25 . 5 . 16

Participation in video

I like stories. Films, books, music it doesn’t really matter, I like strong narratives in any form and I love it when I see something that takes an unusual or unexpected approach in order to deliver an entertaining experience for the audience. That’s the reason I decided to study film there’s always a new technique or piece of equipment that gives you the chance to tell your story in a different, more engaging way.

The great news is that it’s 2016 and I can barely go an hour without seeing an article about some new technology that is set to revolutionise the way we consume and experience media.Surprising absolutely no one, the talk is centred squarely around VR, and for good reason Virtual
Reality technology offers a lot more than a new way to experience movies and games, it’s going to allow people to travel and experience things that otherwise would not have been

But while I do think that VR is safely past the point of being considered a fad, there is a high barrier for entry the HTC Vive for example requires a 5 x 6.5ft area of clear space, with no interference from windows, mirrors or other light sources in order to use the full suite of features. Couple this with a substantial price tag and these drawbacks are likely to prevent VR from becoming an essential household implement, at least for a year or two.

However, it’s impossible to unring the bell, and after seeing the inaugural batch of VR headsets hit the market, sitting down at my computer and watching a wellproduced, yet familiar piece of video content feels pretty pedestrian. I, along with the rest of the world, have seen what’s on the horizon and am expecting more from online video content moving forward. As a video specialist that’s quite a daunting thought, but things have to adapt to survive, so the biggest challenge for video in the coming years is going to be countering the feeling that, as the viewer, you’re very much on the outside looking in.

That’s why I was so excited when I saw this project:

Undertaken as a joint production between studios Blind and Interlude, the team were tasked with creating a story driven music video for a recently discovered Jeff Buckley song, Just Like A Woman. Inspired by the narrative of the song, the team wanted to approach the project as an opportunity to create an interactive experience, allowing the viewer to control the story. The result is a brilliant, engaging music video that gives the viewer the opportunity to follow one of four distinct story arcs through the song, or switch between them at their leisure it’s even possible to change the song, bringing particular instruments to prominence or sending others into the background at key moments.

Needless to say, there were some serious technical challenges to overcome here, and while a large bulk of the workload landed on the design team in total, 296 separate panels were animated for the video some of the most challenging aspects came from an interface and user experience perspective. Each panel is simultaneously running four fully rendered pieces of video, and on top of the fact that the viewer needs to be able to toggle the visible layer at will, the panels also need to be able to adjust in size in real time. Likewise, how does the viewer initially know that they are in control of the narrative? Once they do know that, how are all of the available options properly telegraphed?

While this is definitely not the first video to pop up with an interactive component, for me, it is the most successful. The element of participation was what sold it for me I really enjoyed being able to cycle through the panels and catch a glimpse of what the other characters were doing, but the very fact that the video still has a linear timeline means that it’s impossible to see everything if you were to watch the video only once. So I watched it again, and again, each time picking a panel that I knew I overlooked on my previous viewing. It took me around twenty minutes to get to the point where I felt like I’d seen everything the video had to offer, and afterwards I started thinking of people I would like to share it with, each one for very different reasons.

Obviously I really liked this project, and I think the reason is that it incorporates so many different aspects of digital design in order to reinvigorate a medium that has been feeling a bit stale. It reassures me that there are still going to be interesting and innovative ways to tell
stories through video without VR, because as much as I’m excited for the future of the technology, I honestly think there are experiences and situations that VR just can’t simulate. For example, I really enjoy getting together with my friends and watching a film. Particularly horror,
watching a horror film with other people is great fun. I can’t imagine that I would prefer it if we all stayed in our own homes, put on our VR headsets, went through the whole thing alone and then met up later to compare notes, no matter how immersive the experience.

Is VR the future? Yeah, probably, but I’m happy to wait. In the meantime, give me more experiences like this one.

Side note if you want to learn more about the Jeff Buckley project, this article has some great interviews with key members of the team, and a pretty in depth making of video:

Also, Greg Gunn, Creative Director at Blind is a really talented artist and his website is well worth checking out, I particularly like his Mythical Mondays project:

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