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Brace Yourselves, This Post Will Be Long.

Digital Storytelling, now whats all this about?

Well it seems fairly self-explanatory, its storytelling in a digital format, so what I take from that, is that it involves some sort of narrative in the form of; games, comics, movies, animations, illustrations that are all based online. I guess it having some sort of interactivity is a plus? Not entirely sure on that point.

So for this post, I’m just going to talk about 3 different types of digital storytelling, and hopefully my rambling will be kept to a minimum.


So, this would be the ‘film/movie’ quota of what constitutes digital storytelling. In this crazy, high action (kinda) 9-episode mini series, we mainly follow the hasty movement of a mother and child, the mother, who is clearly running from people and has some sort of shady past. The medium used for this project was solely Apple iOS products, primarily being the iPhone 4, the last episode even being edited entirely on the iPad 2. We get some pretty neat footage from this, comparable to an everyday camera (not a dslr, something less prosumer), the sound quality is actually not as unbearable as I was anticipating, clearly technology is getting better and better (arguable, but in the terms of footage quality – definitely). Its also quite steady for the most part, so I assume some sort of attachment is being used, other wise it would most likely be incredibly shaky.

This story seems to be quite jumpy, at least it did to me after the first episode, where you don’t see any of the characters appear again till pretty much the 8th and 9th episode, and the introduction of  ‘SuperMom’ and her child are pretty much non-existent (this actually goes for all of the characters shown, very little to none introduction/backstory), which initially made me think it was less of a structured narrative, and more just different stories that maybe shared a character or a theme, or if the whole project was just to test out the capabilities of using a phone as a film camera. I didn’t actually make the connection that the woman who got abducted at the end of the 1st episode was the ‘SuperMom’, and to be honest, I’m still not 100% that is actually what happened, character-wise, this confused me a bit. It really wasn’t until episode 9 that things started to make sense, when the ‘police force’  *explained* what had happened/who the characters were ( I say *explained*, but really they said who ‘SuperMom’ was and who the 3 Bears were and everything just clicked).

So I was more or less wrong with my judgement, as from the 2nd episode onwards, we can see how it is a narrative. But cinematographically, I think its really quite good, filmed and framed very well.

Right, so in terms of film/movies as a digital storytelling  medium, its pretty darn successful, given that you have planned story and technical competence. You can have one, but that one element better be pretty amazing in comparison, and in this case, personally, I think the technical competence overshadows the story element, which is interesting and compelling, but not to an extent that I would proclaim this to be an amazing mini-series. It tells a story no doubt, but not a great one nor in a fantastical way.

  Bear 71

This appears to be some sort of interactive documentary? I actually have very little idea, just because the layout of the website initally is misleading. It plays a 2 minute long video of a bear being trapped, tranquilized and then tagged. The narration is from the perspective of Bear #71.

After the video, everything changes, to some wibbling and changing geographical map, that appears to track the movement of bears, other animals, and me? Using your mouse, you can move around, and if you locate a tagged animal, and click on it, you are given a popup window that has camera (is it live?) footage of that certain animal, I for instanced, watched Big Horn Sheep walk around and smell the camera, then suddenly get chased by a moose I think. If you mouse over the video, it provides statistics of the animal in frame, which is pretty neat. Here is an example :

Every now and then, the footage of the bear and its location will come back, with the constant narration of ‘Bear #71’. The ‘narrative’ is like a conscious stream of the bear’s experience as though it was human (because a bear has a conscious idea of what being in an SUV all summer is like, or what Facebook is) and I found it really very engaging, the way the narration was written was very casual and informal, like a conversation or, really, more like a diary entry. It gets a bit distressing, in terms of tone and content, towards the end, but this was pretty freaking awesome.

Im not sure under what category of digital storytelling this comes under, so I’m just going to call it what it calls itself, an interactive documentary, and I think this is very very cool and effective in terms of telling a certain kind of story. The interactivity element adds a hint of hypertextuality to it, and I’m not sure as how to compare it, in terms of actual storytelling, as I have never really come across anything like this before.

It seems like a significant development for a method of storytelling, but I’m not entirely sure in what way to approach it, being the only one I’ve ever come across, I don’t think it would be all that great if something like this becomes mainstream as a form of storytelling, whilst it interrupts itself with relevant information, the fact that it constantly interrupts itself seems somewhat irritating, at least it does to me.

The Meek

This is an online comic by one of my favourite artists, Der-Shing Helmer, and revolves around a young girl, raised in the forest by spirits and an assortment of mythic beings, and how she develops a relationship with a young logger/explorer, but that is just the first chapter, there are 3 complete ones so far, the second of which focuses on entirely new characters, and a 4th that is under way (sadly, updates seemed to have stopped around February this year, the artist has had some personal issues) so the narrative isn’t complete thus far.

However, as a format of digital storytelling, I think it ties with film/movies as my favourite, mainly because art is something that I have pursued for the majority of my life and more and more online narrative comics (so not ones like Cyanide &  Happiness – which is utterly amazing in its own way) that are begun by artists have a greater emphasis on art. Obviously though, it has the same issues that I mentioned with film/video, the balance between a killer narrative and technical skills, the technical skills in comics being the ability to illustrate (I would include things like understanding anatomy, perspective, colour, composition and the like) well enough that it enhances the narrative rather than distracts from it. Here I think it is more important to have greater control over technical elements rather than in film because you have the opportunity to take the comic at your own pace which means you can spend longer amounts of time looking at it, rather than in a film which carries you along on a predetermined pace. Of course, this could just be the illustration fanatic in me, as I spend longer looking at the drawings rather than taking in the narrative, but nonetheless, comics are still very appealing as a medium of digital storytelling.


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