The BBC’s tech program “Click” interviewed Kat Cizek about her new interactive documentary, One Millionth Tower, and how she used open source technologies like WebGL and Mozilla Popcorn to make it unique. (Listen to the MP3 or OGG version.)
Showcasing open source through high-profile productions
It’s inspiring to see media like the BBC make the connection between new open source technologies and the new forms of storytelling they open up. The interview begins with the example of how high-profile productions like Toy Story and Avatar changed the culture and market of film by showing what new computer-generated imagery could do.
In the same way, productions like One Millionth Tower can showcase the birth of new “web-native” storytelling, built using the open web as its canvas.
This is exactly the theory of change Mozilla Popcorn began with when it started two years ago: showcase the power of open through high-profile productions that make other filmmakers take notice and say: “I want that!”
As guest Bill Thompson put it:
As someone familiar with the patterns of linear storytelling that you see in most documentary films, it’s great to see somebody breaking away from all those conventions and doing something for the first time that a lot of other filmmakers are going to look at and think: ‘we want to start telling stories in this way.’
Just as early web pages broke away from the linear news narrative in news stories, this is breaking away from the linear storytelling narrative in documentary film.
Today is a big day for Mozilla and web video. Popcorn, Mozilla’s new HTML5 media toolkit, just launched version 1.0. And the National Film Board of Canada’s “One Millionth Tower” project, a unique Popcorn-powered web documentary, makes its world premiere this weekend at the Mozilla Festival in London and online at Wired.com.
The future of web video
The result is a new form of cinema that lives and breathes like the web itself: interactive, social, and rich with real-time context and possibilities that continue to evolve long after filming wraps.
The world’s first open source 3D documentary
Director Kat Cizek used Popcorn and other open source tools like WebGL to create One Millionth Tower, the latest installment in the NFB’s Emmy award-winning Highrise series. One Millionth Tower brings residents from a dilapidated Toronto apartment complex together with architects, designers and artists, working together to imagine how they can revitalize their homes and make their world better.
The film then uses the magic of animators, web developers and Popcorn to bring these ideas to life through a multi-layered, three-dimensional landscape that runs directly in the web browser.
Popcorn made it possible for the filmmakers to control a 3D environment in WebGL, and then augment it with real time information pulled from Wikipedia, Yahoo’s Weather API, Flickr and Google Maps. The result is a unique viewing experience customized in the browser for each viewer. When it’s raining in Toronto, for example, it starts raining in the virtual world of One Millionth Tower as well.
Opening new possibilities for filmmakers
Cizek says Popcorn helped to push her project beyond the confines of a traditional documentary film. “We wanted to marry the storytelling magic of cinema with the participatory, interactive and networked power of the web,” she says. “It’s a fusion of collaboration, media and art-forms — all coming together through the web.”
Cizek sees a connection between the values of open source and public institutions like the NFB. “Life and art are a lot more fun when we share and build on each others’ ideas. That’s the philosophy behind open source, and it’s really the original philosophy behind the web as whole.”
A new genre of “web-native movies”
Mozilla Popcorn team lead Brett Gaylor, who also directed the NFB documentary RIP: A Remix Manifesto, sees One Millionth Tower as part of a larger trend: a new genre of “web-native” filmmaking.
“This is the moment where web video grows up as an artistic medium,” Gaylor says. “In the same way that earlier film pioneers experimented with new techniques like montage, we’re now seeing ‘web-made movies’ that pull in real time information from the web.”
From “living documentaries” to enriched news and semantic sports
Those experiments include other high-profile productions as well. The Independent Television Service (ITVS) recently paired documentary producers with Popcorn developers to produce the “living docs” series, turning award-winning films into dynamic online experiences. And Steve James, the acclaimed director of Hoop Dreams, recently used Popcorn to augment his new film with photos, news clips and neighborhood maps.
Popcorn has broader applications as well. Semantic video pioneer RAMP is using Popcorn for The People’s Choice Awards. PBS Newshour used it to annotate President Obama’s 2011 State of The Union Address, and the French and German broadcaster Arte has used Popcorn to enhance current affairs programming.
Sports broadcasters are also interested in using Popcorn to weave players’ and teams’ stats and social media into their broadcasts.
What’s next for Popcorn?
As Wired put it, Popcorn “could be the next big thing in internet video.” Coders, filmmakers and journalists are exploring its potential in hackfests and learning labs at this weekend’s Mozilla Festival. Take a guided tour or get more involved at mozillapopcorn.org.
Meet Nico and his amazing Octocopter, a remote-controlled flying drone with a video camera attached. Nico and his new start-up, Bugeye Films, are using this technology to capture amazing video footage impossible to get any other way.
The camera can hover over your shoulder one minute — then soar fifty feet above you the next. Here it is in action over the jungle, ocean and waterfalls of St. Lucia. There’s other demos here, here and here.
“Working without the confines of gravity let’s us take the lens (and the viewer) where a jib arm or crane simply can’t.” —Bugeye Films
Octocopter + Mozilla Popcorn = win
Nico and his business partner Chris are in London at the Mozilla Festival, exploring the potential of adding Popcorn, Mozilla’s new HTML5 media toolkit, to their flying films.
We think it’s a natural fit. Popcorn is tailor-made for telling dynamic stories about people and places. And flying footage seems well suited for metadata, given its more ambient, “lean back” feel than traditional interviews or video narratives — where pop-ups and metadata can seem distracting or overwhelm the viewer with too much information.
Capturing GPS and other metadata as it flies
The copter is also able to record metadata as it flies, including GPS data, altitude, temperature, air pressure, power usage, etc — all of which could be pulled in with Popcorn.
Bugeye is currently using 5D and Gopro cameras. Attaching 180 or 360-degree camera would open up the possibility of rotating your point of view during playback in the web browser, creating a “turning your head left or right” feeling. Or even the sensation of piloting or flying yourself.
Making web sites that fly
Imagine a web site for the Mozilla Festival that zooms out and hovers outside the building when you click “about.” Then rockets in through an open window and spirals to the fifth floor media booth when you click on “news.” Popcorn plus the octocopter could spawn a whole new digital genre: web sites that fly.
Telling unique stories about places and ecosystems
Nico just returned from Kenya, where he used the octocopter to capture footage of a wilderness resort. He’s also been approached by real estate developers (“show me what the view from the 30th floor window will look like after the building is constructed”), golf course owners (virtually fly over the 18th hole) and parks.
Imagine virtually flying over your camp site or canoeing expedition route before you leave — with useful metadata woven into the experience. What’s the name of that river? What fish swim in it? When does fishing season start? Is that a good place to camp? The possibilities are endless.
Our challenge: add Popcorn to this London video
With some kind assistance from Film London and the City of London Parks Department, Chris and Nico captured this flying footage in Twickenham yesterday. Their challenge to you: help add some Popcorn magic to it. Weave in metadata about the location and landmarks. Add Twitter, Wikipedia or Google maps data. Or whatever spins your rotor.