arguments about arts funding are becoming increasingly heated, yet crucial discussions as to the value and place of art in our world are distinguished by their absence. As the wider society experiences the kind of structural economic changes unseen in the UK for sixty years, the time has never been riper for a serious investigation of the role of art in our lives, and of its relationship with the individual, the state and the market.
For 2011, in collaboration with University College London, we are developing a sequence of six events on the theme ‘what is the point of art?’, each featuring a single speaker, to take place in London on dates throughout the year. The aim is to have accumulated by the end a compelling portfolio of perspectives on the value of art in our society.