The Present Tense of Future Media

By Ed Arroyo


   The future usually arrives before we are ready...


   5D: The Future of Immersive Design, co-presented by the Art Directors Guild and University Art Museum, is a newly conceived conference held October 4-5, 2008, on the campus of California State University at Long Beach. The event, having stirred great interest, was attended by over 500 professionals and included award-winning visionaries in the creative arts. Billed as a TED-like Conference without the attitude, the conference, sponsored by Autodesk, revealed a comprehensive perspective and progress report on how narrative and interactive media design technology is being applied to TV shows, films, the web, and in mobile media devices. The ultimate goal of the conference was to stimulate ideas on new directions for media convergence.


World Building and Social Mythology


   Keynote Speaker, Henry Jenkins, director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program and author of Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide began the conference talking about Comic-Con, an annual comic book convention held in San Diego, California, and the nature of “world-building” as a form of culture-forming narrative.  He took the audience on a visual journey throughout the history of visual storytelling and its evolution as evidenced by the zoetrope, movie-making, and culminating with toys and games with which individuals, as “consumers,” extend their interaction and story-making.  He goes on to cite how art, film, TV, and web content-producing has spawned a revolution of storytelling experiences, resulting in a new phase of media consolidation & digitization, and expanding the nature of story, plot, role-playing, and interactive experience.  Moreover, that this convergence has lead to a new generation of media-rich, multi-level, densely-detailed designs of new and future social mythologies.


  In a panel called  Reality and Hyper Reality: Envisioning New Design Paradigms in CG Animation.  Moderator John Tarnoff, head of show development at DreamWorks Animation, led a discussion about the extent to which technology had advanced and enriched designers' and filmmakers' ability to realize enhanced-reality social designs and create hyper-reality storytelling.


Is that actor real?


 Lance Williams, who was chief scientist at Walt Disney Feature Animation, showcased clips of the Human Face Project at Disney's Secret Lab that demonstrated the degree to which computer-generated articulated and rendered replicas of actors can be used to impart characteristics indistinguishable from reality.  It is this control capability - to capture and control “the forces of nature” - that can be used to apply to real-world objects to evoke an even greater artistic and emotional response.


 Scott Robertson, Chair of Entertainment Design at Pasadena Art Center, talked about his involvement in a course for concept design, working with writers, directors, and producers to take scripts and convert them into compelling visual interpretations for translating and producing into a real commercial products.


 Evan Douglis, chair of the undergraduate School of Architecture at Pratt Institute, displayed images illustrating leading-edge computer-aided designs and fabrication for multi-media installations and commercial building projects.


 Gore Verbinski, Academy Award winner for visual effects in Disney's Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest, explained work done throughout the film to capture photo-realperformances of numerous characters, and in many instances using key-framed animation (as opposed to motion-capture) to impart nuanced details in expression in the digital actors.


Narrating Space panel


 In another panel, Narrating Space, moderator Peter Frankfurt, co-founder of Imaginary Forces, lead a discussion on how the “odd hybridization of what's happening with storytelling, and filming, with technology and the means of distribution...” is changing the way creators of content go about designing their projects.  Peter showed title clips from Se7en, Imaginary Forces' first foray into title design and explained the creative process in coming up with their look & feel, given the intended style of the movie story.


 Next, Evan Hirsch, creative director for Microsoft Live Lab showed examples of advanced interactive display devices, “surfaces” for manipulating data, images, and image creation. These innovative input devices, as currently experienced with Apple's iPhone and Touch, are the telltale signs of of what's to come for narrowing the gap between creator and creation. He presented images of advanced table-top visual input devices and offered examples of future user applications.  He stated that what the future has in store with these interface devices is the ability to interact with the vast new world of information and data through the internet in ways never before imagined.


 One of the most visually compelling projects shown was New City, an architectural odyssey through a digital world as imagined by Greg Lynn, an acclaimed and award-winning architect. Created for New York's Museum of Modern Art, the project takes the viewer on an immersive journey through an emerging future utopia of architectural space and design from inside a multi-faceted dome display structure. The exhibit highlights architectural spacial design in a stunningly organic presentation.


New Television


 The next panel of entitled, New Television: The Media Blender, was moderated by Anne White, VP in Programming at Premiere Retail Network.  She began by first defining “New Television” as that aggregation of devices we use, either simultaneously – watching TV while surfing the web and text messaging a friend – or, as an adjunct, to extend one's interactivity or participation – as in voting or blogging after watching a TV show, or going on the web to buy a product  or search for more information.  This “clustering” of media devices, threaded together by common interests or needs – i.e., social, commercial, entertainment - and how we use them, is what was to be addressed. She cites campaigns she helped to create for WalMart, Best Buy, Costco to improve the in-store experience. By having video screens strategically placed to offer valuable product info, uses,  and helpful hints, this added-value aids in “bridging the gap” between the user and product. 


Mystery Engages


 Next, Mike Benson, head of marketing for ABC Entertainment, talked about how he oversees all the marketing activities for ABC's primetime lineup, establishes the network's brand identity, and that his task is to “...get more people to watch TV.”   He's concerned with why people watch their shows, understanding viewers' choices, habits, and develops strategies that shape and thread their marketing and promotion campaigns across TV, web, and all media platforms.  Mike cites their hit show, “Lost,” as an example where they discovered that the core viewers wanted to be more deeply engaged in the mystery of the program. Realizing this, his team structured previews for the up-coming season with teasers that would cause fans to start blogging about the show, creating an anticipation “buzz” for the up-and-coming start of season.


 Next up was Stephanie Otto, CEO of Brainstorm Communications, a strategic design and branding company who has lead development for many on-demand services, virtual channels, interactive television, including TIVO, DIRECTV, and Home Box Office.  Her company's purpose is to help companies, like Time Warner or Cablevision, to integrate programming networks with technology distribution systems and to design the user interfaces for their audience. Her main activities center around coordinating and integrating the separate needs of cable operators, program content producers and users with the visual interface that meets their needs.


More participatory


 Kevin Slavin, managing director for AREA/CODE, creates interactive games and entertainment for clients, including Nokia, MTV, Nike, and A&E Entertainment.  They build on existing media and programming for companies who want to extend and enhance their audiences' interaction and experience with the content producers' products.  They create new entertainment and mobile games to get viewers to actively participate with other viewers, some of which might be playing from another part of the world.  Kevin's contention is that the media viewer of old (as depicted by a young “couch potato” kid stuffed into a sofa), is being replaced by the desire of people who want to be more participatory – to connect and engage with others. Having “cut the cord” as a TV viewer some time ago, Kevin, himself, finds it ironic that his company is now working with TV shows to provide role-playing games that involve viewers to use their mobile and web devices for augmenting their TV experience and joining in.  And, strangely enough, some of the games AREA/CODE creates involves players running around the real world while using their cellphones or PDAs to help them play these games. What he found surprising are statistics that show, in some cases, viewers' total accumulated time spent engaged in a mobile or web game made for a TV show, exceeds the total broadcast time for that show by a factor of 10.  He finished his talk by asking the question, “Would you watch the same episode of a TV show 100 times? Probably not.  But you could play chess, or Scrabble 100 times.” And this is because “ are systems made up of other people engaging in something together...” Those are the type of dynamics that AREA/CODE is focused on to bring to their clients' audience. And as Kevin showed an image of several living rooms with the TV in the background, and a laptop on the coffee table, next to several remote controls and cellphones. he ends his talk with, “This is how people engage in entertainment. This is what it means to watch television now. And it will mean it more next year, and the year after that.”




 Guest panelist Robert Tercek, principle of META, a media consulting company,  contends that “the container shapes the content.”  Having been involved in launching new services on every platform, from mobile television for MTV, to internet interactive computer games, to Sony and interactive TV, and now mobile integration, he calls what the world is going through is “Televolution.”  He starts by talking about traditional TV, cable, the technological move from “one-way to two-way,” and how media has evolved to allow for interaction: two-way. He explains that the old concept of “channels” created artificial scarcity of products because they were “one-way,” passive and unidirectional.  But now, with media's maturing to interactive “two-way” technologies – the internet, cable TV, mobile devices – that this has brought forth and made for richer environments he calls, “markets.”  He says channels created scarcity, markets create abundance. So, with this two-way environment shift there now comes the need of what to do with this “abundance,” So his focus is on the mechanisms for dealing with this abundance. He points out that, “...Every successful business on the internet is some form of exchange.” That their successes, be it EBay, Google, Amazon, or McDonalds, are based on the systems designed to interface their products, content, or information, with their users and provide some sort of exchange, be it information, product, or personal communication. On one side are the seekers and on the other are the providers, and the most important factor in this situation is the efficient exchange machanism. He contends that the most successful business model on the internet is, and will continue to be, exchange.


 5D and the Future

 Alex McDowell, who was instrumental in bringing together luminaries from around the world for the conference, assured the audience that the Conference was only the beginning. The  

@2008 Ed Arroyo for  Smart Bits Magazine