Thursday, 26 February 2015

When multimedia was multimedia

Rockford's Rock Opera, an audio book with a comprehensive multimedia interface. The story in itself is a fable come ethical parable on the effects of extinction told through an imaginary creature who is the last of its kind.

Rockford's Rock Opera is Media Rich in that it makes use of graphics, audio, and motion to take us on a fantastical journey. In its day it would have perhaps heralded in the advent of a new form of cinema. But did it? An immersive storyline set to an interface. That was the prediction academics and film committees were buzzing about the trends with, but where is this stream of 'new cinema'? When television can still triumph with series like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad. What tour de force of experience can a 'multimedia, multi experience narrative platform' offer the mainstream of contemporary audiences?

Why have I chosen Rockford's Rock Opera? Well, it's an early example of a 'complete' narrative package. Just because its market is young children doesn't signify anything lesser than say, the terrible film Frozen. The story begins with the boy at the museum asking his mother about the existence of dinosaurs and how they became extinct. The context of the story is already established by this brief grab in a historical real context but we are soon swept away by the character of Rockford the cheery dog who is given the opportunity to go for a walk in the park with the boy and his Uncle.

This seemingly everyday activity is what sets us up for the mythic fiction come juvenile fantasy that lies behind the simple act of Rockford taking a poo next to a tree. Certain tension mounts (suspense) have already been established, the letting loose of Rockford from his leash, his disappearance, the blue bag dangling from the tree branch ... all these are red herrings for what is really going to surprise us, and that is the small furry sticky creature nicknamed Ick that suddenly appears stuck to Rockford's bottom.

Rockford and the Ick are then carried away on a Lilly shaped like a small sailing boat into the sea of tranquility. All along the way we experience suspense, this suspense is mounted in several ways according to the premise that suspense only works when the viewer knows more then the character. Using music and the graphics showing encounters with creatures and situations we are are given signs to help us identify the possible predicament of Rockford and Ick to come, it is only when the actual narration tells us the outcome that we can then have that convention of suspense broken with surprise, and in this story usually the opposite effect taking place. For instance, the Squid Squad are a force to be reckoned with but we then find out they can't leave the water so Rockford and the Ick are completely safe.

Surprise and Tension are important narrative constructs that work together in harmony to make your media document re-readable, that is, able to be viewed again and again not necessarily with the same outcome but always a similar pleasure of the effect that was first produced. But do we actually do this when encountering multimedia of such design? Or do we watch it in a traditional narrative way with the least of the trimmings to interrupt our viewing experience?

The interface of the story is set up using several interactive tools, the first being the obvious Object Interactivity where we are able to click on various buttons in order to either jump to the next chapter, play a motion animation, pause the audio, enlarge a graphic. The next form used is Linear Interactivity (Reactive Pacing) where we can flip from chapter to chapter to follow the story along its course. Finally we have Support Interactivity where through the chapter lists and various text appearing on the screen we are given instruction on what we can do and what is to be expected in the media.

Let us isolate a few scenes from the story in order to grasp some of the conventions used to tell it. In one scene we experience a short animation about the history of the near extinction of the creature known as Ick. This story is told through the use of a a pop up book that turns its pages and opens a scene at first like a cut out pop-up and then transforms three dimensionally to an actual motion scene. This is a sort of allusion towards reading a traditional story using the paper book form. This is constitutive intertextuality, that is where one media (Digital Animation) references another media (Paper Pop-Up Book) which in this case reverts backs to the animated digital style of story telling to play out the scene.

Another convention is the use of the word "Infinity" for the Island of extinct creatures. Using this naming convention the narrative allows for endless possibilities and it also represents the ultimate obstacle in a character's journey when in this case Rockford is not an endangered species and therefore does not fit the description of a creature that is to be lost forever from our reality. How does one escape infinity? Of course following the story a bit further we see that in order for Rockford to escape, he needs to be rescued.

Finally the way that infinity is described is by sound. The sound of infinity. Using this convention different senses are brought into the narrative in order to express an idea. In class we did the exercise of what sound the colour red would make, what fear looks like, and finally me making a silly noise and asking for it to be put into a sentence. This is not mere description, this is using a mimesis as stimulus in order to engage the recipient.

Can these elements be brought together in future media experiences online? I wonder if we are too linear in our own scope of being able to enjoy this kind of material, or this kind of media now the domain of a future generation? Some future generation who might see the future of it. Yet, younger folk are instead living a multimedia life anyway, they are watching episodes of Doctor Who on their laptops whilst commenting about it on Google Plus, and liking their friends FaceBook status updates, as they send back and forth texts to friends, ignoring their parents calling them down for tea.

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