Virtual puppets developed by kinetic imaging professor help older adults feel more comfortable telling their stories

VoicingElder avatars mimic the motions of users.

Semi Ryu had performed “Parting on Z” — her play about a farewell between lovers — a couple of times before that 2013 night in London. Ryu doesn’t know what made this performance different, but something unexpected happened: She found herself sobbing in the middle of it.

“It was not acting,” she said. “Something was touching me so deeply about it.”

Ryu, an associate professor of kinetic imaging in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, played both parts in the play about a man and woman ending their affair because of a difficult family disagreement. She physically played the female lover and spoke through an avatar, a virtual puppet, as the male lover.

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