Sid and the Penguins

Sid and the Penguins was a cute little interactive animation we did at NYU back in 1998. It starred my little animated guy Sid, whom you can see at right. I tried to make him an every-character, something unsettlingly ambiguous, neither bird nor turtle.

In the Spring 1998 semester I worked with Peter Weishar on a joint class with students from the NYU computer science department and the animation area of the NYU Tisch School of the Arts, to make an interactive animation, where Sid interacts with the penguins on the right.

The basic plot was simple: Sid wants to make friends, but the Penguins reject him. So he disguises himself as a penguin. Then they accept him as one of them, and everyone's happy.

The interesting thing was that the animated characters improvised each perfomance, working only from high level direction, using the Improv system co-developed with Athomas Goldberg. So no two performances were alike. Like snowflakes.

You can download an AVI FILE to see a recording of a typical performance. It might take a while to download, since the file size is about 36MB.

They really liked it at SIGGRAPH, because the virtual actors were improvising in real time. But when I presented it later that year at ISEA in Liverpool, it was a different story. I got asked hard questions like: Why penguins? What do the penguins signify?

I felt just terrible about the lack of social significance. I mean, here were all these artists talking about Hitler and stuff, and I was showing dancing penguins.

So I attended the various talks at the conference, listened hard, and learned how to create a properly deconstructed and recontextualized explanation of what Sid and his little friends are up to. The result can be viewed by clicking the link to the bottom right.

- Ken Perlin

View Yid and the Penguins