David Kohler
OTTO Brand Lab

Ask Alice

International Paper built an artificial intelligence named Alice to help with paperwork, manufacturing, while also using it to house industry knowledge. OTTO was approached by International Paper, a long time client, to help bring the AI to life so that it could be featured at a technology event for the printing industry, called Dscoop.

The OTTO team had to visually interpret what Alice would look like, while also creating an exhibit where the AI would be featured. The team also had to figure out how to brand it. A feat that was accomplished while adapting to challenges that sprang up during the project.


How did OTTO get involved in the Ask Alice project?


We were doing a lot of exhibits for International Paper. Particularly for their fine papers group. We had just pulled off a great project for them, so they came in with the idea.

There was someone working within International Paper who was developing an artificial intelligence to help with their paperwork and manufacturing. It was created to manage the back end, and also to serve as an inventory for knowledge or facts about paper. They were building an AI to help with so many things, particularly a lot of the menial stuff. They called the AI “Alice.”

International Paper wanted to feature Alice at their Dscoop booth. What they asked us to do is to create an exhibit and bring Alice, the AI, to life. Not only did we have to design the exhibit; we had to figure out how to bring artificial intelligence to life. How do you brand it and bring it to life?

We partnered with Happy Finish, a production company dedicated to immersive storytelling through mixed reality. First, we had to determine what Alice would look like, and figure out what other elements we would have to consider. We came up with different concepts. In the end, the concept we liked the most was the idea to make Alice out of different pieces of leaves and things found in nature that formed together to make a human face. We did it through sketches, and then we created it in CGI.

The bigger part of it is the coding. We had to code it so the CGI syncs with the voice, and therefore makes it look like Alice is speaking. The way Alice works is that Alice sort of floats as parts until you ask it a question; then it forms the face when it speaks to you. Which is pretty cool. A little creepy, too, at times when you see something becoming human like that. It was really amazing. Alice also has a sense of humor, and the jokes are always terrible, but it’s kind of fun that way.

We also wanted to speak to sustainability and how paper comes from trees in nature. It comes from the earth and goes back into the earth. And so that’s a big part of it. For International Paper—sustainability is an important part of their business.


How did you determine what the AI should look like?


We thought we wanted to do something like you’ve never seen before. If we did it out of just wireframes, do you compete with Hollywood, and try to make it look like a robot? That didn’t make sense. We wanted it to feel human, and less robotic for sure. We didn’t want it to look like those cool robots in the Björk videos, which is amazing. We wanted Alice to be way more human than that.

Alice is really a head, and she kind of just ends at the end of her hair. It has a woman’s voice. We knew that. It could have been non-human. It could have looked abstract, but we didn’t want to do that. We wanted to make something approachable, but also something that was kind of wild, which we achieved. We definitely wanted it to be human in the sense that you’d feel comfortable talking to it. It wasn’t supposed to look robotic or be a talking tree.


Were there any challenges that came up during the project?


There was a guy who owns machines that make holograms, and our client really wanted a hologram. The guy had a giant hologram booth, so we commissioned him to bring his booth to the event in Vegas to help make Alice into a giant hologram.

The guy with the hologram booth came down with a case of flu, and he couldn’t fly out and bring the booth. At the last minute, we had to regroup, and figure out what we were going to do. We ended up buying a gigantic monitor and putting her on it, but we unfortunately didn’t get the hologram. It still worked out. We were able to culminate it with the exhibit and everything. You talk about being on your toes –– that was a minor setback.

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What did you enjoy most about the Alice project?


It was a great project. We were really proud of every aspect of it, including the typography and the exhibit design. It was also a really fun project, getting to push something like this and actually being able to pull it off. We knew what we wanted to do, but getting the development completed, getting it all to work was a scary endeavor. In the end, it wasn’t at all. It came together really beautifully.

Alice In Motion.