We’re taking a little well earned R&R this week, but we’re still thinking about you, loyal reader. So we’ve gathered some of our favorite posts from the past year into these handy-dandy Best of Turnstyle News pages. One for every day this week.
Transmedia. A word both loved and loathed by Hollywood executives and Madison Avenue marketers. The art and science, if you will, of making all our disparate media technologies work together to articulate an over-arching vision. Well, when it’s done right at any rate.
What excites us most about transmedia here at Turnstyle is that it is a new frontier. A still uncharted territory that is constantly evolving in practice, content and theory. Even the definition is constantly morphing. Yet that is probably the least interesting thing about transmedia. It’s the work and the people who are doing it that are the most exciting. Here’s some of the highlights from the year so far:
New Media Breaks Through: Fourth Wall Studio Launches RIDES– The Culver City based Fourth Wall Studios is on the cutting edge of transmedia. This report, which was turned into a Marketplace piece, peeks behind the curtain of the studio to show how the creators of the Alternate Reality Game genre are looking to use their storytelling mojo to reach a broader audience.
Transmedia @ WyrdCon: Interviews– Some of the best and brightest minds in transmedia were brought together in Costa Mesa for a series of panels. While there we harvested some quick interviews that reveal the eldritch ties between transmedia and that red-headed step child of the geek universe: Role Playing Games. Featuring Jeff Gomez of Starlight Runner Entertainment, Alison Norrington of the StoryWorld conference, and Mickey Neilson of Blizzard Entertainment.
CLANG!– Okay so this isn’t really one of OUR best pieces. It’s just a whole lot of fun. Check out the video for a Kickstarter campaign from author Neal Stephenson for a sword-fighting video game set in the Foreworld universe. This is part of a larger DIY-style transmedia project that Stephenson, fellow author Greg Bear and a host of others are working on at the Subutai Corporation. We talked with Subutai CEO and Chief Creative Officer Mark Teppo back in 2010, on the eve of their first project being launched.
Unveiling the Mystery of ‘The Institute’– perhaps the best known “art of art’s sake” Alternate Reality Game is the fabled “Games of Nonchalance”. A multi-year project that featured the fictional and sinister “Jejune Institute” that was documented by filmmaker Spencer McCall. We got to sit in on a sneak peak of the film, which should be hitting the festival circuit this year, and interviewed McCall in the wake of the screening.
Inside the Mind of “Bear 71″– transmedia doesn’t have borders of any kind, really. This interactive documentary produced by the National Film Board of Canada was present at Sundance’s New Frontier gallery this year. We spoke with co-director Jeremy Mendes about this moving blend of documentary footage and user directed discovery.
Bonus from 2011:
Storytelling’s Next Step is a Pandemic– still a favorite here at the office, this is a look at transmedia pioneer Lance Weiler’s Sundance 2011 project Pandemic 1.0. If you want to see where things are going, you need to look back at this piece.
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Opinions expressed in Game of Buzz are the sole responsibility of the author.
While covering Bear 71, an interactive documentary produced by the National Film Board of Canada, I learned from producer Jeremy Mendes that the NFB has been experimenting with the interactive film format for a while now.
One of the projects is the delightful Bla Bla, an animated piece by Vincent Morisset whose interactive elements are intuitive and reward exploration. That is: if you wheel the mouse around the screen and click just about anywhere, something neat happens.
When confronted with a piece of work like Bla Bla, which explores the theme of communication, I am forced to wonder: why don’t we see more work like this all over the web? Is it there and people just aren’t finding it? Or are today’s artists and designers so focused on creating apps or making derviative geek content that a simple exploration of communication, emotion, and loneliness is beyond their reach?
In any case the whole of Bla Bla, all six chapters, takes about twenty minutes to play around with. You’ll find it to be time well spent.
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It isn’t every day that I wind up crying in front of my computer because of something I’ve seen on the internet. So it was a great surprise that Bear 71, an interactive documentary produced by the National Film Board of Canada, reduced me to tears with its beautifully immersive and tragic story of a female grizzly bear narrated in the first-person by actress Mia Kirshner (The L Word, Exotica, 24).
The core of Bear 71 is the website — which takes just under 20 minutes to tell the central story. At this year’s Sundance Film Festival the project manifested as an installation exhibit produced with the assistance of transmedia pioneer Lance Weiler (whose Pandemic 1.0 we profiled last year). While the picture gallery below hints at some of the fun techniques the installation uses to reveal aspects of the story, e.g. iPads that can be held up in front of projected material, which can then be used to as augmented reality lenses, in my conversation with Bear 71’s co-director Jeremy Mendes I found myself focusing on the central experience, which uses the intimacy of audio and the solitary nature of the internet to pull the user into the story.
“There aren’t a lot of ways for a grizzly bear to die. At least, that’s the way it was in the wild.”
Bear 71 begins with this statement, and right from the start we know the story will not end well. How can it when it is about the life of a bear, living in a valley that is bordered by heavily populated areas?
Mendes told me that his co-director Leanne Allison came to the NFB with thousands of trail-cam surveillance photos and “a story about one bear in particular named Bear 71 who was captured and collared at the age of three and was monitored virtually her whole life. They’d watched her, and she’d come close to people and once they cross that line they get collared. It is in the interest of the bear and the people just so they can keep an eye on her. She wound up keeping her nose pretty clean. She didn’t eat anybody. She reared like three sets of cubs and irked out a living in a very difficult place to live.”
The story and images inspired Mendes, but not just on the level of a compelling narrative about nature.
“It just to me seemed like a story about surveillance. About watching and how bizarre it is in that area: the necessity to watch wildlife closely for their own well being and ours, but mostly for theirs. And I immediately thought of ourselves. I thought about people. I thought about cameras on street corners in Times Square. So I got really excited, I was like ‘this is a technology piece, this is about the state of our affairs with technology and communication.’”
Online, the story takes place within a computerized representation of the Bow Valley in Banff National Park that is referred to as “the grid”. While the audio portion of the story plays out, with an immersive sound design by Josh Stevenson, the user is able to navigate around the colored dot-matrix aesthetic of the grid with mouse and keyboard.
“Right from the start,” said Mendes, “I like to design an interface with nothing. If you do a good job you don’t have to tell people what to do.”
The user is able to explore the virtual valley, which is teeming with wildlife and the artifacts of civilization like trains and cars. Clicking on objects that reveals photos, videos, and facts as the central narrative continues to unfold.
The experience takes a step further by using the user’s own webcam to become part of the story. With permission granted to the app, an active stream of video is fed back into the experience, which contextualizes the user as another tagged and tracked animal in the valley.
“You’re cruising around and you’re looking at all this content, all these trail cameras and sequences. If you click on yourself it’s almost like a surveillance wall inside a security office,” said Mendes, “and there’s a tile of images, anyone who’s online at the same time you’ll see them and you’ll see yourself and you’ll see images of animals.”
What impressed me the most about Bear 71 was how much information was condensed into the twenty minutes, all without sacrificing the “human” element of the perspective of Bear 71, who for the purposes of the story “knows about YouTube, knows about Foursquare, knows about wireless communication, also knows that animals use all sorts of different ways of communicating like electromagnetic fields and talks about platypuses smelling electricity. So you’ve got this bear that is telling the story of her life but has an omniscient view, this almost god-like view of knowing everything we do. So essentially it’s us.”
The script by J.B. MacKinnon and read by Kirshner conspire to give the sense that this is a confessional. Somewhere between a bedtime story and a final testament. It’s a rather extraordinary performance that benefited from an untraditional production technique. Instead of isolating Kirshner in the recording booth, Mendes was right there with her.
“It was Loc Dao the producer’s idea to get me in the booth with her. It was a great call, because we just had a very casual relationship so it was quite relaxed. She was telling me the story more like a one a one than through the glass and that separation.”
In a similar way, the structure of Bear 71 removes the barrier between the wired world and the world of nature, revealing that there are mysteries of the nature that humans are still very much a part of, like “rub trees” the communication towers of the forest.
“There are some really great clips in there too of animals just coming from all directions to rub on this tree: squirrels, elk, deer, grizzly bears, joggers. Everyone coming to check this thing out. I learned a lot about that. There’s a real nice symbiosis in the story where it’s not just about animals, it’s not just about technology. It’s really about both. It’s about the human being an animal still.”
Bear 71 can be experienced online. The installation version of the experience will be on display at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art in Salt Lake City through April 19th, 2012 and made it’s debut as part of the New Frontier at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
“The grid” of the Bow Valley. Image courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada.
Entrance to Bear 71 at the New Frontier, Sundance Film Festival 2012.
A video wall shows the faces of festival-goers and online participants “captured” as part of the experience.
In the Bear 71 installation, the iPad acts as a window into the story.
A mock trail camera acts as a tagging device: unsuspecting festival-goers were “captured” by the cams.
Exhibit visitors watch the tragic ending of Bear 71.
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