Cyberspace: Bulletin Board

Johnny finds he needs a favor from a friend in cyberspace. We see Johnny type something on his virtual keyboard, then selects from a pull down menu.


A quick break in the action: In this shot we are looking at the real world, not the virtual, and I want to mention how clear and well-defined all the physical actions by actor Keanu Reeves are. I very much doubt that the headset he is wearing actually worked, so he is doing this without being able to see anything.

Will regular users of virtual reality systems be this precise with their gestures? Datagloves have always been expensive and rare, making studies difficult. But several systems offer submillimeter gestural tracking nowadays: version 2 of Microsoft Kinect, Google’s Soli, and Leap Motion are a few, and much cheaper and less fragile than a dataglove. Using any of these for regular desktop application tasks rather than games would be an interesting experiment.

Back in the film, Johnny flies through cyberspace until he finds the bulletin board of his friend. It is an unfriendly glowing shape that Johnny tries to expand or unfold without success.


After some more virtual typing, the bulletin board reveals itself as a cube that spins and expands. It doesn’t fill the entire screen, but does reveal the face of Strike, the owner of the bulletin board. His face is stylized as if by a real time image processing filter of the type built into most static image editors today. Strike tells Johnny to go away.


Johnny doesn’t give up and the conversation continues. The cube now expands to fill the screen, with Johnny looking into the cube and Strike’s face on the back wall.


Johnny raises his hands and makes a threatening gesture, saying that he could crash Strike’s entire system. In cyberspace, his fingertips now have blades.


The face retreats in cyberspace, becoming smaller and further away. I’d like to think that Strike leaned back, and that has been mapped into a cyberspace equivalent move. The real world gesture carries its meaning to cyberspace.

A short while ago the Yakuza leader Shinji ordered the tracker to “initiate the virus.” It is at this point that we see the effect, with the cube carrying the image of Strike melting away under a bright light.


While visual representations of cyber attacks are common in books and now TV and films, real world computer designers complain that no system under attack would waste processing power on rendering special effects. This is true for the defenders, but the attackers might want to show their power with a flashy display. Or perhaps these visual effects are generated by Johnny’s own cyberspace system, the 2021 equivalent of today’s warning message that a web site certificate cannot be verified. It’s certainly more attention-grabbing than a small padlock icon disappearing from one corner of your browser window.

At this point the Yakuza arrive in reality, and Jane takes the headset off and drags Johnny out of the shop.


Cyberspace: Newark Copyshop

The transition from Beijing to the Newark copyshop is more involved. After he travels around a bit, he realizes he needs to be looking back in Newark. He “rewinds” using a pull gesture and sees the copyshop’s pyramid. First there is a predominantly blue window that unfolds as if it were paper.


And then the copyshop initial window expands. Like the Beijing hotel, this is a floor plan view, but unlike the hotel it stays two dimensional. It appears that cyberspace works like the current world wide web, with individual servers for each location that can choose what appearance to present to visitors.

Johnny again selects data records, but not with a voice command. The first transition is a window that not only expands but spins as it does so, and makes a strange jump at the end from the centre to the upper left.


Once again Johnny uses the two-handed expansion gesture to see the table view of the records. Continue reading

Cyberspace: Beijing Hotel

After selecting its location from a map, Johnny is now in front of the virtual entrance to the hotel. The virtual Beijing has a new color scheme, mostly orange with some red.


The “entrance” is another tetrahedral shape made from geometric blocks. It is actually another numeric keypad. Johnny taps the blocks to enter a sequence of numbers.

The tetrahedral keypad


Note that there can be more than one digit within a block. I mentioned earlier that it can be difficult to “press” with precision in virtual reality due to the lack of tactile feedback. Looking closely, here the fingers of Johnny’s “hands” cast a shadow on the pyramid, making depth perception easier. Continue reading



The core of interaction design is the see-think-do loop that describes the outputs, human cognition, and inputs of an interactive system. A film or TV show spends time showing inputs without describing some output, only when these users are in the background and unrelated to the plot. But there are a few examples of outputs with no apparent inputs. These are hard to evaluate in a standard way because it’s such a giant piece of the puzzle. Is it a brain input? Is the technology agentive? Is it some hidden input like Myo‘s muscle sensing? Not knowing the input, a regular review is kind of pointless. All I can do is list its effects and perhaps evaluate the outputs in terms of the apparent goals. Ghost in the Shell has several of these types of inputless systems. Today’s is Kusanagi’s heat vision.

Early in the film, Kusanagi sits atop a skyscraper, jacked in, wearing dark goggles, and eavesdropping on a conversation taking place in a building far below. As she looks down, she sees through the walls of the building in a scanline screen-green view that shows the people as bright green and furniture as a dim green, with everything else being black.

She adjusts the view by steps to zoom closer and closer until her field of vision is filled with the two men conversing in her earpiece. When she hears mention of Project 2501 she thinks the message, “Major, Section 6 is ready to move in.” She reaches up to her right temple and clicks a button, to turn the goggles off before removing them.

That’s nifty. But how did she set the depth of field and the extents (the frustum) of the display so that she only sees these people, and not everyone in the building below this? How does she tell the algorithm that she wants to see furniture and not floor? (Is it thermography? Is the furniture all slightly warm?) What is she doing to increase the zoom? If it’s jacked into her head, why must she activate it several times rather than just focusing on the object with her eyes, or specifying “that person there?” How did she set the audio? Why does the audio not change with each successive zoom? If they’re from separate systems, how did she combine them?

Squint gestures

If I had to speculate what the mechanism should be, I would try to use the natural mechanisms of the eye itself. Let Kusanagi use a slight squint gesture to zoom in, and a slight widening of the eyelids to zoom out. This would let her maintain her gaze, maintain her silence, keep her body still, and keep her hands free.

The scene implies that her tools provide a set amount of zoom for each activation, but for very long distances that seems like it would be a pain. I would have the zoom automatically set itself to make the object on which she is focusing fill her field of vision less some border, and then use squint-gestures to change the zoom to the next logical thing. For instance, if she focused on a person, that person would fill her field of vision. A single widening might zoom out to show the couch on which they are sitting. Another the room. This algorithm wouldn’t be perfect, so you’d need some mechanism for arbitrary zoom. I’d say a squint or wide-eyed gesture held for a third of a second or so would trigger arbitrary zoom for as long as the gesture was maintained, with the zoom increasing logarithmically.

As for the frustum, use the same smart algorithm to watch her gaze, and set the extents to include the whole of the subject and the context in which it sits.

Mission Briefing

Once the Prometheus crew has been fully revived from their hypersleep, they gather in a large gymnasium to learn the details of their mission from a prerecorded volumetric projection. To initiate the display, David taps the surface of a small tablet-sized handheld device six times, and looks up. A prerecorded VP of Peter Weyland appears and introduces the scientists Shaw and Holloway.

This display does not appear to be interactive. Weyland does mention and gesture toward Shaw and Holloway in the audience, but they could have easily been in assigned seats.

Cue Rubik’s Space Cube

After his introduction, Holloway places an object on the floor that looks like a silver Rubik’s Cube with a depressed black button in the center-top square.


He presses a middle-edge button on the top, and the cube glows and sings a note. Then a glowing-yellow “person” icon appears, glowing, at the place he touched, confirming his identity and that it’s ready to go.

He then presses an adjacent corner button. Another glowing-yellow icon appears underneath his thumb, this one a triangle-within-a-triangle, and a small projection grows from the side. Finally, by pressing the black button, all of the squares on top open by hinged lids, and the portable projection begins. A row of 7 (or 8?) “blue-box” style volumetric projections appear, showing their 3D contents with continuous, slight rotations.

Gestural control of the display

After describing the contents of each of the boxes, he taps the air towards either end of the row (there is a sparkle-sound to confirm the gesture) and he brings his middle fingers together like a prayer position. In response, the boxes slide to a center as a stack.

He then twists his hands in opposite directions, keeping the fingerpads of his middle fingers in contact. As he does this, the stack merges.


Then a forefinger tap summons an overlay that highlights a star pattern on the first plate. A middle finger swipe to the left moves the plate and its overlay off to the left. The next plate automatically highlights its star pattern, and he swipes it away. Next, with no apparent interaction, the plate dissolves in a top-down disintegration-wind effect, leaving only the VP spheres that illustrate the star pattern. These grow larger.

Halloway taps the topmost of these spheres, and the VP zooms through intersteller space to reveal an indistinct celestial sphere. He then taps the air again (nothing in particular is beneath his finger) and the display zooms to a star. Another tap zooms to a VP of LV-223.



After a beat of about 9 seconds, the presentation ends, and the VP of LV-223 collapses back into its floor cube.

Evaluating the gestures

In Chapter 5 of Make It So we list the seven pidgin gestures that Hollywood has evolved. The gestures seen in the Mission Briefing confirm two of these: Push to Move and Point to Select, but otherwise they seem idiosyncratic, not matching other gestures seen in the survey.

That said, the gestures seem sensible. On tapping the “bookends” of the blue boxes, Holloway’s finger pads come to represent the extents of the selection, so bringing them together is a reasonable gesture to indicate stacking. The twist gesture seems to lock the boxes in place, to break the connection between them and his fingertips. This twist gesture turns his hand like a key in a lock, so has a physical analogue.

It’s confusing that a tap would perform four different actions (highlight star patterns in the blue boxes, zoom to the celestial sphere, zoom to star, zoom to LV-223) but there is no indication that this is a platform for manipulating VPs as much as it is a presentation software. With this in mind he could arbitrarily assign any gesture to simply “advance the slide.”