10 x Future of Storytelling

Innovative projects that made my heart ❤ beat faster

As part of my (rather spectacular) job, I have recently been able to visit places like the Future of Storytelling Festival in New York, the VR Days, IDFA Doclab, Hackastory and the Cinekid Medialab in the Netherlands.

I have seen a lot of awesome projects and these ten in particular made my heart ❤ beat faster. In random order, for your and my inspiration, I present:

Phallaina

Scrolling comic with audio

France TV

At the Future of Storytelling Festival in New York, in a room filled with virtual reality installations, I came upon a little table with just an iPad. On it was the app Phallaina. Despite the short time I had in the room, I couldn’t put the tablet down after I had picked it up. Phallaina is (as far as I know) the very first scrolling graphic novel, whereby you can use a tablet or smartphone (a tablet is preferred) to read the story while scrolling and where the story is continually complemented by audio.

The story is about a young girl, who is increasingly bothered by hallucinations. Every time she has one of these attacks, giant white whales appear - beautifully and minimally pictured with a sort of parallax-effect. You’ll know she’s going to have an attack whenever you swipe another whale onto the screen. It makes for irresistible reading and viewing.

Phallaina is about the personal transformation of this young girl, combining science with mythology in a riveting story. Especially the underwater scenes felt like a dream, while also being very claustrophobic - the main character can only go so long without breathing, so you’ll find yourself gasping for air as well.

This project doesn’t use any fancy devices like virtual reality-glasses of brainscanners and it’s the simplicity that makes this such a beautiful project. Black and white drawings, subtle audio fragments and a killer story. I would definitely recommend it.


The {…} And

Intimate questioning game

The {…} And is a slightly older project: it has already won an Emmy, a World Press Interactive Award in 2015 and toured various festivals, but I only learned about it during the IDFA Doclab Immersive Network Summit. Now I can’t stop watching, so I want to share it with you.

The {…} And is: a live experience, an interactive documentary, available for viewing as an installation or through the site, an app and a card game.

The creators have collected a variety of pretty intimate questions (what do you remember about our first meeting? What have you never dared tell me? What will I have done to make you leave me?) and posited these to numerous duo’s. From parents and their children to friends and partners.

These duos are filmed in three ways: a single straight on shot for both people and one of the couple from the side. These three points of view are edited together, so you can see how both parties respond to each question — both verbally and non-verbally.

Visit the site and answer a few of the questions and you’ll be given a whole swath of short films that match your answer. You can also play the game yourself, through the iPhone-app or the card game.

Watch out though: starting this game could mean the beginning or the end of a great relationship…

Anyways

A 360º VR film made for six participants

I haven’t tried this yet (haven’t been able to), but I have to share it anyway: PIPS:lab — an artist collective known for its theatre performances and interactive installations — has created a VR experience for six people at the same time. And that’s quite a feat, considering how hard it is to add a social component to the virtual experience. Stuck as you are with your own pair of glasses, you tend to enter virtual reality all by your lonesome, with little to no interaction with other people. No more. Check out the trailer below and don’t forget to look up their site from time to time, to see when this installation hits festivals.


Notes on Blindness

VR experience: what’s it like to be blind?

I first heard about the Notes on Blindness-project during the Kaleido VR tour in the Eye film museum. Kaleido was a virtual reality film festival where you could check out various projects with the use of different VR headsets: I tried Notes on Blindness while wearing a Samsung Gear VR.

It’s quite possibly the best application of virtual reality I have seen. Certainly up until this moment. You put on the VR goggles and immediately find yourself in a completely dark world. You hear the voice of a blind, telling you that he no longer sees with his eyes, but that he now ‘sees’ with his hearing. For example: slippers are now his favourite shoes, because you can hear people flipflopping their way to you.

As the voice is telling you this, you see two neon green slippers walk past in the darkness. You hear the flipflop start behind you, the sound travelling past you, pointing you in the direction where you need to look. The voice will tell you it likes rainy days better than sunny, because the pitter-patter of the rain allows him to pinpoint objects in his surroundings. Suddenly, neon blue hoses down around you and in the darkness you can hear/see the table, the houses, the porch.

This is such a special project to me because it couldn’t be told in a better way than through VR. You’re really in the body of a blind man, interacting with the story just through looking. A movie couldn’t do justice to the experience: combining these elements is possible only through virtual reality.

Arte

The project actually started way back in 1983, when writer and theologian John Hull became blind and decided to record his experiences on cassettes. The next three years, he kept an audio diary: the same that is now used in this extensive project, which also involves a short film.

You can try out Notes on Blindness with the Samsung Gear VR or check out the trailer down below. Notes is a joint project by Ex Nihilo, Archer’s Mark and Audiogaming, in conjunction with (among others) Arte and BBC Storyville. Check out the site.


Famous Deaths

Relive the famous dead

A Dutch project I didn’t know about until I visited New York: Famous Deaths is an installation where you can experience the death of a famous celebrity. Not through video, but through audio and scent. And lying in an actual morgue’s cold chamber. This project definitely isn’t recommended for people suffering from claustrophobia.

Famous Deaths/Polymorf

Before you enter - sliding yourself into the metal coffin, the door closing behind you - you choose between Whitney Houston, J.F. Kennedy, Vincent van Gogh, Moammar al-Qadhafi or Lady Di. During four minutes, you hear sounds from just moments before this persons death and are given smells that correspond with what you’re hearing.

It’s a totally bizarre, exciting experience: lying in the darkness, not knowing how long it takes, not being used to experiencing a story just through your ears and nose. For some reason I got a really warm forehead (maybe because I was so focussed on the smells?) and I was glad when somebody opened the door and I could get out.

Famous Deaths/Polymorf

Famous Deaths is an installation by Polymorf, a team made up by Peter Boonstra, Marcel van Brakel, Frederik Duerinck, Wander Eikelboom and Mark Meeuwenoord. The project was a part of Sense of Smell, a research project into scent by the Communication and Multimedia Design department of the Avans Hogeschool in Breda.


RIOT

Interactive film controlled by your face

RIOT is an interactive film by Karen Palmer about a fictional protest march, in which you can determine the course of the movie through your facial expressions. As you’re watching the screen, a camera films your face, making use of facial recognition and neurogaming software to translate your emotions and decide the continuation of the story. In the end you’ll learn whether you’re capable of handling an actual riot.

RIOT/Karen Palmer

S.E.N.S.

A VR trip in a graphic maze

S.E.N.S./Arte

S.E.N.S. is hard to classify. It’s sort of like a video game and also a graphic novel — in one virtual reality. You’re dropped in a black and white world, filled with arrows. Your only object is to follow them with your gaze. If you look down, you can see the shadow of a man. Focus on one spot in particular and you can walk towards it.

At first, the arrows are easy to find, but it gets progressively harder. Ultimately, you’ll need your navigational skills and your imagination to find the next arrow. Occasionally, the animation zooms out and you’ll realise you’re walking all alone in a giant illustrated world.

It’s a special project, because it’s able to tell a story without the use of a narrative: it especially succeeds in giving you a sense of loneliness.

S.E.N.S. is a project by Arte and Red Corner, based on the titular graphic novel by Marc Antoine Mathieu. A video of the project can be found on its Arte-page, where you can also download the app for the Samsung Gear and Oculus. You can also check out the project on your iPhone or Android phone, through the use of a cardboard.


Late Shift

Collectively determining the story

Late Shift

Late Shift is an interactive experience intended for movie theatres: you ‘play’ out this thriller story with everyone in the room. The story is made up of a single storyline but an endless amount of plot twists and shifts and has seven different endings. You use your phone to pick between two different storylines and the pick that gets the most votes, plays on the screen.

So you decide whether the night guard gives away the keys to his fancy sports car to his girlfriend, whether the robber shoots — or not. You determine the course of the film.

I am reminded of the interactive film VPRO Dorst developed in 2014, Love & Engineering, with the key difference being that you don’t experience Late Shift alone, but with an entire theatre full of people. While you can download the app yourself, it’s much more fun to do it this way — it’s actually possible to organise your own viewing, if you can manage to get enough people together. Check out their site for more info.


Ashes to Ashes

Spectacular VR film

Ashes to ashes / Submarine — AvroTros — VRDays

Ashes to Ashes was lanced at the Dutch VR Days in November 2016 and involves a deceased granddad and his last wish - to be blown up - driving his family to their breaking point.

It’s a unique film, because its point of view is that of the deceased: you experience it entirely from the urn. Not something you could easily accomplish outside of virtual reality.

The entire film (ten minutes or thereabouts) plays out in various dream worlds, where reality is constantly put into question and the setting — and the set — played with.

Cinematographically, Ashes to Ashes looks stunning, with spectacular special effects, like a fireball shooting just past you, and binaural recordings, that’ll make sure you can hear a bullet coming from behind you.

The film is based on a script by Anne Barnhoorn, made viable for virtual reality through the work of three directors: Jamille van Wijngaarden (film), Ingejan Ligthard Schenk (theatre) and Steye Hallema (VR — well known to us at the VPRO Medialab). Ashes to Ashes is a co-production of AvroTros, Submarine, WeMakeVR, Forcefield VR, Jaunt, Big Orange and the Dutch VR Days.

You can read an interview about the production with Mylene Verdurmen (head Drama at AvroTros) here and check out Steye Hallema below, as he talks about producing for virtual reality.


Onzichtbaar Nederland in virtual reality

A look into the future through VR

Last, but not least, from the VPRO: Onzichtbaar Nederland (The Invisible Netherlands). They made a VR-production that allows you to look into the future, teleporting you to Amsterdam in 2040. A time in which our urban environment, our transportation and our landscape has been drastically altered by technological developments.

You’ll glide past the Dam, see self-driving cars, be able to dine in Bistro Invitro (an existing restaurant concept that makes use of cultured meat), use a ‘smart’ urinary — immediately sending bacterial data onto the government for monitoring disease. At the end, you’ll experience a lift off into the sky and eventually space: a must see for any adrenaline junkie or photography lover.

Do you have any other cool Future of Storytelling examples you’d like to share with me? Don’t hesitate to contact me on Twitter (@leolovestwtr) or leave a comment.

This article was previously published in Dutch on the website of the VPRO.