Suzanne & Zu!

Semiautomatic Generation of TV Cartoon’s Plots

Federico Peinado, Abraham López “Lobo” and Pablo Gervás

Suzanne & Zu! is an application of KIIDS that offers semi-automatic generation of episodes of a TV Cartoon serie.

Can machines tell stories? What was a fantasy for George Orwell in his novel 1984 or Roald Dahl in the short story The Great Automatic Gramatizator, is nowadays a scientific reality discussed in computer science theses. Storytelling, one of the most representative phenomena of human cognition, has been the object of numerous investigations throughout history. In Artificial intelligence (AI) the 70s and 80s were key decades in the effort to understand the structure of stories and how they are generated.

Automatic Narrative research stagnant until the end of the 90s, when Narrative Intelligence (NI) appeared again as a new subfield of the IA. Today we talk about cyberbard,we explore new literary categories and we understand digital narrative as the computer-assisted generation of Literature, an additional means for the scriptwriters and graphics designer to express themselves. Paradoxically, the most extended model of narrative in this new stage of NI is the one proposed by Vladimir Propp in the 60s. This is because it is easy to process automatically. In his analysis of Russian popular folk tales, Propp found 31 constant functions (The Villain’s Trick, Hero Leaves Home, the Mediation of a Donor, etc.) that, assigned the characters of a tale by means of a suitable combination, could represent the structure of any story.

For this project a simple model of TV Cartoon serie has been created: Suzanne & Zu!. It is a situation comedy that narrates, through small interlaced gags, the daily events of an atypical pair of flat mates: Suzanne, the depressive postadolescent and Zu “The Great”, the positronic squirrel. With these two characters in the lead roles and the flat where they live as only setting, all micro-stories are constructed. First the scriptwriter specifies an objective for the “hero” (Suzanne normally) and she lets the “villain” make that plan fail according to a very particular interpretation of the Propp’s functions. Thatis: Home Leaving, Victory of the Good over Evil, Wedding of the Hero and Obtaining the Magical Talisman that Propp proposes in his studies are transformed by analogy into elements of everyday life loaded with humor and irony (Go to the Street, Battle for the Sofa, Moving to the Boyfriend House, Obtaining the Remote Control, etc.). 

The aim is to integrate, for the first time outside the academic scope, techniques of digital narrative into the real process of episode production for a TV 3D cartoon serial. A computer application generates tens of one-minute long scripts for possible micro-episodes that are later selected, rewritten and elaborated by scriptwriters and professional 3D modellers. So far the tests seem to indicate that the scriptwriters’ productivity can be increased with no interferences with their creative role. This requires a new approach to the task of the scriptwriter, collaborating in the creation of behavioral rules and patterns, defining setups of personality, carrying out adjustments on a sketch instead of starting from scratch. Of course this is not an attempt at replacing creativity and plot by automatisms. The idea is to find a different way of going about storytelling, something more indirect, like saying who is a character, what makes us laugh and cry, without giving up the human miracle of artistic creation.

Multimedia

Download S&Z-Pack.zip (15 Mb): Images & one demo chapter have been incluced to show the visual aspect of the characters mentioned in this project (copyright 2004, MariaLaGorda Films). In order to obtain more images and videos of the cartoon series Suzanne & Zu!, as well as the material of other related projects, users are requested to contact the authors.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.