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?
“IF THIS IS THE FUTURE, I NEVER WANT TO LEAVE” – TFIi audience member
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.”
VULNERABILITY IN TECHNOLOGY
“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.
EXTENDING THE HUMAN BODY
“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.
THE ART OF PLAY
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.
“AM I LISTENING TO YOUR THOUGHTS?” – TFIi audience member
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