Interview: Digital Storytelling

Thursday 11 May 2017

Wouter, what is your story?

I’m a computer scientist by background who followed a course on arts, media and technology at the Art Academy. There I specialised in music technology and started building interactive installations. A colleague of mine (now my business partner) already worked with Dutch science museums (e.g Naturalis, the Natural History Museum in Leiden) and after his graduation he got a big assignment for which he asked for my help. After such great collaboration we decided to continue to work together. Our company’s mission is to explore the boundaries of technology combined with creativity. We now develop multimedia, games, mobile apps and virtual reality applications for science centres.

Which storytelling projects using digital technologies have you been involved in?

A cool example of a collaborative project we’ve recently been involved in is now live at the Natural History Museum of Tilburg. It’s a multimedia exhibition called “Bos” (which means “forest” in Dutch) and it has a very remarkable feature: the exhibition changes with the seasons! Content, lights, projections, all changed with the arrival of the winter and will change again when spring comes. The story is about a tree who has always lived indoors but who wishes to know the forest and learn about the outside world. Young children, aged 4 to 8, have a mission: help the tree grow and get ready for a life in the forest.

Helping the tree to grow

We use a mix of gamification, interactive projections and physical activities to teach kids about nature. Children help the tree by completing a series of assignments and with each assignment they get a reward: a bird, a spider, a leaf… which are placed in a virtual representation of a branch that children then give to the tree to help it grow. This exhibition has many layers of interaction, a big deal of gamification, and above all: it tells a story.

How do you even start planning such project? Can you do it on a tight budget?

It all starts with a concept and a lot of brainstorming. We need to get the content right but also determine the different types of applications that will make this narrative a fun digital and physical experience. Transmedia was the key element for “Bos” to create a flexible immersive space that would appeal to a young audience. We made storyboards and schematic diagrams and got started on the design, animation, prototypes, etc. The project took about 9 months to be concluded, and will take us a bit of work each time the season changes!

Springtime!

Another way to use transmedia in the museum/science centre is through an app, which can bring extra stories to complement the visitors’ experience of the exhibition. An app can engage visitors before they arrive at the museum and can be a very nice tool on location, reacting to the user’s environment. In my opinion it can enhance the experience even more when the environment also reacts to the app!

Creating a transmedia story isn’t as expensive as you’d first think. A big part of the project is to develop an engaging story and museums are already very skilled in content creation.

What would be your advice to anyone wanting to tell a story across digital media?

Start from the core of your story, from the experience you want the visitor to live, and your learning goals. Only then choose your media. Many people want to do something with a new technology like virtual reality and try to find content to pair it with. In my opinion, this doesn’t work. Your goals and story come first and then you find the right media to express them.