12 October 2016
This blogpost is part of my Theory class where we have to write about contemporary topics we’re discussing during classes.

Storytelling in animation is used with many different goals in mind. For example, fairy tales can teach children certain norms and values, while documentaries can convey true live events in a slightly more objective manner. New media such as virtual reality, 360 degrees videos and programmed interactive animation (html5), provide the possibility to not only tell a story but also engage the audience. Instead of being merely a viewer, the audience becomes a participant in the story. The question I’d like to answer is: When does interaction add to animated storytelling?

From what I’ve read so far, I gather that the biggest advantage of interactive storytelling is the personal experience. By being part of the story or even influencing the outcome, ‘viewers’ become more involved and, as Marisol Grandon mentions: “…are more likely to make a connection that they will remember, in turn making the crisis more real and more important to them.” [1] In the Huffington Post she describes the benefits of using VR in journalism. I agree with how a personal connection could help you remember and even add to the importance of a story. However I don’t think interactive storytelling is necessary to make that connection to more serious topics. To create empathy you could for example (partly) animate an autobiography like Waltz with Bashir, Persepolis, Montage of Heck or Last Hijack.

Apart from bringing empathy and involvement what does interactivity add to an animated story? The possibility of ‘editing’ or exploring a story on your own also demands a new way of creating it. When describing the added value of immersive storytelling Meghan Neal says ‘Instead of plotting moments on a timeline, it builds a world for the viewer to experience on their own.’ [2] I think interactive storytelling stimulates a more active curiosity and provides the possibility to participate. The audience is not only a viewer but also the director of the story.

But how can the audience be guided through a storyline? As Sam Fragoso mentions in an article about VR storytelling: ‘The vastness of VR forces its creators to be innovative world-builders who must care about blocking as much as storytelling. Simply having a personality won’t suffice.’ [3] To guide the ‘viewer’ in an interactive story you could use triggers that demand attention, such as sound, movement or flashing lights or colors. Something that inspires curiosity in the audience and make them want to see more. Every little thing can become part of an interactive story, or as Megan Neal describes it: ‘The emotion evoked from the landscape and the characters in the world is the story.’ [4]

Summing up, interactivity has opened up a wide range of storytelling possibilities in the field of animation. By providing a more personal experience than traditional storytelling it can evoke more empathy, a clearer memory or even a better understanding of certain topics. It can also transform the role of the audience from viewer to participant or even director. I think interactive storytelling could really benefit educative purposes and help raise awareness for certain causes, but could be used just as well for documentary and fiction films. I think it’s a really interesting field that’s quickly evolving in which many possibilities are still left to discover. However I think the most important question for storytelling will remain: What is the best medium for this story?

[1] Ellis P (2016) Virtual Empathy: Does VR Have the Power to Make Us Care More?, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/philip-ellis/virtual-reality-empathy_b_9234956.html [Accessed 12 October 2016].

[2] Neal M (2016) How Traditional Storytelling Is Ruining Virtual Reality Film, http://motherboard.vice.com/en_uk/read/tribeca-film-festival-2016-virtual-reality-film [Accessed 12 October 2016].

[3] Fragoso S (2016) The Next Frontier for Virtual Reality Storytelling? Subversive Comedy and Fart Jokes, https://tribecafilm.com/stories/interview-virtual-reality-comedy-funny-or-die-paul-scheer-rob-huebel-reggie-watts [Accessed 12 October 2016].

[4] Neal M (2016) How Traditional Storytelling Is Ruining Virtual Reality Film, http://motherboard.vice.com/en_uk/read/tribeca-film-festival-2016-virtual-reality-film [Accessed 12 October 2016].