Week 7: Video Prototyping

After spending the last weeks with interviewing, photographing and visualising musical experiences we now got to the main course: in the next three weeks we have to come up with a concept for an exhibition piece to be displayed at the guitar museum. The curators of the museum will then get to pick one of  concepts to further pursue after the final presentation on November 8th.

The goal of week 7 was to come up with a first idea for the concept and communicate it through video and storytelling. Parag Deshpande was our lecturer for this week and kicked off the week with a monday morning lecture on what video prototyping is. What stood out for me was again the importance of story telling. Video prototypes can be as sketchy as you want them to be, but they have to communicate the experience of using the concept in a compelling way. I decided to try out an unusual approach: would a good story lead to a compelling experience?

Embracing the creative chaos on my desk. Having a nice cup of English breakfast tea always helps.

Embracing the creative chaos on my desk. Having a nice cup of English breakfast tea always helps.

In order to figure out what makes a story worth telling I found the book "Making a Good Script Great" by Linda Seger. Whilst obviously aimed at screenplay writers, Linda does a great job introducing the three act structure of most successful stories. Be it a quirky film like Juno, a space thriller like Gravity, a blockbuster like Die Hard or a classic comedy like Some Like It Hot or Little Miss Sunshine – they all follow the classic three act structure of setup (Act I), development (Act II) and resolution (Act III). I found this to be applicable even in very short movies. Act I introduces the viewer to the main character and their environment. The most important part of Act I is the catalyst – or the thing that triggers the story (e.g. a letter arrives, a crime occurs). The point where Act I transitions into Act II is called the first turning point. It introduces the main conflict that our protagonist faces. Act II usually follows a simple cause and effect pattern up until the second turning point, which raises the main question of the story again (e.g. "will the detective find the murderer?"). Usually a device such as the "ticking clock" pushes the story into its third act (e.g. nearly every James Bond film features a ticking clock that requires him to defuse the situation before a catastrophic incident occurs). Act III is the consequence of the developments in Act II. The story now moves towards its conclusion. If it's a thriller this is usually the situation when the guilty party is finally known, but not so easily caught.

 

Partial storyboard for the end of the prototype. The sketches here are too embarrassing to be taken seriously, but I needed to come up with something in under 30 minutes.

Partial storyboard for the end of the prototype. The sketches here are too embarrassing to be taken seriously, but I needed to come up with something in under 30 minutes.

I am not entirely sure how much of the storytelling research helped me to come up with the concept. But somehow it got me to the point of trying to come up with interesting characters and compelling catalysts. Eventually I decided to focus on deaf visitors at the guitar museum and the ultimate question of how they could enjoy the experience as well as others. I came up with a backstory as to why my protagonist was at the museum in the first place. I was also certain that most of the pieces in the museum just weren't going to be very compelling to him. However I had no idea what the concept was that would turn the museum experience from bad to good until a mere minutes before my tutoring session with Parag on tuesday evening. I remember tuesday afternoon to be rather stressful, as I felt like I had all the pieces in place but there wasn't a way to align them properly.

I had done my online research on deaf people's music experiences and found a  heartwarming piece about the National Orchestra of Wales staging special concepts for deaf children. In these they allow the children to sit amongst the instruments as professional musicians are playing them, and feel the vibrations they make. They even came up with a wooden 'SoundBox' that have heavy speakers built inside them. The speakers then vibrate the wooden surfaces with the low frequency sounds allowing the children to experience the music in a tactile way. 

 

The Bildmuseet belongs to the Umeå Design Campus and is part of Umeå University. The entrance is free and the guided tours are well worth your time.

The Bildmuseet belongs to the Umeå Design Campus and is part of Umeå University. The entrance is free and the guided tours are well worth your time.

I had also visited the Bildmuseet and the Västerbotten Museum in order to observe visitors at various exhibitions. Somehow I also remembered my last visit to the Tate Gallery of Modern Art in London and remembered how happy I was to find a place to rest my heavily blistered foot on a bench. Recalling that situation made it all come together. Why aren't there more seating opportunities at museums? And why couldn't they be used in different ways to allow deaf people to experience music as well. The idea of the 'Rock Sofa' was born.

 

I spent most of tuesday evening and night researching what people actually do on in the designated seating areas in museums. The article 'seating and sitting in the V&A: an observational study" by Tillie Baker came in most helpful there. I then came up with around two A4 pages of short story that would be the foundation of my video. I also spend around 30 minutes coming up with a very high level storyboard that I would then further explore the next day. I had a workable version of my storyboard done by Wednesday lunch and promptly asked my neighbour Jenni if she would be willing to shoot a few scenes for my video. That afternoon I shot the entire sofa scenes within 35 minutes using the equipment I had at hand. Obviously my camera had to run out of battery and storage space during filming, but luckily everything worked out. Wednesday evening was then spent on cutting that footage until I felt comfortable showing it around. Cutting continued on thursday and I also shot a few additional scenes with Jenni at the Bildmuseet next door. Being ruthless in the cutting stage proved to be the most difficult part of the process. I had to step away regularly from the material in able to see which parts I could omit without losing the core of the story.

To make the full experience come together I needed a super cut of concert footage. Fortunately, I was able to get in touch with a friend back in Switzerland who provided me with a ton of video footage for me to use. I nearly felt bad about just using less than a second of each of his films, but the effect of the quick flashing imagery works really well. I was also surprised to see how well iMovie worked for this project. I was able to get started really quickly and only after the first two days I sometimes wished to have a more powerful editing suite. But then again, it's supposed to be prototyping not high quality film.

Overall my classmates gave me really nice feedback and I felt incredibly proud of my video. I must admit that it was a little of a lucky shot, but there was a lot of work behind it as well. Also although this is officially an 'Individual Project' it's hard not to thank Jenni, Desmond and all the others for their tremendous support during this week.

My work for the next two weeks has been cut out. I'll have to refine and clarify the concept, but my goal to capture and communicate the experience of the Rock Sofa really went over well with my test audience. I'd love to hear from you what you think about the video as well!