Media Technology MSc

Workshop “Artificial Creatures”

Spring 2008
Media Technology MSc program, Leiden University

In 1738, French engineer Jacques de Vaucanson built a mechanical duck that was strikingly lifelike. It could move its wings, stand up and sit down, clean itself with its beak, and drink water. But what was most remarkable about it was that it seemed to be able to eat, digest and defecate – using methods, according to De Vaucanson, that were copied from nature.

Jacques de Vaucanson's digesting duckWhen the duck went on display in Paris, people flocked to see it. They wanted to see the duck not only because it was a stunning achievement of clockwork – which, with 30 moving levers and hundreds of interlocking parts, it was – but because they thought it might actually reflect how life worked. Even though they knew the duck wasn't really alive, they thought that you might one day be able really to produce an artificial creature.

This workshop deals with building artificial creatures, or things that were made to purposefully convey essences of (lifelike) creatures. Together with students we explore and discuss issues such as affect, needs, social interaction, goals, food, etcetera. Hopefully, we can show that for designing artificial creatures, one does not need a degree in duck-robotics – with minimal technical complexity the creature should suggest maximal lifelike properties.


Maarten Lamers and Peter van der Putten


To successfully complete the workshop, students must prepare by reading scientific texts, attend 2 lecture days, participate in discussions, build an artificial creature (group work), and present it on a designated exhibition day that is open to the general public. There is a maximum of 30 participants for this workshop. The registration procedure is made public via soon. Upon successful completion, the student is awarded 1 EC credit at level 500. With specific permission from the teachers (and only then) students can extend their project after the exhibition day to obtain 1 additional EC credit.

  • Read material prior to first lecture
  • Friday, April 11 2008, 10h30 – 15h00 lectures at LIACS
  • Friday, April 18 2008, 10h30 – 14h30 lectures in downtown Leiden
  • Friday, May 9 2008, 10h30 – 16h00 exhibition day in "De Illusie", Casuariestraat 16, Den Haag

For more information, see the Artificial Creatures website.


11 - 9 May 2008