Soft Cinema  
Ambient Narrative



SOFT CINEMA explores 4 ideas:

1. "Algorithmic Cinema."
Using a script and a system of rules defined by the authors, the software controls the screen layout, the number of windows and their content. The authors can choose to exercise minimal control leaving most choices to the software; alternatively they can specify exactly what the viewer will see in a particular moment in time. Regardless, since the actual editing is performed in real time by the program, the movies can run infinitely without ever exactly repeating the same edits.
2. "Macro-cinema." If a computer user employs windows of different proportions and sizes, why not adopt the similar aesthetics for cinema?
3. "Multimedia cinema." In Soft Cinema, video is used as only one type of representation among others: 2D animation, motion graphics, 3D scenes, diagrams, maps, etc.
4. "Database Cinema." The media elements are selected from a large database to construct a potentially unlimited number of different narrative films, or different versions of the same film.
We also approach database as a new representational form in its own right. Accordingly, we investigate different ways to visualise Soft Cinema databases.


video database: icon view
video database: keywords view
Generator program interface

Extended Version
(1200 words)

Medium-length Version (500 words)

SOFT CINEMA explores 4 ideas:

1. The first is algorithmic editing of media materials. Each video clips used in Soft Cinema is assigned keywords which describe both the "content" of a clip (geographical location, presence of people in the scene, etc.) and its "formal" properties (dominant color, dominant line orientation, contrast, camera movement, etc.). Some of the keywords are generated automatically using image processing software while others are input by hand. The program (written in LINGO) assembles the video track by selecting clips one after another using a system rules (i.e. an algorithm). Diffirent systems of rules are possible: for instance, selecting a clip which is closest in color or type of motion to the previous one; selecting a clip which matches the previous one party in content and party in color, repalcing only every other clip to create a kind of parallel montage sequence, and on on.

2. The second idea is database narrative. Rather than beginning with a script and then creating media elements which visualise it, I investigate a diffirent paradigm: starting with a large database and then generating narratives from it. In Soft Cinema, The media elements are selected from a database of a few hundred video clips to construct a potentially unlimited number of different short films.

3. The third idea is what I call macro-cinema. While filmmakers such as Peter Greenaway and Mike Figgis have already used a multi-screen format for fiction films, thinking about the visual conventions of Graphical User Interface as used in computer culture gives us a diffirent way to do macro-cinema. If a computer user employs windows of diffirent proportions and sizes, why not adopt the similar aesthetics for cinema? In Soft Cinema, the generation of each video begins with the computer program semi-ranomly breaking the screen into a number of square regions of diffeirent dimensions. During the playback diffeirent clips are assigned to diffirent regions. In this way, software determines both temporal and spatial organisation of a work, i.e. both sequencing of clips and their composition.

4. The forth idea is to create a multi-media cinema. In Soft Cinema video is used as just one type of representation among others: 2D animation, motion graphics (i.e. animated text), stills, 3D scenes (as in computer games), diagrams, etc. In addition, Soft Cinema supplements a "normal" video image with other types of lens-based imagery commonly used today by industry, science, medicine and military: the low res web cam image, an infrared image, edge-detected image as employed in computer vision, etc. While some music videos and artist videos already mix some of these different types of imagery in one work, Soft Cinema assigns each type of imagery to a separate window in order to dramatize the new status of “normal” video, photographic and film image today – no longer the dominant but just one source of visual information about reality among many others. The additional inspiration for using different representation of the same scene next to each other comes from the display setups used in medecine, aviation and other contemporary workplaces. Finally, rather than simply using these diffirent types of representation for a purely visual effect, Soft Cinema investigates the possibilities of using them together for fictional narration.

Project History

Soft Cinema incorporates the project macro-cinema (1997 - 2000) which was developed as a counterpart to the earlier project little movies (1994 - 1997).

Additional Texts

The original Soft Cinema proposal for ZKM (2000):

The text from The Language of New Media on macro-cinema (1999):

Soft Cinema is an example of a "database narrative" proposed in my article Database as a Symbolic Form (1998).



Soft Cinema Database visualisation

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Sergei Eisenstein - montage structure of a sequence from Alexander Nevsky (1939)