Happy Thanksgiving!

We have a lot to be thankful for this year. Our studios in Portland, Atlanta, and New York are growing, our work is being recognized, and we have some very exciting projects on the horizon. 

We can’t 3D print a turkey yet—although NASA is coming close—but we can 3D print a Thanksgiving greeting in our lab. 

Wishing you a wonderful holiday from all of us at Second Story!

Posted in Uncategorized

Happy Accidents


Gross, repulsive, aggravating—but not always. Sometimes, bugs come disguised as little helpers, useful warnings, or beautiful surprises. Every developer understands the need to deliver bug-free code, but, while striving to implement that perfect solution, a bug can sometimes unintentionally provide new insight to your task.

When we come across these happy accidents at Second Story, it’s a pleasant change of pace. The dreaded bug becomes a boon, even a source of inspiration.

Motivated by this tilt effect for images, we wanted to see if we could create the same subtle sense of depth to videos. A three-dimensional effect should occur by layering multiple semi-transparent videos on top of each other and allowing the user to tilt the videos on mouseover. The videos tilt towards the user’s cursor, creating the illusion of shifting the viewing angle of the scene. Simple enough. However, each of the videos buffered at different rates, causing them to fall out of sync.

This created a beautiful, ephemeral effect that reminded us of how we remember our dreams. Inspired, we began to think about how we could implement this effect in web interactives. However, a bug is still a bug and needs to be squashed. Here is our intended “fixed” version.

Our bug-in-disguise revealed to us an angle we never expected. As we continue these kinds of explorations, we hope to stumble upon more of these happy accidents.

– Hannah Cin, Interactive Developer

Posted in Technology

Responsive Environments: Denver Botanic Gardens


The result of calm technology is to put us at home, in a familiar place. When our periphery is functioning well we are tuned into what is happening around us, and so also to what is going to happen, and what has just happened…This connection to the world around we called “locatedness,” and it is the fundamental gift that the periphery gives us.

                                                                                                                     Mark Weiser, 1995


We fix our gaze on screens to work, to stay connected, to capture and share our lives, and to be entertained. Screens are good, but there is a problem: for all of the access that they provide, these surfaces create a harsh divide between our physical world and our digital experience. When we look at our computers, we tune out. We disconnect from our surroundings and retreat into ourselves.

As technology becomes smaller, more malleable, and more integrated into our environment, we have a great opportunity to refocus our gaze, to draw it upward and outward with light, sound, and tactile interfaces that respond to presence, social engagement, and natural data. These experiences should be subtle and empowering. They should live at the seams between the physical and digital, smoothing the boundary in between and enabling us to more fluidly navigate our world.

At Second Story, we use technology to create spaces for learning and exploration, places that breathe, allowing stories to unfold and evolve over time. These responsive environments are designed to inspire and delight through the activation of the body, the senses, and the periphery. They extend the impact of the content that we deliver through traditional screen-based media. Our mission in building these environments is not to bombard visitors with sensory stimulation but rather to provide another layer of experience, one that draws people into an active dialog with their surroundings.


Learning to See, an exhibit we created last year for the Denver Botanic Gardens, is an example of our work in building experiences in which stories are revealed through a responsive environment. The exhibit seeks to cultivate a deeper relationship between people and the natural world. We designed a system that immerses visitors in scientific research and teaches them about the diverse ecosystems of Colorado. A collection of interactive “boulders,” LED light pylons, and haptic interfaces facilitate learning and exploration. These distinct experiences are unified through a responsive light environment that changes in texture and tone with daily and seasonal shifts in weather.

To design and develop the exhibit while the Pyramid was still under construction, we assembled a virtual model of the space. Our team experimented with a variety of light effects and animations, which were visualized in the model and tested in our lab on a single full-scale mockup of one of the pylons. This end-to-end process allowed our motion designers and software developers to collaborate quickly and iterate on new ideas. Most importantly, it enabled our full team to have a clear expectation of how the environment would look once we arrived in Denver.

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Nature is an active participant in the exhibit. As the outside temperature changes throughout the day, so do the colors of the interactive experiences and the ambient light environment. To create a varying spectrum of light, we divided the thermometer into segments that reflect the broad range of air temperatures experienced each day in Denver. Each segment has an associated color palette that was carefully selected to complement the transition from cold to hot. Repeat visitors notice a marked shift in the mood of the space during the day, between seasons, and over the course of the year.

Changes in the measured wind speed outside the Pyramid trigger digital pressure fronts that flow through the columns of LEDs embedded in the pylons. These animations evoke the patterns of sunlight that filter through the leaves of Aspen trees blowing in the wind, adding texture and life to the space through the interplay of light and shadow.

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While the connection between temperature, wind speed, and the ambient light environment in the Pyramid is simple and direct from a technical perspective, this subtle digital gesture enlivens the physical space and connects the stories of the Denver Botanic Gardens back to their natural source. Visitors do not have to be told that this mapping exists – they simply experience an environment that is alive and responding to the pulse of nature.

As we continue to develop responsive environments at Second Story, we look to a future in which the boundaries between our digital and physical experience are increasingly blurred; an age of spatial media that connects people and place rather than creating barriers. This is how we will tell the stories of the twenty first century.

– Chris Carlson, Interactive Developer

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Posted in Design, Technology

Here to There: What Happens When the Story Finds You?


At this year’s Tribeca Film Festival’s Interactive Playground—a gathering of panels, talks, and experiences—Second Story debuted Here to There, an experiment using wearable technology as a new medium for immersive storytelling.

We were excited about creating an environment where we could give the festival audience agency in weaving their own narrative experience in a completely non-linear and spatial way. We wanted to build a platform where anyone or anything could activate a story.

The main idea behind Here to There was simple: what happens when the story finds you?



Our goal with Here to There was to really rethink wearable technology beyond fitness and the Internet of Things and smart homes—to imagine a future of dynamic environments that are responsive to our presence and our location in space. In a world of hyper-digital-connectivity, could we redefine what it means to be connected to others through technology in a more human way?

We wanted to explore themes of vulnerability through performance, connection, and narrative, using story and technology to bring people together and provoke a conversation about the future of storytelling. So we concepted an experiential, aural experiment, a new kind of immersive experience that transforms your surroundings by adding texture but also keeps you present and aware of the people around you.

In Here to There, the audience discovered the story through wearable devices and actors. The actors wore Relators, custom helmets that related the story to the audience. The audience had the freedom to explore the festival space while wearing custom headphones called Receivers. When a Receiver came into proximity with a Relator, parts of the story were revealed. Aided by the choreography of the actors, the audience experienced a non-linear narrative built from their proximity and interactions with the different characters.

We had the pleasure of collaborating with Sci-fi Artist and Body Architect Lucy McRae who wrote a futuristic three-part story for Here to There, a narrative of one person’s life journey that transpires in the past, present, and future. In the story, Lucy explored themes of vulnerability in technology, extending the human body via our own biology, and the future of our existence.

“As I stand and applaud the end of act one, I ponder how my life has turned into a performance laboratory, seeking a new synthesis of man, space, and machine that is physical, visceral, embodied in emotion. Vulnerability is the key, and that ain’t something that Amazon drones deliver to your door.”



“A knowing feeling overwhelmed me; a comfort, a connection, I am not alone, and I was accepting these mutations willingly…out of my control and I trusted it.”


We built Here to There using an RFduino hardware stack. The RFduino is an Arduino-compatible device with an onboard Bluetooth low energy (BLE) module that enabled the wireless communication between Here to There Relators and Receivers. Our stack also included an audio shield to play the sound files from Lucy’s story in addition to an RGB LED. Each Relator emanated a unique color, and when Receivers connected to one of the three Relators, their LED would light up to match, a visual indication of which character was triggering your experience.

The hardware is battery powered which gave us flexibility in the physical design of the wearable device.


“I’d worn it almost everyday since its doorstep delivery. It felt snug, natural, like it was my own…well I guess it was, it was grown from my own biology, this anatomically precise second skin, encapsulated my silhouette seamlessly.”

Inspired by Lucy McRae’s work and her explorations in technology extending and transforming the human body, we designed the physical forms to create a visually memorable experience for participants. The exaggerated bubble shapes of Here to There redefined the body’s silhouette, and the translucent material exposed the enclosed technological components as well as the user’s own body.


The different form-factors for the Relators and the Receivers accented each’s purpose. The Relators were oversized dome-shaped helmets that acted as beacons signaling a focal point of transmission for participants. The Receivers were oversized headphones emphasizing the act of listening, which is key to the experience.

In contrast to how headphones in public space become barriers between us and our surroundings, in Here to There the Receivers were meant to enable the audience to be present and connected to their immediate surroundings and to others in the experience.



At the playground, we shared the space with some terrific projects including Interactive Haiku from the National Film Board of Canada and ARTE, innovative social impact augmented reality comic book Priya’s Shakti, and a host of a virtual reality experiences like Confinement, which gives you a glimpse of what it feels like to be in solitary confinement in prison.

Lucy McRae kicked off the Interactive Playground day with her captivating keynote titled Vulnerability: A Gateway to Innovation, speaking about her compelling body of work and explorations in emerging technology, science fiction, storytelling, and extending the human body.



The biggest take-away for us from TFIi 2015 was how much people loved putting on the Here to There wearables, taking selfies with the objects, and the performative playfulness of it all. Even Lucy (pictured above) had fun experiencing her own work. The Playground was full of smiles.

The audience described the experience as having a “superpower in the narrative sense,” something akin to a surreal “stream of consciousness.” Despite the exaggerated form factor, one gentleman told us, “It extends something we as humans normally do: we sit next to someone and listen to their conversation.” My favorite quote of the day: “It was a narrative trip.”

“Although this personal microcosm was isolated and solitary it operated on primal foundations that without visual or physical contact, I was somehow attached to another.”

We also learned that the experience of the relationship between Relators and Receivers was new for people, a silent interaction that promoted intimacy and connectivity. Even more interesting, some members of the audience preferred to be Relators because they wanted to have the power to deliver stories to others.

Here to There was a big hit at the TFIi 2015 and we were very excited to have been asked to participate this year. Executive Technical Director Thomas Wester and I did a fun interview with Tribeca’s Franchesca Ramsey as part of the festival’s Daily Wrap Up, where Franchesca walked down a runway wearing a Receiver—now, that’s what I call “nerd chic.”

For more information, check out Tribeca Film Institute’s own coverage of TFIi 2015.

– Yasmin Elayat, Technical Director

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Posted in Content, Culture, Design, Technology

Creative Coding Art Workshop

As anyone in the creative industry can attest to, sometimes things get busy. Very busy. When things get busy, it’s easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees. It’s easy for the “industry” in “creative industry” to loom large and for the “creative” to get lost in its shadow.

The technology team at Second Story has started a bi-monthly art workshop where one member of the team brings a short code sketch that the other members can modify, tweak, and personalize during the session. These two-hour blocks are short enough to keep going even when project-related work is in overdrive. The goal is for the art workshops to serve as a creative release valve for the developers and inspiration for the rest of the studio.

Here are the results of the first workshop, set to music from Interactive Developer Chris Carlson. Enjoy!

– Donald Richardson, Senior Interactive Developer

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Posted in Uncategorized

A Giffy NYC Welcome to Adi & Erin


While shooting in the lab for a projection mapping prototype featuring full-body images, the New York team spawned an unintended gif to celebrate Adi & Erin joining the gang.

– Justin Berg, Experience Design Lead

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Posted in Culture, Design, Technology

Cheers to 2015

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Second Story partnered with Premier Press in Portland to produce a three-piece set of coasters celebrating the new year. We collaborated across our three geographies to come up with designs honoring an iconic texture from each city: a perfectly imperfect wood grain for Portland, an intricate lattice pattern from the top of a peach pie for Atlanta, and the clean lines of a manhole grate for New York.  Printed on dual-mounted Curious Skin black stock, the coasters were letter-pressed with glossy black and matte silver foils, the edges finished with a high-gloss black ink.

– Chris DeWan, Design Director

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Posted in Design

People As Performers: Setting The Stage For Interaction

Last year, SEGD invited us to create an art installation at the Lovejoy Fountain for a one-night event during Design Week Portland. As we delved into the project, we learned that, almost 50 years ago, Lawrence Halprin designed the Lovejoy Fountain with this intention: “In the plaza there should be events…sculpture shows–concerts–dance events with dancers all over and arriving to center space from down stairs around fountain…” A fountain designed for artistic expression? Count us in!


A stage for interaction

The Lovejoy Fountain is a hidden gem, tucked between residential buildings in downtown Portland, OR. The radiating geometric design creates cascades of stages that jet out around the water. Our aim was to use technology and sculpture to highlight and extend these architectural features without obstructing the natural beauty of the fountain or preventing people from exploring it up close. We were excited about the opportunity to move beyond the bounds of the screen and create an immersive experience rooted in place.

People as performers

Halprin’s original vision for the fountain sequence inspired us to focus on the idea of people as performers. How could we craft an installation that would invite visitors to direct an experience for the audience? What would it look like? How could we engage both the passive observer and active participant?

Given the theatrical metaphor of the fountain as a stage, we began to focus on creating an opportunity for visitors to seamlessly step between the roles of director, performer, and spectator throughout the evening.


Not so fast

Like any open-ended ask, it was difficult to settle upon a direction. Projection mapping? Spatial audio? Floating, robotically-controlled pico projectors? How will people know how to trigger the installation? Maybe we should hire an improvisational dance troupe to demonstrate how to play the fountain?

Amidst our excitement, we had to keep a few things in mind…we are dealing with a body of water. We have 8 hours to install in daylight. Then, at dusk, it is showtime for 3 hours. Everything has to be torn down by midnight. Oh, and the event is in October, so it might rain. Well…how are we going to…nevermind. This is Portland! We know how to deal with a bit of rain, right? We’ll figure it out…

After imagining many ways to activate the space, thinking through a few prototype ideas, and visiting the fountain to test out our ideas, we landed on our final concept:

  • The fountain would serve as an armature for a large-scale string sculpture that would reference the radiating, geometric forms of Halprin’s architecture.
  • The fluorescent string would be activated throughout the night by strategically placed Ultraviolet and RGB lights that were controlled by attendees via a central mixing console.
  • Ambient, interactive sound design would add further dimensionality to the experience, connecting both observer and participant and drawing in those passing by.

Getting real fast

With the concept finalized, we had approximately two weeks before the event to handle equipment rentals and design and build our experience.



We made multiple visits to the fountain to brainstorm mounting strategies and forms for the sculpture. During one of these visits, we had the very good fortune of encountering the fountain when the water had been turned off for maintenance. We discovered previously hidden connection points and tie-offs for the sculpture which enabled us to create a structural plan that could achieve our ambitious vision.



A custom mixing console became the focal point of interaction with six sliding interfaces that invited visitors to direct the interplay of lighting, sound, shadow, and form. A single weekend spent soldering, spray-painting, and making last minute fabrication adjustments helped bring the console to life.


Given the tight timing of the install and the fact that a majority of the hardware would not be in our hands until the day of the event, it became essential to design a software system that was as flexible as possible. Our selection of tools and the structure of the code evolved around the ability to quickly debug, edit, and configure behavior in real time.

A flexible, modular design enabled us to troubleshoot unexpected behaviors and make modifications on the day of the event. We built in capabilities that allowed us to tweak the color and behavior of the installation in real time. While our visitors were directing the immediate experience, we had the ability to shape the parameters within which they were interacting, adapting to the changing ambience as dusk turned into darkness.


Given the fact that the fountain is situated in a residential area, it was important that any sound accompaniment be appealing and unintrusive. We composed six ambient sound loops of varying lengths and connected to the volume of each sound to the same user inputs applied to the lights. The different durations of each loop and the inclusion of plenty of silent space within each sound resulted in a shifting soundscape that weaved in and out of perception rather than bombarding the senses.


Transforming the fountain

The morning of the event, we arrived at the fountain ready to jump in the water and install all 500 yards of green and pink string that comprised the sculpture. While the string was being mounted, our lighting vendor, Portland Productions, showed up at 10 a.m. with a truckload of equipment. Once everything was unloaded, we were on our own to test and mount lights, assign DMX channels, and run cabling. Moments after the the final cables were taped and the lights and sound were up and running, it was time for the evening to begin.


We were thrilled to see that people naturally took on the performance roles we had imagined. Children and adults made their directorial debut while others preferred a front row seat. Turns out, we didn’t even have to hire that improv dance troupe. One woman felt moved to dance and took center stage for a solo performance– a highlight of the evening. See for yourself on our project page.

It was a pleasure to sit back and watch people engage with our creation and experience Halprin’s fountain in a new light. While the event was brief, the impression it made on our team was lasting. We left the fountain feeling inspired and eager to continue exploring the possibilities when art, technology, and public space converge to connect people and place.

– Laura Allcorn, Senior Content Strategist, & Chris Carlson, Interactive Developer

Final photo by Bruce Forster

Posted in Culture, Design, Technology

24 Frames of Craft-mas

This holiday season marks the 50th anniversary of the Rankin-Bass stop-motion classic: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. This film has delighted audiences both young and old since 1964—and been a major influence on filmmakers like Tim Burton, Henry Selick and Wes Anderson. This magical film also happened to be the spark of inspiration for one of my favorite Second Story projects, Verizon Stop-Motion Studio, which celebrates its anniversary this month—and is making an encore performance this holiday season at Verizon’s flagship stores in Chicago, Minneapolis, and Houston. You can watch some of the stop-motion movies being made each day by customers here.

With the stop-motion technique, it takes 24 individual frames to create just one second of animation. For Rudolph, it took about 18 months to complete filming. That’s a whole lot of work! But there’s even more to it than that. Consider everything that has to happen before you can even begin filming—the characters, the props, the scenes, the songs, the script. There’s so much craft behind this film that simply remains invisible to its audience.

As I step back to reflect on Stop-Motion Studio one year later, I can’t help but think about the tremendous amount of work that went into every tiny detail of the project. And just like a feature film, this process remains hidden to most. So, we thought it’d be fun to expose some of what goes on behind the scenes. During the course of this project, we kept a camera close by to document all the little details that went into crafting the finished piece. And a year later, we finally got around to editing this footage together ;) We hope you enjoy.

– Joel Krieger, Creative Director

Posted in Culture, Design

Recital: A solitary light and sound experience for Halloween 2014

For the past four years, the ScoutMob-Goat Farm Halloween Party has been the sold out main event for Halloween night in Atlanta. Billed as a night of avant-garde immersive artistic performances and installations set among the ruins of a nineteenth century factory complex, the party is always an unforgettable experience.

When Second Story Atlanta heard there was space for a sound installation less than a week out, we streamlined our creative process and got cracking. We worked eagerly and efficiently to create a compelling experience that fulfilled the party’s notorious standards for boundary-breaking work and our studio’s passion for storytelling.


We created Recital, an intimate audio installation that carries listeners to strange and wonderful worlds. People step under a bright narrow spotlight where they experience sounds only they can hear that take them on an imaginary elevator ride. We harnessed a curious effect made possible using HyperSound directional speaker technology. These speakers create a narrow, focused and stealthy ultrasonic beam that carries sound but is only audible when some object (such as your head and ear drums) interrupts the beam. It bounces and reflects off of hard surfaces, and can be carefully tuned so that it sounds like a faint echo unless one is directly within the beam area.

In Recital, you hear the sound of the elevator around you dinging and opening to distinct floors, opening a new world at each stop. Each time the elevator stops, the doors open to a new world. The background audio suggests a recognizable setting, and computer generated voices babble and read lists as if identifying the objects in the surroundings. In the basement, a mad scientist ticks off solvents in a bubbling lab. On other floors, voices recite types of wet weather as frogs croak in the rainforest, or they enumerate kinds of marine mammals along to whale songs. On another floor, we start on the launch pad and when the rocket finally arrives in space we hear Sputnik’s pings along with the distant beeps and messages of that historic spacecraft.

Given the tight timeline, we sourced audio from the public domain and recorded lists dictated by Apple’s pre-recorded Speech profiles.

Recital’s other ingredient was light. In a dark room, spotlights signal a promise — whether for interaction or performance is not clear. People discover by walking inside the light beam, where they become the audience to the immersive soundscape. To onlookers, they appear as performers on stage. They hear one recitation, while they act out another.

Coordination & Install

The party was a huge, multi-installation event requiring careful coordination to provide and test locations, lights, amplification and power. The night before the party, we affixed speakers and spotlights to the old factory’s high beams. Back on the ground, we listened to the soundscape and rode our elevator to the next level. It was resonant, powerful, wonderful. It was time to go home.


The next night, hundred of party-goers arrived on Halloween to find Goodson Yard awash with sound. Recital’s audio struggled to compete with the overall decibel levels. Between the chatter of hundreds, stage amps and passing freight trains, our soundscape was drowning.

But still, people stepped into the light. So we watched.

zen pose - CU 

Eyeing the Unexpected

The spotlights served a purpose to the costumed crowd: Well-lit areas in very dark rooms are great places to take pictures. The circumstance we had to confront made us keen observers. Even though Recital couldn’t speak to people, the people spoke to us by demonstrating how to create an experience of their own design.

They retrieved chairs from lounging areas nearby to use as props and invited strangers whose costumes offset their own to join them in the beam. The spotlight succeeded in creating a stage for performance. It invited people in, successfully attracting participants without any promise of a payoff.

The concept for Recital aimed to craft a zone of individual experience surrounded by the crowd. We wanted individuals to share their experience with others in a ‘hey-you-gotta-try-this’ kind of way. In a quiet room, this totally worked. On the dance floor, it bombed.


chair with cat

But like our public installation that covered a Dumpster with magnetic illuminated boxes inscribed with words that people could rearrange, we again observed that simply giving people the tools to express individuality can inspire creativity and social activity more naturally than prescribing behavior through explicit prompts.


As an innovation center, our studio needs to embrace risky work and take chances. It’s why we put our first-drafts in front of people—to explore unknowns around exciting ideas. By getting real fast, we iterate on insights and wrangle dynamic possibilities at the intersection of art, technology and storytelling.

– Ashton Grosz, Experience Designer & Andy Pruett, Interactive Developer

Posted in Culture, Design, Technology