The Future of Storytelling. AI, XR, Holodeck…

by paradoxig

Immersive productions are more and more in every major festival, in different galleries, museums and other LBEs. In baby steps, XR creators come up with new ideas to tell stories, while tools for creation are more diverse and available.

As storytelling in XR is quite different, the questions are:
>What are the main visions on how-to-be-done and where is evolving?
->Will the Storyteller be in control of the story and tell their visions or will the user have agency be able to transform and construct stories and worlds?
->Will we finally have the Holodeck – as presented in Star Trek, that fabulous immersive words with AI agents?
->Will indeed the future be some sort of Theme Park as in Westworld?

These were some of the questions discussed at View Conference 2022, in a panel moderated by Jan-Bart Van Beek (Studio Director & Studio Art & Animation Director, Guerrilla Games) with guests: Paul Debevec (Director of Research, Netflix), Jay Worth (VFX Supervisor, Westworld, HBO), Nikola Damjanov (Lead Game Artist, Nordeus), Nick Ladd (Animator, Studio Syro), Dan Franke (VR Film Director, Co-Founder, Studio Syro), Scot Stafford (Composer, Lost Ollie, Netflix, co-founder Pollen Music group)

TechvangArt selected a few points of view about Future of Storytelling. If you are curious to watch the entire debate, Tickets for View Conference 2022 On-Demand edition are available!

Scot Stafford: The mechanics of experiences is interesting – the audience might feel like a passive viewer, but most interactions can be unconscious – users care about getting what they like. So, it is an interesting mixture of active and passive experiences.

Paul Debevec: Stories are fundamentally in the past, “Once upon a time…” establishes that the story has already happened. From this point of view, it is a trick to create an interactive story, where you significantly affect the outcomes, because now you bring that story into the present. Video Games solve this in a hybrid way – users get some stories, but also actions to take. In films there are frames, in immersive experiences, users have the chance to see the entire environment, but can still pay attention to the narrative.

Jay Worth: Some people find immersive experiences fascinating because they can experience it with other people and even interact on their own. For storytellers, it is important to control the storytellers, in immersive experiences, you can still make it interactive and immersive, while still having the storyteller involved. This is where the interesting balance is, not swinging in one way or another of not getting rid of the storyteller, and not getting rid of the fact that there is still a direction – even if it is in the future.

Nikola Damjanov: Things get really immersive, when you can change the outcome, or when there are different levels. Gaming is interesting because it makes users feel that they are actively participating. Find a way to give room to the viewers to affect the story or the direction, for example by making their own choices.

Dan Franke: Immersing the viewer is hard, when content is just consumed on the phone, it is not the way to watch content… It is tricky to get people to go to the cinema and sit down for 2 hours, and feel immersed. With games and VR stories, it is easier if they put on the headsets and make them be immersed. We are doing stories that are not necessarily interactive, but immerse the viewers in worlds that are filled with details, and as such engage with the viewers.

Nick Ladd: When you give too much agency and interactivity to the user, it might dilute the story that the filmmakers are trying to tell. If you give too many choices of how the film might end, you might lose the original meaning of that piece. It can be distracting when some things are interactive and some are not. Mostly, the pieces we are trying to create a vision from the beginning to the end, and immersing the viewer in the story can make them more connected to the story.

Scot Stafford: There are still no rules about this. But, I think there are two paths: one in which you are engaged and active and determining the outcome, and one, in which you have a more emotional experience. I feel it is either-or.

Paul Debevec: It takes a real craft to create a story. Something about storycraft – when something happens it has to be both surprising and inevitable. There are some great storytellers, but not everyone is a great storyteller. But, having tools to let people to do it in a medium that they want, is valuable

Jay Worth: There is a broader canvas. There are so many more opportunities for different types of storytellers and different types of viewers. And there can be two different versions of the same content, you can do it twice and have two totally different experiences if that flexibility is built into it.

Nikola Damjanov: I would need to understand first where I am, and I would prefer more to find my place within the bigger Story, then to have completely my own personal story.

Dan Franke: There has to be a balance between letting the user look around and as a director guiding that experience. In linear stories, directors have to build in that time of the pacing, to give viewers the time to absorb, to move them to a new scene, let them absorb and then again have a story moment.

Nick Ladd: Some VR films can become 2D scenes, but I think what is interesting is those VR films that cannot be told as 2D. One VR interactive piece that I liked is the Invisible Hours..there are 8 characters that are trying to solve the murder-mystery ,and you can choose whom you want to follow, and see the story from different perspectives.

When it comes to the future…. Imaginations have no limits 🙂 But, it seems that visions such as the Holodeck or AI interactive characters in immersive worlds will come sooner than later.

Dan Franke considered that there is a new generation that is prepared for transmedia experience – some parts of the story can be 2D, others more immersive, others present in LBEs.

Nick Ladd sees the future where AI is playing an important role, where users can just type a text or go to a next level, and AI will be able to generate virtual worlds, where images are generated one after the other.

Jan-Bart Van Beek sees these are similar to the concept of Holodeck from Star Trek , where you can be put into the middle of a story, and users will be able to walk into that space with interactive characters.

In the same line, Nikola Damjanov said that if we are asked how far away are we from Westworld, we are not that far away, it is a matter of fidelity- there are already multiplayers games with very much shared narrative experience.

Paul Debevec also considered that we will have more interactivity in the future. And soon, technology will be able to generate something that looks like a human, that will react in some way or talk to users. As such Conversational agents will be in a very different place soon. He added that users will have the chance to create experiences that can be pre-loaded with worlds and characters that have backstories.

Dan Franke also sees that in the future, as tool-sets become more and more available, there will be more user-generated content, players building stories and worlds.

About VIEW
VIEW Conference and VIEWFest is the premiere international event in Italy on Computer Graphics, Interactive Techniques, Digital Cinema, 2D/3D Animation, VR and AR, Gaming and VFX. VIEW will continue to focus on exploring the increasingly fluid boundary between real and digital worlds. Through lectures, meetings, tributes, exhibits, screenings and demo presentations VIEW will reveal the new digital frontier sweeping from cinema to architecture, from automotive design to advertisement, from medicine to videogames.

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