[ISEA95] Panel: Jeffrey Ventrella – Eukaryotic virtual reality: The emergent art of artificial life

Panel Statement


Virtual Reality doesn’t have to be a lonely place. Many of us who are building computer-based media have an agenda: to invent and then populate virtual realities with interacting, quasi-intelligent entities. The human participant becomes one member in an ecosystem of lifelike behavior, not merely a lone wanderer in a vast polygonal space of Euclidean objects. After all, real reality is very much about living among and interacting with other living things. The art of artificial life emphasizes Behavior over Image. In this paper I discuss examples from artists and scientists advancing the art of artificial life such as Dawkins, Sims, and Latham, as well as my own works in using chaos, fractals, cellular automata, behavioral animation, and the application of genetic algorithms to real-time, physics-based animated characters (a research project called “Disney Meets Darwin”).


In this paper I discuss an approach to the science of artificial life, from the view point of an artist using techniques from this field to create images, animations, and interactive micro worlds, via computer programming. As a point of departure, I consider current popular forms of virtual reality – in which the human subject is immersed in a simulated three – dimensional space, usually represented visually via established computer graphic rendering techniques. These spaces have been described as “lonely”, because they often lack the element of life we encounter continuously in real reality.

I would like take a more eco systems approach to inventing a virtual reality, where experience is characterized by interactions with adapting artificial life forms, rather than an approach where experience is characterized by moving through perspective space as a virtual eye-self. The information-dynamism of artificial life does not always depend on rendering of visual surfaces in 3D spaces, and instead emphasizes the inner process, growth, adaptations, and interactions of various autonomous agents, possibly including a human participant. It emphasizes behavior. Artificial life has been primarily a scientific discipline, ‘aimed at complementing traditional biology (largely an analytic science – the study of carbon-based earth-life), with synthesis – a form of theoretical biology. Artificial life research abstracts the functions of life away from one particular physical manifestation and attempts to understand it in terms of information dynamics. For this reason, many artificial life artifacts take the form of computer programs which exhibit emergent properties reminiscent of life. Some artists and computer graphics researchers have begun to adopt artificial life principIes and techniques in developing visual works and mechanical automata. When artificial life is viewed as a new experimental artform, a different set of issues may arise, issues concerned with representation, cultural  implications, questions of authorship, and the creative process. In this paper, I trace the discoveries in my personal journey as an artist inspired by biology, who became a self-taught computer programmer. I also cite a few key thinkers and makers who are starting to bring artificial life into the realm of a visual and cultural study.

  • Jeffrey Ventrella is a recent graduate of the Media Lab. Jeffrey Ventrella is presently a software developer for Rocket Science Games Inc. He has taught artificial life graphics courses at Tufts University and the University of California in San Diego, USA. He has held many positions in the fields of animation, graphic design and programming. He has presented papers internationally and has published several images and texts in magazines and journals, such as IRIS Universe, Artificial Life IV, and “Animato!”.

Full text p.300-304