Dream Machine Media/NavMotion’s Pete Davies and Phil Hall explain.
How did your latest project come about?
Phil – Well, Dunkeswell War Stories is about telling some of the stories of how people’s lives were changed. Many locals who were children in the war are now approaching old age, and the few surviving airmen are in their 90’s.
Pete – Devon County Council offered a few creative companies to pitch for an online resource to capture their stories. I think we were chosen because we suggested a clickable video solution to create a resource for schools and for the wider public to make use of. We wanted to create a heritage experience that merged the best of TV feature docs and museum touch screens.
Is it a trans-media story or a stand-alone interactive film?
Pete – The whole project sits on-line on a dedicated website but it’s also fully embeddable and shareable and we hope this will be a key part of the project – that it will get seen in other places such as on US veteran’s websites, heritage blogs and also on iPad in exhibitions and local attractions.
Phil – The finished project is a collection of over 50 short films intertwined with each other on an interactive video platform. Each of these features has clickable elements that tell a different story about real people’s lives and how they were impacted by the building of this large, and eventually very busy, airfield in North Devon.
Can you describe the interactive story design process for other film-makers interested in creating interactive works?
Pete – This project in particular was a challenge in terms of plotting out the course of the interactivity because of the many elements and contributors that play into the experience. We initially consulted local schools, organisations and the local community to find out how they may want to interact with an ambitious resource such as this. As it is a documentary based on finding great people with stories it meant we couldn’t script it or plan precisely how it worked navigationally. Luckily we had already developed NavMotion, our interactive production platform, so we had a high degree of flexibility compared to projects that are coded from the ground up. Nevertheless we learnt an enormous amount about how to tell stories in new ways other than the traditional long form documentary idiom.
Phil – Once we’d finished researching and filming we spent some time working out how the stories were connected – it became a bit of a three-dimensional chess game. What was fascinating was telling the same stories from different viewpoints – from US airmen who left home for the first time in search of adventure but were instead sent to a cold, damp, hill thousands of miles away, to local kids on the other side of the fence and their excitement of meeting gum-chewing Americans who flew cool planes, to local farmers coping with their farmland being ripped up and replaced with concrete. There was a true mix of experiences and we hope that comes through when you watch it.
How many crew members were working on the interactive elements? Also, what technology platform did you use?
Pete – In total, 4 staff worked directly on this project, with one volunteer providing valuable on-the-ground skills. In addition, we used our designer Joe Chisholm to create the illustrations and long-time collaborator, Charlie Battrick of El Carousel, provided the 3D walk through of the Liberator aircraft. Technically we built this on our existing platform NavMotion. It’s built for Flash 11 but we have a lovely CMS that controls how we switch and supply video and the information pop-ups that NavMotion can deliver. We also have a hot-spotting tool that enables us to turn an old-school video into an interactive experience very quickly.
Do you think there is much scope for works of fiction in interactive video?
Phil – Yes, absolutely. We can actually see this as being a format that can be used across other sectors to aid the experience, as well as standing alone. I think the soon-to-be-launched Cloud Chamber Mystery from Investigate North is a good example of a rich, fictional experience that stands alone—their recent showcase at SPOT Interactive Conference in Aarhus showed that monetising your decision-making in-video will become something to keep an eye on.
Pete – NavMotion recently tested a pilot project called Four Story Café, in collaboration with production company Endless Projects, with the aim of exploring interactive drama and offering the viewer the chance to explore the film they are watching. Our plan was, and still is, to take this format of interactive experience and open it up on a wider scale, with potential commercial backing, and crowd-sourcing the content or offering a film community the chance to play a role in future projects.
What would you like to tell us about your background – and how did you become interested in making interactive films?
Pete – I was at the BBC for several years starting out in the pre-digital era whilst always loving technology. When the internet came along I couldn’t believe people weren’t doing more to harness TV and the web. I still can’t! So NavMotion is a response to that – how best to bring user experience, design and film disciplines to a place where they don’t have to worry about technologies so much as play with them.
Phil – My journey to present is a little unusual in that I did a PhD in Geology then switched disciplines to work in TV and at BBC Children’s including Programme-making, Development and Interactive. CBBC is where I first met Pete, in fact, on a comedy science series all about space travel. I later came on board with Pete, just as NavMotion was being formed and could see immediately the benefits clickable video offers. From there onwards we have tried to develop the type of digital experiences we offer and also improve the technology…culminating in our newest version, NavMotion 2.0, being released soon.
The technology behind NavMotion was created with our first client, Arcadia, in mind for an internal fashion project of theirs. The clickable videos were sent internally for press days and proved a huge hit with the journalists.
What is your favourite interactive film or genre?
Phil – I am a huge fan of travel & tourism as a genre that has loads of potential when it comes to making content clickable. The thought of exploring and interacting with a destination in-film from the comfort of my laptop excites me. Planning a visit, trip or break without wading through paragraph after paragraph of text. Reaching out to potential visitors. This is something we’ve done on a small scale and certainly want to do more of.
Pete – Like many others, I like Onlybecausewecan —it’s evocative and playful even if it leaves us plenty of room to grow the branded content genre. And for me, HBO Voyeur was the project that kicked it all off—the Grandmaster Flash of interactive experiences! Overall genre-wise, we love docs but many of us have also worked in game shows and children’s TV—I’d love to see a truly trans-media version of a Saturday night format.
What is your next project, if we may ask?
Phil – We are just about to deliver an interactive video experience for Plane Clothing, a T-Shirt maker from London. It’s a set of videos that allows you to explore the workshop of the business and discover the stories behind the clothing, as well as being able to buy the T-Shirts themselves in-video.
How do you see the interactive video scene and immersive story-telling developing in 2013?
Phil – There are a number of exciting developments within the interactive international digital community. Intelligent interactivity—in-video clicks unlocking tailored content for individual viewers—is something we are currently developing with a partner and hope to pilot this year.
Pete – I would agree. It’s all about personalisation for us. It’s time video acted in a Web 2.0 kind of way instead of being a dumb plug-in in the middle of an otherwise personalised site.
What is holding back story-tellers in the UK from going down an interactive or trans-media path do you think?
Story-tellers in the wider sense, film-makers, journalists, digital agencies, marketers, learning institutions, and others.
Pete – It’s a well-worn cliché but the complicated bit is in keeping it simple. A serious technical constraint is in cross-platform authoring and distribution, especially in that in our view HTML5 isn’t yet the panacea to everything – and the danger is that people think that content can be delivered uniformly on a myriad of devices .
The biggest constraint though is [interactive film and trans-media story-telling] education and marketing – as a community we need to point out the benefits and the opportunities to those who can make use of our ideas.
Thank you for sharing, Pete and Phil!