Virtual walk down memory lane

Semi Ryu sees herself as a media artist. Now, in something of a second act, she helps elderly audiences step into stories of their own. She believes what they see will be a real performance to remember.

Ryu, an associate professor of kinetic imaging in the VCU School of the Arts, collaborated with Stefano Faralli of the University of Manheim, Germany, to develop interactive technology for her virtual puppetry. VoicingElder is an avatar system with four different development stages: childhood, teenage years, young adulthood and older adulthood, with four female and four male avatars.

“VoicingElder has been an exciting trans-disciplinary project between art, technology and health, engaged with dynamically increasing population of older adults. VCU Innovation Gateway is helping to implement VoicingElder avatar system in a long term care setting, as a tool for socialization and inter-generational communication.”

Semi Ryu
Associate professor
Department of Kinetic Imaging

Her participants speak with lip-sync technology, giving the illusion that a virtual puppet is the storyteller. She found that, in many cases, older adults were more comfortable speaking through an avatar, reducing the embarrassment factor.

“They can easily talk about an emotional story … with more safe distance,” Ryu says. For three months, Ryu recorded each session and then turned it into a movie for residents. All wanted copies of the film to share with family.

Ryu also collaborated with Tracey Gendron, Ph.D., an associate professor in the VCU Department of Gerontology, who serves as the department’s director of community engagement and research. People with all kinds of memory loss and PTSD could benefit from the program.

She has won the VCU Presidential Research Quest Fund and is the recipient of the VCUarts Faculty Award of Distinguished Achievement in Research and the VCUarts Dean’s Faculty Research Grant Award. Ryu recently hosted a TEDx Talk on Han, a Korean concept defined as an extreme state of grief, but with great hope to overcome.