As the focus of the conference shifted from interactive panels to film screenings, I decided to devote my final day at SXSW to listening to the life lessons of a film director, learning about the experiments of an executive creative director, and experiencing the immersive space created by a global entertainment company.
Why we tell stories
What better place to begin with than the keynote session with Rogue One director, Gareth Edwards. The self-deprecating and hilarious filmmaker shared the story of his journey from visual effects artist to director, during which he explained his theory around why we tell stories: ‘As a race, we are immortal… we pass on our biological histories to the next generation. But the one thing we cannot reproduce are experiences. Stories are life lessons in bite-size form that we can download to each other. In the past, when stories were told, you’d forget the bad and boring bits and only keep the good and exciting stuff…. it was organic and people built upon the story over time’.
That organic, shifting quality of storytelling was revisited on the panel Filmmaking and Gaming Invite you to their Nuptials, as interactive, non-linear storytelling came under the spotlight. With the use of eye-tracking technology, it’s now possible to know where your attention is and change the storyline of a film accordingly so that if you’re more interested in one particular character over another, you will be served the storyline that is most consistent with your responses and interest. This of course requires developing scenes with multiples versions, as well as different levels of character depth and it poses another interesting challenge; how to structure an interactive film so that the viewer does not take on the entire weight of the film with his or her decisions. Interactivity must be treated as an extra tool with which to enhance the storytelling, so that it mirrors the emotions and content of a film. The goal of interactive films such as Possibilia is to push beyond the gimmick and create richer, personalised experiences by allowing for exploration, nuance, and depth. It’s complex, it’s messy, but it’s definitely interesting. The link to gaming and the control that you have to move in being able to move through the film and investigate spaces and characters at your own pace borrows heavily from the world of gaming and it will be interesting to see how this type of narrative develops.
The Sony WOW Factory
Next up, and arguably the highlight of my trip to Austin this year, was a visit to the Sony WOW Factory. The warehouse opposite the Convention Center is an innovation laboratory filled with cutting-edge technology and exhibits that are the very embodiment of Immersive Convergence; a unity of film, gaming, and music that creates something outstanding. From the interactive Xperia Touch displays – described as the future of elegant UI design – to the Motion Sonic Project which contained a prototype wearable that allows you to create sound in sync with your movements, you knew you were walking through the future. Visitors even had the chance to place themselves within the adrenalin-packed, scream-inducing Resident Evil film and gaming franchise and be part of the action. By putting on a haptic vest that allows you to feel the sound from a video game, and 3D glasses to make the action even more immersive, you could do battle against the zombies in Raccoon City. It was an experience that elevated my heart rate and put the entertainment experience up on a higher level. Finally, there was the Spider-Man Homecoming climbing experience where you’re on a timed challenge; it was thrilling and incredibly fun and it catapulted Spider-Man to the top of my superhero list.
SXSW offers lessons and histories from leaders in their field and provides inspiration as we think about how we can innovate in our disciplines. But it also gives us the chance to experience memorable moments of cutting-edge technology in action. The ability to not only impart knowledge but connect with and entertain us an emotional level is essential in appealing to all aspects of ourselves. And just as the event gives us a richness of content, so it’s our responsibility to get involved, to see as much as we possibly can and think deeply about the implications. For only by getting involved, by asking questions and being present will we ever understand what it is that each of us cares about and why.