Jeff Wirth: Virtual puppeteer brings the future to the present

7:15:00 AM

Photo by Brian Fountain
And I thought I was "way out there" with being able to hold intelligent discourse about a future that is present here and now in our midst, but luddite and virtual puppeteering architect, Jeff Wirth, has me beat.

This past Tuesday, I had the pleasure of attending his brief presentation where Wirth, author of Interactive Acting and former head of the University of Central Florida's Interactive Performance Lab, revealed some details about his current project, built upon his extensive work in virtual puppeteering and based on sci-fi thriller, The Diamond Age, to those gathered at The Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center at Lincoln Center. But, while his muse is drawn from a futuristic narrative, his work is real, it's here, and it's way out there in a future we can only pretend is in the distance. But, it's not.

For those who aren't in the know, and I was amongst them before Wirth took the podium, virtual puppeteering is the craft of animating virtual characters or avatars through the actions, keystrokes and chatter produced by real people at the helm of a console-like interface. Think World of Warcraft, but your avatar's actions are limited only by your imagination and personality, not the pre-programmed list of emotes compiled by the game designers. Instead, Wirth's work has you breathing life into your virtual characters, literally bringing human consciousness and free will the the digital world.

To that end, he has produced a comprehensive field guide for prospective developers and pioneers like himself entitled VPS Interface Design. To be sure, slides at the presentation revealed that the document, like all other documents produced for the cutting, cutting, very cutting-edge, is a strictly a technical read with graphs, labyrinthine charts and precision specifications. You can be sure that Tim Berners-Lee's early writings into URIs, HTTP and HTML, likewise, were equally not ready for print in something like the For Dummies series.

Suffice it to say, Wirth is definitely one of those keywords to add to your Google Alerts. In the meantime, you can follow his own explorations and ruminations on the emerging immersive Web on And come on, people! Where's the Wikipedia entry?

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