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The Future Of Storytelling Reimagines Cinema and Video Games as One Experience

Simultaneously control flying jellyfish and a whale from your tablet.

Consider a future wherein cinematic experiences are participatory and where audiences would interact with narratives as if they were concurrently films and video games. Enter: "Leviathan," an experimental leap forward in cinematic technique. In collaboration with Intel Labs, the USC School of Cinematic Arts World Building Media Lab launched  "Leviathan."

As the audience used Intel Ultrabooks and tablets to simultaneously control flying jellyfish creatures that swam alongside the eponymous augmented reality behemoth, Leviathan soared off the screen and into the crowd, yielding an as-of-yet unparalleled mixture of film and gaming experience. "Immersive storytelling" doesn't even begin to describe it. The project integrated both the physical and digital universes by using a multimedia platform.


Audience watching "Leviathan" at the CES Intel Keynote Speech

"Leviathan" was inspired by author Scott Westerfeld's steampunk series of the same name, which re-imagines World War I with mechanized war machines and genetically-enhanced creature-based combat. The topic was a perfect springboard for real life tech-enhancement, and thus Intel Labs "challenged" USC's World Building Media Lab to reimagine the text and to augment its storytelling with new technologies (which included virtual reality helmets, sensor fusion, and the latest in motion tracking tech) to turn an imagination into a narrative tour de force.

"The Leviathan project is really about a collision of technology," says Westerfeld. Students from USC's filmmaking program were induced into multimedia cross-pollination by being paired with students from the school's game development department.

"Film is based on tremendous visual control, and games are about participation and total freedom of the audience," notes Tawny Schlieski of Intel Labs. By combining two distinct types of thinkers, the project became its own behemoth with an explorable, interactive narrative. It's a present-day dive into ways in which we can deepen the stories of the future.

"We evolved film from a linear narrative, a script based storytelling process, into something that looked much more like a world," said Alex McDowell, the director of the World Building Media Lab. Not only did the students add side characters, the jellyfish-like "Huxleys," to Westerfeld's story, but they turned the creatures into amalgamations of cinematic characters and video game avatars. The creatures could be induced via tablet to follow the massive whale as it floated beyond the screen. Similarly, as the choice of venue hints at, the virtual environments in this project were more than just entertainment pieces to gaze over; the work was navigable, explorable, and fully engrossing.


"Leviathan" points towards a future in which video games and cinema are fused in order to create new experiences. And while the integrated world of "Leviathan" is impressive in its own right, it also illustrates that folkloric practices will continue to be revolutionized in the near future. "It's really a space that you can hardly guess where those stories and where those experiences are gonna take us," says McDowell." "We're really moving rapidly into a new narrative space."

Above, images of the titular "Leviathan" evolving from sketches to a 3D colossal beast.

To learn more about Leviathan click here.

This article was originally published on April 9, 2014.