Abstraction and realism in the design of avatars for the simulated environment for theatre

Stan Ruecker, Ali Grotkowski, Sandra Gabriele, Jennifer Roberts-Smith, Stéfan Sinclair, Teresa Dobson, Annemarie Akong, Sally Fung, Marcelo Hong, Shawn DeSouza-Coelho, Omar Rodriguez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Simulated Environment for Theatre (SET) is an experimental three-dimensional interface for use in blocking plays. Created using the Unity3D game engine, SET allows directors or student directors to associate character movement and speech with a timeline that represents the line of action, as well as to annotate choices, change the script, place viewpoints in the audience, and specify the scale-model stage and set. In this article, the authors discuss the iterative design choices involved in creating an appropriate range of characters and character attributes, where they were conscious of the need to keep complexity to a minimum while simultaneously providing as wide a range as possible of the features necessary for a director planning blocking. These include considerations of character attributes such as direction of movement, posture, age, and species, while at the same time the authors decided to de-emphasize control of features such as height, weight, gender, costume, and limbs. The purpose of this discussion is twofold: to cast light on the intricacies of the design decisions around what appear to be relatively simple objects; and to help inform related discussions for other researchers making decisions about avatar design, whether in virtual theatre projects or other broader contexts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)459-472
Number of pages14
JournalVisual Communication
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • avatar
  • character attributes
  • character design
  • human-computer interaction (HCI)
  • interface design
  • text and performance
  • theatre director
  • three-dimensional environment
  • virtual theatre
  • visualization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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