Since Intel’s “Museum of Me” used Facebook’s API to amass a user’s online assets into a giant shrine to self, interactive sites that pull data from Facebook profiles to create a personalized experience have become rather familiar. Still, as social storytelling continues to mature, each new experience brings with it more refined integration. With the interactive video for “White Doves” from Toronto indie band Young Empires, director Miles Jay and digital studio Jam3 created an experience that integrates users’ Facebook content into the video’s narrative in a particularly seamless and thoughtful way.
Using the strong emotive reaction he had to “Museum of Me” as inspiration, Jay says he wanted to explore telling a story with Facebook photos rather than simply displaying content. “I was amazed at how emotionally powerful ‘Museum of Me’ was, and there was no story,” says Jay. “So I wanted to come up with a concept that wrapped a narrative around inspiring the user based on their own memories. It’s like if your house is burning what’s the most important thing that you save–it’s your photos.”
From there the concept for “White Doves” was born. After logging into the video with Facebook Connect and selecting your best FB friend, viewers meet a young man toiling away in a dystopian factory, shoveling photos into an industrial inferno. In this fire you first see photos of you and your friend falling into the flames. Seemingly, touched by an image of you and your bestie that he picks up and turns over, the young dude pitches his shovel to the ground, and in an act of defiance gets the hell out of there. When the big boss sees this, he sets aflame a trail that chases the man, and a conveniently cute girl out on the train tracks who’s collecting tossed away memories, until they find respite in a secret bunker, decked out with all of your photos. Rain finally douses the flames, saving your precious memories in the process.
It all seems rather straightforward, except for how well the images are embedded within the scenes. Fire is, at the best of times, a challenge to create with visual effects, and the ways in which the images float, turn, and burn show the evolution of integrating external data into an emotionally rich story.
“All of the other Facebook Connect things I’ve seen have looked very tacked on. I thought it was very important to make these photos feel tangible,” says Jay, who created the video through production company OPC/Family Style and Vision Film Co. with visual effects from 567vfx. “I wanted a person to flip the photo, I wanted the guy to touch a photo, I wanted them to fall, I wanted to see fire burning in front of the photos. I didn’t want them to feel like they were painted on to the image, because that’s how I feel it’s been done in the past.”
Jay says that alpha holes were created in the Flash programming so that the Facebook photos would play underneath the Flash media layer. Then, another layer acts as a filter that goes over the top. This, he says, allowed them to create the various different effects and coloring that so neatly incorporated random images into the story. So well embedded are the photos that Jay admits the video is best experienced by those 15 to 30: “I’ve had a few people say it was creepy watching photos of their kids burning in the flames.”
If you’re thinking this video is reminiscent of “Take This Lollipop”, the award-winning creep-out from director Jason Zada, you’re not alone. Jay says initial talks with the band’s label started last summer, but things took a while to come together. Then, in October, came “Take This Lollipop.” “I was like, ‘NO!’ says Jay. “We’d just got our initial source of funding in October. I still think that’s a different kind of video. With this one, I wanted it be fun and have people walk away from this and feel good about their own lives and memories.”
This being the second interactive project in the last month to Jay’s credit–the first being Carly’s Café, an interactive site that takes you into the world of a girl with autism–he’s developed an interesting perspective on how emotionally different projects powered by similar technology can be.
“Carly’s Café is what I call a lean-forward experience–you’re interacting and changing the angles, being in someone’s head. But with that one, your analytical brain is working. You’re thinking, what am I doing and realizing you can’t control it,” he says. “With social media, it’s more of a lean-back experience. Your emotional brain is working so you’re feeling it, you’re not really thinking about ‘how is my photo in there?’ It’s a suspension of disbelief and more of an emotive experience. The more tailored the experience to the viewer, the richer the experience will be. I think it’s really exciting, where the technology is going. And I think the social media interactive ones are really special.”
View the non-interactive version of the video here: