There is some history behind the fact we call movies “motion pictures“. When technology progressed to the point that movies were possible, we attempted to simply transpose still photography artistic skills onto the new medium. After all, photography had an approximately 70 year period to perfect the skills and practices, so what worked for still photography was strongly ingrained into the mindsets of practitioners of this new medium. It took many years to progress from simply recording still life to the realization that motion could be captured across multiple shots and scenes. As the new art form matured it gave rise to technology improvements such as a rotating camera mount to do pan shots. Audio would be added to motion pictures in the 1920s. In short, we realized film to be its own art form, complete not just with different technology but also new skills and practices that were unique to film.
Flash forward to the past decade. With the emergence of smartphones, Internet ubiquity, and the second-coming (or third) of Virtual Reality, we have seen at many attempts to exploit these new technologies to tell stories. Stories that for the most part, built upon the linear and carefully crafted notions found in motion picture industry. Sound familiar? It should. Just like motion films were defined originally by concepts for the still photography world, our current crop of Internet and smartphone-based entertainment has been limited to simply showing movies in different form factors with increasing resolution. But fundamentally we are still just watching movies.
But things are changing! Slowly we are seeing some innovation in yet-to-be-defined new mediums of storytelling that can will take advantage of our technology in exciting new ways. Take for instance, Google Spotlight Stories.
Spotlight Stories are (for now) short movies that play on your smartphone. Nothing new…yet. But unlike your run-of-the-mill Netflix and YouTube video, Spotlight Stories lets you become the director and move anywhere around the scene, full 360-degree freedom of motion. This allows you to pick your own shots and show what you are interested in seeing. That means you could watch the same movie 50 times and see it from a different angle every time. It also means two people can watch the same movie and have totally different experiences. Sorta like life in general, right? We can all witness the same event, yet from different angles, what we see can vary greatly. Without going to meta, this is pretty darn cool. Think of the replay value of movies! I recently experienced “Help” from director Justin Lin and “buggy night” from Mark Oftedal. The former being a more adult oriented, alien crash in a big city movie. The latter being a more kid friendly romp in the backyard searching for bugs at night. I highlight these two because they offered two different experiences. “Help” was a sort of like a “FPS on rails” movie. For the uninitiated into the world of video games, a game that is “on rails” means that the player can turn their head and aim, but they have no real control of the movement of their character. Think of the difference between a train (on rails) and truck (decidedly not on rails). The Justin Lin movie carried the fewer along from scene to scene, but the fewer could control which direction they were seeing. Contrast this with “buggy night” where the movie did not move along until the viewer turned their attention to various objects on screen. For example, the movie did not progress until I gazed upward to find an owl in a tree. Once I did, a new set of bugs came crawling onto my screen for me to discover. In short, this movie was more interactive.
Each were exhilarating in their own way, “Help” having a much more traditional summer Blockbuster feel while “buggy night” was something unique, a sort of “choose-your-own-adventure” for movies. Now, with that said, the cat and mouse game between art and technology will have to continue. “Help” clocked in at a 500MB download and ate a chunk of battery life to give only a few minutes of entertainment. No doubt, my iPhone 13S will need a few TBs of storage.
What will be interesting to see is coupling Google Spotlight Stories with their Google Cardboard 3D initiative. In fact, I just picked up my $10 Google Cardboard headset off of eBay and have been using to take Google StreetView excursions around the world and have played a few 3D shooter and space exploration games. It works mind-boggling well given the fact that it use a free app, on a phone I already own, with a cheap $10 piece of hardware that you could actually make yourself if you were so inclined using nothing more than cardboard.
So there you have it. For at most $10, you can experience the nascent future of entertainment. No doubt we still have a lot of learning to do (and unlearning) as we transition from the traditional motion picture entertainment that has dominated for over 100 years to whatever it is that is coming next!