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Panel: Digital Storytelling
Bringing the Past to Life
Digital Culture Talk
Bringing the Past to Life
19 February 2019
How do we use new and emerging technologies to change the way we tell stories?
Listen to the below panel speakers for this interesting talk:
Mikaela Jade - Indigital CEO and Founder
Mikaela Jade’s company, Indigital works to develop innovative new ways to digitise and translate knowledge and culture from remote and ancient communities.
Indigital works with some of the most remote Peoples' on earth using cutting edge digital technologies, such as drones, 4D mapping software, image recognition technology and cultural law to bring the world's cultural sites alive through augmented and mixed reality.
Indigital is 100% Indigenous owned and operated for-profit enterprise.
Sam Doust - Latchkey, Writer and Creative Director
Sam Doust is a multi-disciplined visual artist, writer and director, specialising in digital narrative design and production. Recent projects include a series of interactive documentaries on Australia's wartime record during WW1. Doust also spent over 12 years at ABC, with eight years as creative director of Strategic Development for the Innovation Division, leading projects that identify ABC as an innovator in digital content.
Astrid Scott – ABC Education, Senior Producer and Strategist
Astrid Scott is a Senior Producer and strategist that focuses on creating accessible, inclusive, and high-value edu-tainment experiences. For the last decade, she has worked across different areas of the ABC as a digital content producer specializing in emerging platforms and has developed award-winning interactives, animations, video content, virtual reality and more.
Anthony Bastic – AGB Events, CEO and Creative Director
Creator of the National Library's Beauty Rich and Rare exhibtion, Anthony Bastic from AGB Events, creative talents have brought some of the worlds most inspiring event experiences to life and storytelling that captivates and unites diverse communities.
Since founding AGB Events, Anthony has conceived and produced a multitude of successful events in Australia and internationally, such as Vivid Sydney, The Australian Garden Show Sydney, the Lights of Boston, and the first two iLight Marina Bay in Singapore. Prior to establishing AGB Events, Bastic held creative positions in the events industry including the Sydney Opera House, Sydney 2000 Olympics Live Sites and more.
Filename: Digital Story telling 19-02-2019
*Speakers: Kathryn Favelle (K), Mikaela Jade (M), Sam Doust (S), Astrid Scott (A), Anthony Bastic (B)
*Location: National Library of Australia
K: Good evening. I’m feeling very digital with my array of gadgets down here so I hope you forgive me as I fiddle with them through the course of the evening but it wouldn’t be an event without some plain old paper as well ‘cause really who can beat it? Thank you all for coming this evening. My name’s Kathryn Favell, I’m the Director of Community Outreach here at the Library and tonight we’re exploring digital storytelling. We’ve been so thrilled by the response to tonight’s event, it’s really terrific to see you all here.
I’d like to begin by acknowledging the first storytellers of this land that the Library stands on, its traditional owners, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people and I thank their elders past, present and future for caring for this extraordinary country that we’re privileged to live on and work on every day. I’d also like to welcome any first nations people here this evening or listening to us online.
Thank you all for coming. A little less than a year ago we had an opportunity to commission a digital experience called Beauty Rich and Rare and to see how digital technology might help us to tell the stories in our collection in a slightly different way. Nearly 50,000 people have seen Beauty Rich and Rare over the summer which as you can imagine delights us no end but that experience also inspired tonight’s conversation as we thought we’ve played in this space but what does it really mean? What can it mean to an organisation like the National Library? What can it mean to our communities as we help them to discover what we have as they learn and as they engage with our collections?
We’re very lucky to have four extraordinary digital curators here with us this evening so let me begin by introducing them to you. On my right is Anthony Bastic. Anthony is the CEO and creator of AGB Events, the creators of Beauty Rich and Rare. Anthony has conceived and produced Vivid Light Sydney and the lights of Christmas and most recently he was Creative Director for the Invictus Games’ opening and closing ceremonies and his team has produced an extraordinary new work, Treasures Illuminated, for the Australian Museum.
Over on my left is Mikaela Jade, the CEO and founder of Indigital, a company we’ve been hearing a lot about over the last 12 months or so. Mikaela’s working to develop innovative ways to translate knowledge and culture from remote and ancient communities to new audiences. You may have heard about her work being recognised last year when she was awarded the Veuve Clicquot New Generation Award.
Beside me is Astrid Scott, a senior producer and strategist for ABC Education. Astrid has worked across the ABC as a digital content producer, specialising in emerging platforms and has developed award-winning interactives, animations, video content, virtual reality and much more.
On my left is Sam Doust, the Creative Director of Latchkey, specialising in digital narrative design and production. Sam’s recent projects include creative works for Sydney Opera House and a major education series for the ABC and the Department of Vets’ Affairs which we’ll learn more about later.
Up in the biobox is Adam Maples who’s going to be handling all the digital stuff for me this evening. He’s definitely a part of this conversation as are all of you. We’re having a little experiment tonight, we’re going to try to use Slido for the first time. Some of you may have used it before and consider yourself Slido experts. For those of you who aren’t, like me, all you have to do my team tells me is just log onto Slido and type in the event code 3566, it’s all up there behind me. Type in a question. You can like someone else’s question and I’ll do my best to make sure your questions are part of the conversation. If that all falls apart we’ll resort to old tech and bring out the microphones towards the end of the evening.
So to kick things off one of the things that I’ve realised is that the term digital storytelling is understood by different people in different ways. So my question to all of you is what does digital storytelling mean to you? Are we all on the same page? Are we in different parts of the universe? Mikaela, would you like to kick the conversation off?
M: To me digital storytelling is weaving our most ancient narrative cultures into code in a way that is represented visually for other audiences to consume so I think for me it’s mostly starting with what we already have. We have at least 80,000 years of knowledge and stories to share and code is relatively new so we’re trying to bring the code into the culture and the culture into the code.
S: I think it’s obviously a descriptor for a very large array of techniques of storytelling but maybe what characterises digital storytelling more than anything else is the fact that you can synthesise the media and create a much sort of broader, potentially 360 view on a subject. So the stories of the past for instance can be revisited in digital narrative and given a much broader context, a much more sort of wholeness if you do it right, I think. So you can bring a diary from the first world war which was really the verite of the time, the reportage of the time, you can bring that to life next to a completely –
K: - to use multiple sources, multiple techniques, multiple narratives?
S: Absolutely like that’s the thing, it’s about bringing those threads together and producing something new but it’s more than that because on a sort of spectrum of genre and types you’ve really got all sorts of things, you’ve got special articles in the news every day. The New York Times for instance or the ABC do a good job of interactive storytelling I’d say on a sort of feature length news item and at the other end of the spectrum you’ve got these sort of large budgeted video games quite frankly as a digital narrative and then everything in between. So it is a – when we say digital storytelling or digital narrative it is very much a broad description of a lot of genres and types of production from small to large.
K: Astrid, is that something that resonates with you?
A: Absolutely. Actually both Mikaela’s and Sam’s points resonate with me but I think when I first started working for an organisation called ACMI down in Melbourne about 15 years ago we used to run things called digital storytelling workshops. What they were, and I think people - probably everyone here’s familiar with them – it would be every day people coming in with their own sort of photographs and stories and memories and trying to construct a narrative out of those things. I guess the key point of that - don't think that’s exactly what digital storytelling always has to be – is that digital tools give us sort of access to create something new out of lots of bits and pieces so the ephemera that Sam’s talking about from the past. It can also be things that we have in our everyday lives that we want some way to connect together and we don’t have the budget to hire a film crew but we can use digital tools to basically be our own artmakers.
K: Anthony, when I Googled digital storytelling thinking that I knew everything there was to know about it – not – the emphasis on community participation is really quite strong in the early literature. Your work is much more comprehensive and complex. What’s the role that you see for digital storytelling? How do you define it?
B: I think - I agree with the panel members but I think digital storytelling is – enables us to take complicated storylines and convey them through a medium that people – that has broad appeal and it has the capacity to have enormous reach. So I think with the examples that I’ve seen through the Vivid Festival for example, you can take a narrative of – maybe it’s a children’s story and use digital equipment and then project this story onto the façade of a – iconic building. You’re enabling a strong narrative to be created and developed and you’re also – there’s so many different facets to compiling or devising a digital story, there are so many aspects that go into it. It looks simple but so much effort and craftmanship goes into it. But I think – if I have to define it digital storytelling has broad appeal – has the capacity to have broad appeal but it also has the capacity to tell complicated stories through technology to a large audience.
S: One last thing [unclear] 10:30 so much to say about it in terms of definition but it does uncouple you from linear time as well in a – abstract way which is really useful. Astrid and I worked on a project a few years ago, seven years ago or something like that which was like a modern war of the worlds. It was an alternate reality and you had to go with that idea that it was an alternate reality that was sort of playing out inside your own reality. Back in the H G Wells or the radio play of H G Wells’ story, back in that time they could hijack a whole medium but in our time that would be profoundly naïve to think you could hijack a medium ‘cause the internet is so wide-ranging. So we had interesting editorial choices to make about how do you convey the suspension of disbelief in a digital medium when you’re trying to pretend that it’s actually happening without sort of being too conceited and therefore sort of dumped of by an internet audience that doesn’t want the wool pulled over their eyes or ears?
K: Is – can I ask you all, is reach and the internet, are they two of the critical levers in digital storytelling or not?
M: It’s a really interesting question.
K: Does it matter whether you are sharing your story with hundreds and thousands around the world or around the country or can it be – work effectively in a more intimate setting?
B: I think it’s both however the work that I do and my company does, we usually – and Sam and I were just talking about this is that we develop the story and then we take a story or a concept to generally a government institution therefore the expectation that we are using public money to create a digital experience then there’s an expectation that it reaches a larger audience.
M: Yeah, I have the opposite problem. I’m mostly self-funded so it doesn’t matter to me whether one person has the experience of our culture or a billion people experience it and often the work that we’re doing is in a unit called HoloLens now which not many people can get their hands on. So having those intimate digital experiences with just one senior traditional owner for the first time is able to understand that everybody can now see what he sees through this unit and what his ancestors could see through this unit and having that moment of realisation that they’re not alone in sharing that story anymore. That’s as powerful to me as a million or a billion people seeing that one piece of content that’s been intimately developed with that senior [TO] 13:25.
S: I think it is important that the virtual can extend the reach of a collection, though, that’s important for sure and like having put the Sydney Opera House on Google Culture Institute anybody anywhere in the world with an internet connection can see that now and they can see things that they wouldn’t see if they went to the place but they can also experience – they can experience things that they would if they did. Rather than it being a threat and a replacement to the actual experience of going to a museum or a culture centre, it’s not that at all, it’s sort of – it’s a view of that but it’s also a sort of big deep dive into things that you – possibly you’ll get museum fatigue from anyway if you tried to reach out to that in the physical experience so it’s this fabulous augmentation.
The other thing – I don’t know if this is the right time to talk about it but there’s a lot of work involved in digital storytelling from the audience perspective. When you sit down with a book you're engaging your mind or a podcast which is a form of digital narrative as well to some extent ‘cause of the medium but you're engaging your mind, you have expectations but digital storytelling can really demand a lot of the audience or the user.
K: We’re going to come back to that.
S: Yeah, I think that’s a really interesting side of it –
K: But it’s really – I'm conscious it’s really hard to actually talk about digital storytelling, about seeing some digital storytelling and tonight we've got four examples to show you. We will also email you links to these and some other examples following this event so you’ve got some homework to go home with but let’s begin with looking at where this event began with Beauty Rich and Rare. Adam, would you tee up Beauty Rich and Rare for us?
Beauty Rich and Rare illuminates Australia’s unique flora and fauna and pays homage to Joseph Banks and his intrepid team of scientists and illustrators. Nearly 250 years later David Attenborough said no journey has brought back such treasures.
Following the Admiralty’s instructions to search for the great south land The Endeavour now began a journey which would eventually put all of New Zealand and the east coast of Australia on the map. Australia is one of the most biologically diverse countries on the planet. It’s home to more than one million species of beautiful, rich and rare plants and animals, many of which are found nowhere else.
K: Thanks Adam. Now if you haven’t seen it it’s screening ‘til 8:00 tonight, it’s your last chance so you can pop up to the fourth floor after the conversation. But Anthony, would you just give us a bit more of a background about how Beauty Rich and Rare came to be and what you were hoping to achieve?
B: Sure. So I was – I’m quite interested in history so I was aware of this story of Joseph Banks and that he had – was a rich, wealthy man who paid £10,000 to convince the Admiralty that they should have a – observe the transit of Venus and – in Tahiti and then also look for the great southern land. So I knew about – obviously I knew about that story through school. I wanted to – knowing that 2020 is – commemorates the 250th anniversary of the arrival of The Endeavour and Cook’s Endeavour on the east coast of Australia, what I was trying to do was to – which is obviously a polarising story and what’s an interesting outcome from that voyage which was the amount of plants that Joseph Banks collected. He ran that Endeavour ship like an art studio with having four illustrators that they captured every image of the plants that he collected and then made extensive notes and then took them back to England and painted them and then we’re left with these beautiful images of that first voyage.
So that was my kind of premise. I was then interested to see could we make a point how indigenous people use the plants and – for millennia and what were these plants being used as? So I wanted to convey that narrative. So I had developed this concept and then I talked to different institutions about the possibility of accessing their information, their records that I could use. I approached the National Library because a lot of the content is kept within the National Library that I really wanted to use to digitalise. Fortunately the National Library thought it was an interesting concept and we were able to go forth and develop the content.
For me and the team of animators that I’ve been working with in my company has been an incredible journey. We have learnt so much about digital artistry and also how to – the tricks of unlocking collections and then creating a narrative that would speak to many different age groups. So students that are coming in through the Library so they can have an interesting history lesson and people can just look at something that’s actually beautiful. So yeah, it’s been an interesting journey and I can’t thank the National Library enough for allowing us, to commission us to produce this work which we hope will be seen around the world.
K: Fingers crossed. The Beauty Rich and Rare really tackles some really complex scientific stories and Astrid, I was wondering in your work in ABC education what some of the challenges are in looking at stories about science, natural history, stories that are not – don’t have a – have a lot of technical knowledge that you kind of need to impart with them. How does digital storytelling help or hinder in that process?
A: Well I was just thinking that as I was listening to you. I was thinking well we use a lot of exactly the same content but we chop it up and we organise it in a way that teachers can use it in the classroom so the same images, the same story is basically – it’s almost broken down – I mean I’m sure those of you who have been a teacher or have kids that have gone to school, they know you have about 10 minutes of attention time to kind of get your point across and the content that a teacher will use is like – it’s got to be really punchy at the start. So we – we create these things called digibooks. I'm actually not a digibook manufacturer myself but there is the team of people who do it in ABC Education where they’ll – they’re basically designing a digital textbook that a teacher can either assign to a student as homework so that they can go through the homework and that – the point is that it’s – that you get to experience the actual content with context and I think that’s – you’re providing the same thing but you’re providing a more artistic kind of located experience that sort of – it overwhelms you while you have it.
This is much for studying and when you're studying you probably need to have a little bit of remove at times but what we’re really interested in I suppose is the possibility in the future that you can come together with both and that it’s going to be less of a digital textbook and more of an immersive experience that allows you to I guess learn by doing and I’ll talk about that a little bit later and how we think VR and AR are definitely opportunities to do that sort of thing. But yeah, complex topics, you’ve got such little time like we basically make videos that are two minutes long, you know? ‘Cause that’s the time that you’ve got to explain something to a teenager generally, they don’t want to sit there and watch half an hour of explanation of what’s going on so yeah, it’s a little bit different.
K: You’ve raised AR and VR and Mikaela, you’ve been doing some extraordinary work bringing new digital technology to share very old cultural stories. Let’s have a look at your excerpt and maybe you’d like to talk us through it –
M: Yeah so I’ll talk you through.
K: - as it’s screened.
M: Yeah so we started –
K: Adam’s going to just set it up for us.
M: He’s going to start. So my vision was that you would be able to stand at a cultural place and have the right story at the right time told by the right person for the right reason and when I first saw augmented reality in 2012 I thought wow, this is amazing, people could put their phone up to our cultural places and traditional owners would have the opportunity to share our stories with you rather than the National Parks Service where I worked – where signs are usually used to communicate that information and it’s often not from the voice of our people. So I saw the digital technology as a medium to be able to achieve that only at the time it wasn’t quite ready for my vision so we ended up persevering for 18 months to trigger our first cultural site and we finally got some support and resources to be able to build a minimum viable product which is the app through working with Kakadu traditional owners.
Then eventually 18 months ago I was approached at a conference by Microsoft who introduced me to the HoloLens and we’ve now been working in mixed reality in HoloLens. There’s a couple of different types of realities so I might just explain the realities. Yeah, I’m in a totally different reality to most people. So there’s what’s called virtual reality and that’s the one where you put your face in it and you’re having a completely independent experience and it could be a 360 degree video or it could be a completely new world that’s totally animated but you’re usually having that experience on your own.
Then there’s augmented reality and that’s where you simply put a digital layer into the real world so it could be geolocated, it could be located using object or image or outline recognition but that’s basically what we did with the mobile app. Then there’s the new reality which is called mixed reality which sometimes you’ll see referred to as XR and that’s where the data actually interacts with the real world so you can program a hologram to come into this room and because you map it with the HoloLens it has instantaneous 3D mapping, you can program a hologram to sit on the chair. So the data knows where the chair is, the data knows where the walls are, the data knows where the roof is – and etc. It also knows where you are so you can have an interactive experience with what is essentially a hologram. It can be a real person or it can be a completely animated figure from the past.
So we worked with senior traditional owners to explore mixed reality to see what does it look like when we bring back to life a 60,000-year-old character called [Namenday] 26:48 who was painted on the rock in Kakadu all those years ago by thousands of generations of ancestors ago. What does it look like when people can now interact with the [Namenday] in the way that traditional owners have seen [Namenday] and still see them today on the stone country which are invisible to other people but they see them so they want to share with other people what they’re seeing when they see [Namenday] in the stone country. So we’ll just show you. If you could please press play that would be amazing. Thank you.
So what we did was – this is the HoloLens and you can see it’s – I’m driving it with my hand so it’s all gesture-driven and it’s also voice command-driven if you can’t use your hands. This is the menu of the app so you can see that there I'm choosing to look at [Namenday], we did a series of three mixed reality experiences and we just placed the [Namenday] on the table in this instance but last week in Kakadu I got to place it on country which was quite exciting. You can scale it which is something that the artist, Neville [Namanyuk] 27:30, was really excited about because [Namenday], when you see them as a [Binning] 27:36 person, they’re 11-foot-tall so we can make them 11-foot-tall in HoloLens. You can see here the [Namenday] is speaking about a really ancient story in Gunwinku and so he’s now going to do a dance for you and you can see the aspects of the [Namenday] like the really long fingers.
You can see – he’s got a dilly bag around his neck and that’s because if you don’t do the right thing on stone country those long fingers will come in and grab your kidneys and liver and pop them in the dilly bag for later. So everyone says to me oh he’s so cute and I’m like oh no, when you understand what’s being said, no, he’s not cute. This is the [bollecor] 28:17 so this is an ecological story about when is the right time to harvest the water python in the six seasons of Kakadu? So this is us experimenting with how you share a traditional ecological knowledge story and so that you can see the twin snakes there and that this was a really special story, it was painted by a young man who’s 17 called Hezekiah Lane.
He was able to work on this story with us just before his grandfather passed away who was teaching him how to paint this story and how to tell the story so – and the centipede is a really interesting one so Centipede Jala is a story that [Binning] tell their children ‘cause [Binning] eat a lot of kind of fatty foods, they eat barramundi and a lot of meat and there can be a lot of eye diseases that come when people don’t wash their face and hands. So the traditional owners tell the children that if you don’t wash your face and hands before you go to bite you on the face with a poison. So we were able to like really bring that to life for kids and so they could see the big centipede so yeah, maybe we can stop talking now and –
K: Thanks Adam.
M: Yeah, thanks.
K: So Mikaela, is your hope, is your goal and ambition that people are exploring and experiencing these stories on country?
K: Is that where your primary audience do you think is going to be?
M: Yeah so our primary audience at Indigital is traditional owner groups and indigenous communities so first and foremost we work for community. The reason that we do that is – I’m a [Cabriga] 29:54 woman and I didn’t understand my culture until I was 29 so our family had a relationship long before in the stolen generation which resulted in me not having my culture, me not having my language, me not having my songs and so there’s nothing sadder for me than to go to your cultural place and see the carvings of your ancestors staring at you with no understanding of the message that you’re supposed to have for that place. I didn’t want that for my children and I certainly don’t want that for other indigenous communities across Australia and across the world.
So the reason that we work so hard with traditional owners first and foremost is that I spoke to 300 elders a long time ago at the World Indigenous Forum in Darwin and I asked them for questions. The first one is what are you most proud of and they all said we’re most proud of being humanity’s spoken history. The second thing I said was what are you most afraid of and I said we’re most afraid of being the last ones with this story which – and the language which is boggling to me because I was so desperate to learn my own stories and language. I asked them what’s stopping you from translating the knowledge and a lot of them said that it’s ‘cause the kids are always in that phone so I was like oh.
I went home and I was working with a group of amazing people at the time and we were talking about it and I said – we were just talking about well why don’t we put the culture in the phone? If that’s where the kids are and that’s where they want to consume information and technology and games and songs and pop culture why can’t we put the culture in the phone as well? So we embarked on that which took us to the UN actually for intellectual property issue so yeah.
K: We’ve got a question from the audience, from anonymous, whoever you are. Mikaela, the question is have you experienced any pushback or negative feedback from traditional owner groups as you’ve been trying to convince them that going digital is the way to preserve their cultural stories?
M: Not at all, I’ve had no-one come to me and say that this is a terrible idea. I have questions so people say okay, if we put our language or we put our law, we put our knowledge about the land, plants, animals, what happens about intellectual property? That is the only question that traditional owners usually ask me which is a valid question. So we actually spent two years with our lawyer, Terri Janke and Company, before we’ve encoded anything to work out what are the cultural protocols that Indigital will use to work with communities? What are the licensing arrangements?
So we actually – instead of us owning copyright and us owning intellectual property over any of this data it’s owned by the traditional owners and traditional owner groups that are in agreement and they license it to us for our use. So they’re free to use it any way they like, they’re free to stop using it if they like and we also have commitments from their generations behind them about what will happen to this information once the person who’s the sole person creating it passes away. I was really worried about this at the start and when I ended up working on country in Kakadu I was working with one of the aunties and I said we’re making – you could be made into a ghost of the future when you pass away and I said how do you want us to manage that? Do you want us to take it down? Because this potentially could go all around the world and she said no, don’t take me down, I want to stay there.
So I think people are changing their minds about how they would like their story told into the future and often community are very excited to see now recordings of their ancestors. In Kakadu for example, where Crocodile Dundee was made, they watched Crocodile 1, 2 and 3, they watched Crocodile Dundee, they’ve all got the DVD and they watch it because all their relatives are in there and they want to reconnect with people that have passed over, incredibly proud of that.
K: Who knew that Crocodile Dundee was giving such a significant gift to the community?
M: Yeah, exactly.
A: Kathryn, can we do our panel on digital ghosts next time? ‘Cause I'm really interested in –
K: We’re all doing a whole series of panel. We might need to tonight ‘cause already I’m looking at the clock so we may go a little bit over, just to warn you. But you’ve raised some interesting questions about the role of the audience in using VR and AR, it’s a very interactive experience. What are your expectations of the audiences that you’re creating for? Are they viewers or are they participants? How do they shape the story or not shape the story? Are they empty vessels that we’re pouring stories into? What –
S: In almost every format with digital storytelling the audience is a participant. You could extend that through all sorts of media of course but when it comes to digital, because there’s a level of complexity to a lot of it and you want them to reach into that you are asking for work. It is more than reading a book, it’s more like work. I don’t feel like I really acknowledged that for a while but as the digital storytelling that we were doing became more complex it became very obvious that that was the case. I mean sure you can scroll through an interactive article and not feel like you’re working too hard at that although that in itself can be taxing but participate in a – alternate reality drama and you may end up doing two hours’ work a night just to keep up which is what we found when we did one.
That’s a lot of work and computer games are a good example of this because that’s a good offset in a way because we don’t necessarily think of them as sort of maybe pure play digital storytelling but in many ways they are and the contract is between the person consuming that material and spending their time with it. If you look at a lot of the digital economic models now they accept that idea that really the commodity is someone’s time because within that space of that person’s time they may be doing an awful lot of work and there’s – it’s almost like the census measuring nonpaid work, for instance. There’s an acknowledgement basically – it’s similar ideas – an acknowledgment that your time more and more is of value and when it comes to digital storytelling you may be doing quite a lot of leaning in.
A: The audience, the community aspect of it’s what’s really exciting, I think, too like I just – I was blown away – I don’t know how many of you have got kids or grandkids that play Fortnite but Fortnite’s the thing and Fortnite, they just had a live concert, the first ever live captured DJ concert inside Fortnite. They had 10 million people participating in that concert and at this point they’re just participating through the screens, their flat screens, they can say emoticons, emojis in and kind of like their avatar can – is that me? But they can – you can imagine the possibilities for VR in particular, I think or AR as well like imagine if you’re in a concert with 10 million other people and you're there participating and it’s – that sense of opening up community to events and opening up the audience to participate in the story in a real-time live way I think is the most exciting thing about it for me at the moment.
S: The other small thing I’d add is that it – especially on more complex digital projects the onus is on the maker to make it a tiered experience so that if you’re there just to have your hand held to some extent through the content that’s one side of it but to – if you’re going to sort of if you like deep dive into that content and really go deep then it needs to be structured in a way that you consume it. For instance like the idea of a book with its chapters, it’s not a bad analogy in the sense that okay, I will – as Astrid was saying we’ll cut up this media into consumable amounts of time so that the explorative stuff can be sort of ranging but at the same time you can get through this content in a chapterised way. All that sort of structuring is on the content maker, an important aspect of storyteller.
K: Anthony, one of the interesting things for me in being here every day as people were going through Beauty Rich and Rare and popping up and seeing how it was going was looking at audience responses because I think people went in with the expectation that they would take a seat and just watch but the effect of – if you’ve been in you know there’s five screens, you feel quite wrapped by the images and the sound and immersed in it. People actually were having to work harder than I think they thought they were, they weren’t going to a movie and sitting back and relaxing, they were maybe feeling a little bit seasick at moments, different things were happening to them physically, older people were going I’ve got to read every single word, younger people were just sitting there and absorbing more. Were you thinking about the audience experience when you were creating it and how much they would have to do?
B: Yes, we were. I like the fact that people have to work when they go into an experience like this, that they – there is so much imagery that – and there are so many messages within this story that people are continually looking at different screens to see where – which one they should watch. We were kind of making a reference point to the digital world, that there is so much information and I wanted to ensure that that came through with our narrative, that there was so much information coming through this voyage in the plant specimens that Joseph Banks and his team were collecting and they were thirsty for knowledge. So that’s kind of how we set up the premise that you walk into the exhibition and you are actually thirsty for knowledge and we are able to provide a lot of knowledge and I hope that some of the audience would then think about some of the storyline and the information that they’ve been able to listen to and watch and learn more about it themselves.
K: Sarah’s asked a question about audience testing and at what point do you bring the audience in to look at what you’re doing, adjust what you’re doing? Is that a critical part of the development process for you all? How do you go about it?
M: To me everything’s a test all the time so yeah, we are always testing with people but I guess we’re – as human-centred designers we’re trying to influence from the very first idea of what we’re creating, the user is building it with us. So hopefully it works for them and it’s intuitive for them and if it’s not we all constantly seek feedback from traditional owners about how they’re perceiving it, how they’d like other people to perceive it. If it’s starting those cultural conversations one thing for me with the digital content that we make is the magic actually doesn’t happen in the HoloLens, it happens when someone takes it off and they start having that conversation. One beautiful moment for me was when Neville, the artist, for [Namenday] went in the HoloLens for the first time and his young daughter, Yanmaloo was three years old and she’s like Daddy, Daddy, what are you watching? He showed her in the HoloLens and then they took the HoloLens off and put it on the coffee table and they sat there for 20 minutes doing cultural exchange about [Namenday] and the story of [Namenday] so he was passing that on to the next generation because they had that learning moment in the HoloLens so yeah.
S: When I was at the ABC we would frequently test things in the abstract sense right at the start like in – on paper, in wire frames and that can be a very abstract process and discipline and you have to be careful about what you draw from that necessarily but it’s also very useful. Then as you go through you drag colleagues and you drag members of the public and say what do you think of this work? What’s this – when we were developing iview we had to do that constantly obviously because that was quite a brand new interface for people. I’ll also say the flipside of that and as you were saying, Mikaela, there are lots of different flipsides to user testing and one is just watching the digital trends emerge and the practicalities.
I’m a huge fan of that big commonsense that runs through aspects of life and digital has this huge wave of commonsense behind it which experts can sort of get a bit snooty about sometimes but actually there’s a lot of truth in that. Just thinking about Netflix and the Bandersnatch film – I don’t know if any of you tried that on Netflix which is essentially a branching narrative, it’s a digital narrative that is – Netflix made a digital platform, their first foray into interactive narrative. It’s basically the – and not trying to hide it, the branching narrative of those wonderful adventure books that you might have read as a kid but it works quite well. Having taken a simple first step was a very sensible thing to do and you can bet that was based on user testing and not being overly challenging.
A: Whereas we worked out through user testing that branching narratives are very hard to achieve just with audio when we were trying to build choose your own adventure prototypes and R and D at the ABC using Alexa and Google Home and what not, you know? You just can’t remember that much so you can’t remember all your choices. By the time you’ve got to choice number 3 you’re like oh what was number 1 again? So it’s sort of – by trying that stuff and it doesn’t need to be a very specific waterfall style, we’re going to test with 10 people now and then we’re going to go away and reiterate. It can be much more iterative and I guess ongoing that that, you should always be ready to change your product, I think, always be ready to change something that people are going to use if enough people come back to you and say well that’s no good so –
K: Let’s look at our third example tonight, Adam, which is part of a – a tiny part of a very big project that Sam’s been involved in called Days in Conflict and it’ll be on our screen any minute.
By 1917 more than 500 years old and no stranger to occupation and siege the city of Ypres lay in ruins, veiled in smoke and dust.
Where once Ypres had rivalled Paris as a flourishing city of textiles it was now the foremost jumping off point before the frontlines of battle in the British sector and the most heavily bombarded target on the western front. Wipers, as the British soldiers delighted in mispronouncing its name was also the last Belgian city before the coast, a devastated but vital symbol of why Britain had entered the great war, to liberate Belgium from the German army.
Through these ruins passed countless convoys of material and processions of soldiers on their way to the front lines of the war in the Ypres Salient, passing the shattered Cloth Hall onto what had been the prosperous city’s market, the Grand [Plus] 47:28, they snaked on between the stone lions of the Menin Gate down the Menin Road into the desolation of the Flanders fields and the battles of third Ypres. Beneath the fractured and ruined streets and dug into the city’s ramparts existed stockpiles of munition, aid stations, billets and garrisons well sheltered from the constant German bombardment.
Soldiers who paused here on their journeys found solace in the gallows humour of the trench newspaper, The Wipers Times. One poem perfectly expressed the ironic tone the paper struck which the soldiers found so endearing. Titled with the usual apologies the poem read, if you can crawl through wire and crump-holes wreaking with feet of liquid mud and keep your head turned always to the place you are seeking through dread of crying you will laugh instead. If you can fight a week in hell’s own image and at the end just throw you down and grin you’ll be a soldier one day then, my son.
K: Sam, looking at that I’m taken straight to the War Memorial and those wonderful old dioramas that you used to pore over as a kid. Tell us a little bit about Days in Conflict and what your inspiration was for creating it.
S: Well we had made a documentary in 2009 about Gallipoli and the – at the time we were experimenting with the idea of spatial storytelling and some 3D plugins were emerging that were inside the sort of browser that we were interested in exploring. So we sort of took two ideas. A producer at the ABC called Nina Thamaraja had come back from her honeymoon, I think on Gallipoli and she was like you can’t understand the story until you go to Gallipoli and you see the terrain, the geography’s everything and we were like yeah, okay, that sounds cool. Here’s all this 3D stuff – Flash was an old software environment we used to use, it just sort of enabled a Z axis and basically allowed a 3D environment so we thought well we’ll bring these two things together and we’ll tell a story which got - just went off on a rollercoaster of interesting ideas and all the sort of passions of multimedia that we all had.
Astrid’s first gig at the ABC I think that was and we published and it was quite successful, it got an AFI for screen innovation, I think and it got some attention. So with the centenary coming ‘round I did suggest that maybe we should do a multitouch version of that for tablets ‘cause tablets at that time were in schools and it seemed like an excellent learning environment for it and that elaborated into a series of six apps which are all freely available on IOS and Android tablets in the app stores. Some of them are quite big because they don’t rely on the internet at all, they’re all – once it’s on your machine it’s on your machine, you have access to all the content so the video we just watched is really an appendix to one of the apps. It’s a bit of colour that has recreated Ypres literally as you can see as a 3D diorama of what it would have looked like in 1917 when Frank Hurley and the Australian troops were pushing out into the Flanders fields in the third Ypres offensive.
But bottom left here in the screen you can see the sort of diorama’s extended and maybe the core of it is actually sort of this really interesting idea of spatial storytelling where you can visit the map and you can see where and when things happened. You can either visit it by being told the story by a narrator via chapters as we were alluding to before or you can explore it yourself. It’s a complex experience but it’s an experience that’s tiered so that depending on your level of interest you can really go from a beginner and get an excellent idea by being told stories and exploring what you want to getting a very deep idea and a very deep understanding. One other thing I’d just say about it is that it was an opportunity to revisit the sort of – the history of these places.
So I worked with academics from the War Memorial, from Flinders that we were dealing with to really pinpoint where things happened like really say okay, this is where this happened. That meant multiple sources, that meant the sources of various academics and historians but it also meant the war diaries and of course the war reports of the battalions that were in the fields. By doing that you can really put pins in a map and then put a camera on that and fly around and tell a story and you really do begin to understand the flow of a battle and the flow of anxiety and the sort of difficulty of the human condition in those situations whereas that doesn’t really come across in a book necessarily. It can be a big jump to imagine what that’s like but it’s one of the powers of digital storytelling, is you can begin to move into and experience.
K: Sean’s asked a question about whether you see digital storytelling as a new form of narrative or a way to enhance existing narrative approaches? What do you think?
B: It’s definitely both. I mean what we’ve done with Beauty Rich and Rare, we’ve taken the collection – part of the collection here so the story and tell it – just conveying it in a different way so –
S: Yeah, I think that’s true.
A: I think every emerging platform offers new opportunities to tell narrative which – they’re always different so every single time something comes off you're like oh wow, what can you do –
S: It’s like a whole new tray of the toolset, storytelling, it’s like wow, oh my goodness, there’s all these new tools and you want to play with them and mess them up. The thing is that toolset is sort of – things are sort of spontaneously appearing right in front of you, it’s like we’ve gone from AR and VR over the last couple of years, the uptake on that stuff’s incredible, it’s very fast.
A: I remember when I was working with Sam and Unity came out, he caught up and was like stop everything, we’re doing it differently.
K: I was going to ask how much of your work is about being digital experimenters and seeing the new jewels as they pop and just trying to see what happens when you apply them to different stories and different contexts. How important is that playfulness and experimentation in your work?
M: Yeah, it’s hugely important, I think but it’s a double-edged sword too when cutting edge technology comes out, it’s incredibly expensive so the unit that I’m working in at the moment’s $8,000 so it’s not very accessible to a lot of people but I know – I’m working in it now because I know in a couple of years it’s going to come down and be available to people as much – who knows how much it’ll be but it’ll be very affordable, I think. So it doesn’t allow you to play a lot in that very immersive cutting edge tech because it’s very expensive to do. But the other way that we look at the world is – I don’t know if you guys have seen the Bush Mechanics? Yeah, we’re kind of like the Bush Mechanics but with a digital environment so if there’s a way to hack things together we’ll generally try and do that before we spend the big money on putting something in immersive technology like HoloLens so we might go through a few iterations using all – like I just discovered [meshring] 55:20 the other day which is amazing, it’s an amazing thing for photogrammetry, it’s free.
So there’s a lot of open source stuff that’s coming online now and it’s just about getting into things like GitHub and looking at all the open source products that are available and seeing if I just put that together with that, would that give me the outcome that I’m looking for? If we can get something that’s visual in front of people to say this is what we’re doing – ‘cause like I couldn’t get any support for my app for five years because it was all in here and it wasn’t in people’s hands. As soon as I was able to put something in someone’s hands and show them what AR was they’re like oh of course, that’s amazing, let’s do it. So trying to get – trying to hack together things using a minimum viable product approach to life I’ve found has been a lot easier.
K: Mikaela’s brought a HoloLens with her so you might be able to have a little HoloLens experience at the end of the conversation. But we have talked quite a it about the role that digital storytelling can play within the classroom and as a tool for education so let’s have a little look at something that Astrid and ABC Education have been working on. It’s called Mini Beast Heroes and we’re going to go behind the scenes on this one and see how some of – see some of the digital tools that are being used to create Mini Beast Heroes.
I’m Cal Smith and I’m a science journalist at the ABC.
Check this out. Oh, ooh, sticky toxic good.
So the reason I’ve been shrunk down to size for this series, Mini Beast Heroes, is so that from ABC Education we can introduce kids to these insects up close and personal but also we want the kids to learn a little bit more about the insect kingdom and exactly why they’re so important for our life and for the life of all creatures on the plan.
[Dig Emotion Lab] is a commercially agreed motion capture facility and we’ve been developing methods for creating real-time virtual production. We’re really interested to see how we can make animation in a different way.
European Honeybee. Isn’t she bee-utiful?
As you can see I’m wearing a pretty interesting motion capture suit and these little baubles all over me are picking up my movements. I would normally also be wearing a head piece for recording here at the moment to capture the movement of people. We have adapted that by adding real-time facial capture so capturing the movement and the emotion of people’s faces. We’ve taken that one step further by also being able to capture props and show real-time visualisation using game engine technology.
Those are funny eyebrows. They’re antennae and they’re covered in thousands of tiny little sensors that help her touch, taste and smell. Hey stop, stop it, it’s just me. It tickles.
Real-time visualisation is being able to allow a director or storyteller to see the CG characters, the computer-generated cartoon characters that they’re working with. Instead of seeing a performer or an actor wearing a motion capture suit which is covered in dots in a black space they’re seeing the entire CG world around them but also the actual CG character that they’re driving.
The stupidest thing I’ve done so far is probably riding a giant map. Imagine like you’re riding a horse except it’s just a mat on its own and I’m meant to be riding an ant.
Meet the meat ant or if you speak Latin, the Purple Rainbow Ant.
We can see enormous potential in the way that this animation pipeline allows directors, producers, almost anyone who has some experience in thinking about [moving] 59:16 image to step in and create animation dynamically and almost instantly see the results of what it is that they’re doing.
I’ve shopped in MOCAT before and I worked in MOCAT before and I’ve done countless animated shows but this is like MOCAT [shoes] 59:32 and an animated show all fitted together so I’ve never done anything like that before. It is a different experience because you’re working with an actor live for performance and you’ve got all these other things that you got to think about.
Where you’re combining real-time facial motion capture so we’re capturing that on one computer, we are capturing the body motion capture, we are also playing back in real time the animated insect characters. We have full 360 CG virtual worlds which our performer can see. At the same time we’re also capturing the movement of our virtual camera which has full lensing capabilities and all the real world camera movements that a real camera can do.
We’re also really interested in the potential to produce immersive content for technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality.
These are all going to be new technologies that storytellers will be looking at using.
It’s an R and D project so no-one’s really done this kind of thing before. All these bits have got to fit together and I think it’s been really amazing how it has all fitted together.
K: It’s kind of like Lord of the Rings meets insects, isn’t it? So it’s – you mentioned there that it’s an R and D project. What’s the outcome that Ulrich’s playing with and hoping to achieve?
A: Okay so when I was working for ABC R and D we were very interested in looking at the motion capture pipeline that the university had developed and we couldn’t really get anyone to pay for it for the longest time until ABC Education said well look, we’re really interested, we can see obviously there’s a market for animated explainers. Anything that gives us the opportunity to make things more cheaply which is what we were quite interested in, to be honest, is something that we’re happy to be involved with however we would like you to use insects and that posed a bit of a problem ‘cause you can’t motion capture an insect unless you used a very small series of motion capture.
So we had to meld a few different experiments together at the same time but our outcome was actually – and it’s quite an interesting one for the ABC because we wanted to look at well we’ve got this environment that you can make VR and you can make AR and you make immersive things in but you can also use the same environment to generate plain garden variety animated content. So we got six animated explainers for television out of it which is what – that was kind of the bottom line, well we need that and it can’t cost more than a normal animation but anything else you can do in the space, is great R and D. We are very interested in how you will use virtual environments for education in the future and that’s not a now thing necessarily but it’s going to be an everyday thing before we know it and so we need to – as the ABC we wanted to get ahead of that and kind – or how do you do it? How do you even think about it? So tools like that lab, we made a room scale virtual reality experience which is a little bit more complicated but we could generate a 360 video. Amy, my colleague, directed it and in literally half an hour, with all the assets in place and then we could export a 360 video just like that so –
K: There is a little 360 video online that you can play with on your phone too.
A: On YouTube. Yeah so it was all a big experiment but the bottom line is we still need content that’s going to work in classrooms and that’s what we built, that’s for little kids to learn about the value of ecosystems.
K: I’m old enough to remember when CD-roms were really great new technology and so this question that’s come through resonates quite a lot with me. The technology moves so fast, we all thought five-and-a-quarter inch floppy disks would last forever and now there’s no way you can play them. How do you balance that in the work that you do as digital storytellers? Is longevity something that you’re hoping for or is it – we use today’s technology and then we move onto the next thing and whether people can access the older stuff in the future is not perhaps quite so important?
M: I’m going for 2170 so I want our content to be used by my seventh generation descendent. My seventh generation descendent was the one that was taken from the first of the five children of the stolen generation. I would give anything to have a digital asset of her journey through that so I’m making content now to make sure that we’re being able to watch in 2170 ‘cause it’s really personal for me. Like researchers came to my community in the ‘80s and said put it all on VHS ‘cause it’ll be there for the future generations and I can’t watch it so there’s a whole heap of stuff that we’ve lost because people had so much faith in digital technology that they almost devolved the responsibility of transferring it the old way by putting it on VHS. So I’m working in blockchain and artificial intelligence now, I’m looking at where is data going and trying to educate our community on what we call digital custodian so we’ve got law people, we’ve got language people, we’ve got medicine people. I think we need digital people so we’re trying to build a whole community across Australia that is equipped to understand how do you translate something from the cloud to whatever’s next.
S: I think if you place the sort of digital revolution ‘round about – emergent around about the ‘70s then we’ve gone through the initial cycles of rapid change but just only now I think are there some basic language and frameworks that are emerging as extensible and longer lasting. A lot of that’s on the cloud as you say, a lot of that is formats that can exist on the internet which obviously the internet is in various forms very much here to stay just like Twitter is here to stay, there’s no obvious revenue model around it apart from advertising seemingly. It’s a difficult medium for the people who own it necessarily to compete with others but it seems that at the same time like a pure drop of internet communication. So I think language is open source and sort of software on the back end that’s just becoming something that’s durable and longer lasting. But at the same time exactly as you say like it just conjures this idea of the stuff we do now and the stuff that’s been done recently, how is that archived and what will that look like to us in 20 years’ time? Will it be the so-called ephemeral material of a paper diary?
‘Course it will, it’ll be a ludicrously anachronistic-looking object probably because you’ll have a little dot behind your ear and you’ll do most of the stuff through your wristwatch and there’ll be telekinetic interfaces and gesture and a UI, a natural user interface if you like that takes away the graphic user interface as power over us at the moment. We spend a lot of time in front of screen, the GUI but we assume that natural language processing and computers will allow us just to talk, that we’ll be able to cast things into space with holographic imagery, that these things will make what we do now look absurd to some extent to maybe charming.
K: Well we’ve zoomed off into the future there and I’m conscious that you’ve all stayed with us beyond 7:00 but we have one fabulous question to end I think on this evening. It’s a bit of a challenge for all of you. If you had to sum up your digital storytelling in just one word what would that be?
K: Fantastic. Thank you all for joining us this evening, thank you for being part of the conversation too.
K: If you’d like to continue the conversation you can do so in the foyer. If you’d like to see Beauty Rich and Rare pop up to the fourth floor and thank you all for coming and please thank Anthony, Astrid, Sam and Mikaela.
End of recording