Written by Scott Macklin.
There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.
-Ursula K. LeGuin
Emerging models of interactive and immersive storytelling (on screens of any size, scrolling and responsive) are disrupting the ways we can reach and engage with our constituents. This past Spring I taught COM 583: Multimedia Storytelling: Immersive Production Studio. The intent of this course was to combine a critical look at these emerging models with practical application, which included working through the technical aspects of story creation and the implementation of web development tools and platforms.
I wanted the students to come away with a deep understanding of both the technical and critical considerations of how sites like Snow Fall are made. To that end, the class functioned like a production studio with project-based deliverables through which students acquired the strategy and skills to make informed design decisions about the development and use of immersive storytelling processes. Along with creating compelling content and multimedia elements the students were tasked with developing interactive strategies. Beyond the function of parallax scrolling, what does designing content with the web and mobile in mind look and act like?
We started the course with a story name game to cement the act (and art) of listening as a class foundation and catalyze collaboration. Students were asked to state their name and why they wanted to take the class. They then had to “toss” the story to someone else. The person receiving the “toss” had to say the other person’s name and what that person wanted to learn before providing their own answers.
The game turned into an activity where the students had to develop a multimedia piece around an understanding and meaning of their name.
As we made our way through the term, classes were constructed to interweave guest speakers sharing their expertise and work; course readings to suss out the theoretical ground of story, interaction and design; and an in-class activity to build and develop technical competencies and skills. The example below is an After Effects motion graphics session led by Sara McCaslin.
One example of this “weaving” is when we connected the week’s reading, Cultivating Communities of Practice, with a production practice exercise. We set up four different types of production so that students could play with the equipment and gain insights into when to utilize the appropriate set-up. Set-ups included interviewing each other in several styles, including two-camera interview, single-camera documentary style, both interviewer and subject on camera, and a selfie-mode with an iPad.
The practice, readings, guests (Ted Warren, Sara McCaslin, Maren Higbee, Warren Etheredge, and Corey Gutch) and exercises all led to the development of the students’ final projects–immersive stories that spanned the sights, tastes and sounds of the globe. They shared tales about language exchange in the distant Arctic, nuclear aftermath in the Marshall Islands, and the women of Pankisi Gorge; the foodie escapades of little Italian restaurants, Pike Place Market vendors, and chocolatiers; the progress of Philharmonia Northwest, the Association of Women in Communication, and Jewish Studies at UW; visits to pinball parlors, Native American spaces at the Intellectual House, and Camp Waskowitz; the ambiance of the Seattle City of Music Initiative, high-school-run radio stations, and lively bus rides with a friendly driver. Some students even decided to tackle their personal journeys for the project. Explore their work below: