Designing Dramaturgy

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In December of 2011, I traveled to Atlanta to help install 12 interactives for the new Vault of the Secret Formula at the World of Coca-Cola. I was deeply involved in this project for about eight months, and watched it grow from feverish conceptual conversations, to rudimentary proof of concept sketches and videos, to finished motion graphics pieces, interactive drawers, and even a 14-foot wide projection where I see myself as a full-body point cloud interacting with objects in virtual environments.

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Along this journey, I worked with exhibit designers, interactive game developers, graphic novelists turned actors, filmmakers, sound designers, engineers, writers, brand marketing strategists, motion graphics gurus, and historians, all under a complete secrecy lock-down.

Months of effort went into creating experiences that simply had no technical precedent in a public facility. Developers and engineers pushed the boundaries of off-the-shelf depth-sensing camera technology to bring visitors and original characters to life throughout the exhibit. In one unit, generative graphics and sound combine with physical design in a strange synesthesia where visitors turn dials to mix the perfect taste. Hidden cameras use face detection software to secretly snap visitors’ images and display them instantly in a giant security grid. These cutting-edge experiences were combined with subtler sleights of hand, such as life-size character silhouettes, peep holes, and a digital update of the classic Pepper’s Ghost illusion.

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With so much going on, we had to think big-picture about the entire exhibit, weaving the double-helixes of history and reverence, intrigue and secrecy, fact and fiction throughout. Striking these balances meant keeping guests on their toes, unsure what would happen next, and creating a sense that their very presence was the key to unlocking the secret. Like the interactive alumni center we created for the University of Oregon, The Vault of the Secret Formula at the World of Coca-Cola was an exercise in dramaturgy. In this context, I mean the conceptualization and creation of a visitor experience across multiple interactives using different technologies, each building upon the next, and working as a whole to deliver the core messages.

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Rather than designing discrete experiences which simply give visitors a quick fix of excitement, or “wow moments” with no context or story arc, Second Story carefully considered how each interactive experience served the core objective – increasing the magic and intrigue of Coca-Cola’s secret formula. We thought spatially about visitor traffic flow, how different vantage points would reveal new media in the exhibit space, and even created experiences that reward visitors with surprise content if they dwell a bit longer. As folks move through the new exhibit, the sense of intrigue builds, the design vernacular continues to unfold, and visitors become increasingly immersed and integral to the experiences themselves.

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To me, dramaturgy means you don’t just design pretty trains, you also design the tracks they run on. You build new technological experiences and great design on top of strong underlying narrative structures that give them meaning and depth beyond one cursory glance or touch. Projects like The Vault of the Secret Formula continue to challenge Second Story to bring our greatest strength to the table – envisioning interactive experiences and environmental spaces as new paradigms for great storytelling where each interactive, media-rich experience is orchestrated into a thoughtful, greater whole.

—David Waingarten, Content Ninja

If you’d like to witness this project in full, you can see details about Vault of the Secret Formula on our portfolio page. Also, here’s a demo video that shows the interactives in action…

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Second Story creates enchanting, informative, and entertaining media experiences with innovative technologies that empower connections to ideas.

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