The Digital Bayou, a showcase of commercial technology applications, was a great success at this year's Siggraph, an annual computer graphics conference. The Digital Bayou was a combination of high-tech savvy and old Louisiana charm. Held in a dimly lit warehouse in New Orleans, the show previewed upcoming technology amidst the moss, crates and swampy underwater-green lighting of Louisiana's backwaters. But beneath this veneer lay computing power of the future which entranced and educated passers-by. The Digital Bayou had close to 300 exhibitors and all of them were worth a look. The New York Media Research Laboratory, in conjunction with the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, is working on behavioural scripting for 'improvisational animation', showcased in the Botanica Virtual display. The Improv Project began in the spring of 1994, with the goal of building technologies to enable human-directed avatars (online personas) and computer-controlled agents (animated characters) to interact in real time. The Botanica Virtual used a 3D virtual reality bayou for a human-directed avatar to explore and run into computer-generated characters. 'We never know how these characters are going to react,' an exhibitor said. 'There are a certain number of behaviours scripted for the character, but he will react differently to a new situation.' With a headset designed to thrust you into the virtual reality world, you walk along a dark path through the bayou and happen upon a local inhabitant sitting by his fire. In this example, he said: 'Hi there, you look a little lost, can I help you?' If you do not speak to him, he starts to get irritated. If you just walk off, he will probably follow you with curses. It can be disconcerting to have an animated character be rude to you. The ramifications for this technology, however, are as yet purely entertainment oriented. Alice, a 3D graphics software for non-techies by the University of Virginia, is a novel way for novices to hop into the realm of animation creation. At the Digital Bayou, Alice software was used to create a 3D Star Wars Light Sabre game. Back in 1977, Luke Skywalker used a light sabre in his battle with Darth Vader and the dark side. Alice created a 3D screen with the floating mechanical ball that spat out light bullets for Luke to practice his reflexes. Donning the headset, you could hold on to a light sabre handle and practice just like Luke. A tally at the bottom kept score between you and the machine. The Star Wars game is not available because the university is worried about copyright infringement. Alice runs on Windows 95 PCs only and requires a VGA graphics card capable of 16-bit colour. NAIMA demonstrated its Digital Dixieland, a 3D club with a 'chill-out space' for relaxing, a dance floor for your human-directed avatar, and a multiplayer karaoke band for creating real-time music and graphics. You gather four people to form your band, and each player chooses a role: the GrooveMeister, the Graphics Wizard, the Trigger Jacky and the Cyber Soloist. You then choose a song from the jukebox and begin to play music. Everyone in the virtual room will hear the music and see the graphics.