ITP Thesis Week 2009
Monday, May 4 - Friday, May 8

Mechanical Storytelling: The Story of Grouchy Clown

Eun Jung(EJ) Park

Mechanical Storytelling is a hand-cranked wooden device that employs a series of mechanisms to animate a scene and present a character with whom users can interact.

Mechanical Storytelling is a contemporary automaton depicting an animated scene and featuring a clown character with a unique personality. My focus in this work is the creation of mechanisms that are appropriate to the animations necessary for giving personality and “life” to this wooden object.

Many have described the experience of playing with or watching an automaton as “magical.” What makes magic so pleasurable? Magic presents us with a mysterious, seemingly illogical situation – one that we would never encounter in the “real world” – such as a rabbit popping out of a small hat. This unexpected outcome – the rabbit – that emerges from a mundane reality – the hat – is the reason why we enjoy magic. In the same way, the experience of playing with automata can be a magical experience for people because a very simple, mundane action – such as turning a handle – can bring about a complex and unexpected series of movements. The “hidden mystery” that behind the magical moments in all automata is the mechanism. Creating various types of movement with physical mechanisms is very challenging, but once all the mechanisms fit together perfectly to generate an intended function, the harmonious movement created by these mechanisms could not be more fascinating to experience.

Even in these times of advanced digital technology and media, people can still get great satisfaction from old-fashioned analog objects such as the automaton. I think that the physicality of the automaton is one of its most attractive aspects. Because the user can touch it and move it – and in fact, act directly upon it by cranking a handle and by doing so initiate an unexpected series of movements – there is a certain kind of intimacy established between the user and this physical plaything. This kind of intimacy just cannot exist between a user and a virtual or digital world or interface.