Five tips for starting out in a career in immersive storytelling
Updated: Sep 9
If you love history and the stories that make the place you live special and you want to share them, where do you start?
360 imaging captures a space, a very large one, but every space can tell a story. Ultimately we are using this approach to imaging to create an experience and an experience that immerses the audience in the story.
Siwa has extraordinary stories to tell. Which one will you tell?
What makes it possible to capture more places than ever, be they remote, or needing to be captured on a very limited budget or time window, are the new compact 360 cameras which are opening up a whole new world both for creators and for those interested in experiencing stories in a whole new way.
Immersive storytelling is being used in theatres, gaming, documentaries, advertising and journalism, along with many other more technical fields from healthcare to surveying.
What makes it so compelling? The immersive approach gives people the feeling of really ‘being there’. It's this experience that is so much more important to focus on rather than the more technical descriptions of 3D, virtual, augmented reality or even mixed reality.
So how would you describe the experience you would like to share? That sense of discovery, or exploration and then understanding. The colours and sounds of the experience.
We must not let technology be a barrier to experimenting with this medium and a distraction from the possibility of creating real empathy with the audience and telling a story which is more entertaining and sometimes more hard-hitting, as we saw in the example of Lyfta Immersive learning.
Another example is the ‘Great Green Wall’ story.
This was a visionary project to stop the Sahara encroaching into the savannah grasslands by planting a wall of trees spanning 8000 km across central Africa. The UN wanted to create a VR film that would showcase the ambitious scheme to world leaders and ultimately raise funds for the project during the COP21 Climate change event in Paris in January 2016.
The aim was simple: Transport world leaders to the frontline of the issue in Senegal, creating a compelling and positive story about the communities coming together along the wall.
Surround Vision worked with the local Senegalese communities to pull together a breathtaking documentary over 2 weeks, shooting drones, zip wires and gyro stabilised shots to create a beautiful portrait of the situation told through the young girl and her family helping to do their bit to change the world for the better. Watch the video as to how it was made https://youtu.be/biT6ER2H5fk
And the result? After that global climate summit where Surround Vision’s film premiered to world leaders and heads of international development agencies, 4 billion (USD) was subsequently pledged to advancing the Great Green Wall – an African led initiative which aims to transform millions of lives by growing an 8000km natural wonder of the world across the entire width of Africa.
Another example is that of Lyfta who have created an immersive learning platform where teachers can easily build or curate powerful, interactive and curriculum-aligned lessons that bring learning to life.
Lyfta offers a series of immersive learning environments called storyworlds, where students can explore real life human stories through stunning 360° environments, high quality films and digital content.
The interactivity and immersive nature of the content, the powerful human stories, and the carefully designed tasks and activities, combine to create truly unique, compelling and impactful learning experiences.
Lyfta’s approach was to find the best documentary makers in the world and unleash their imaginations, technical skills and tools to transform education. Lyfta have focussed on a small number of experiences in different regions, illustrating different themes. The approach is too costly and time consuming for to cover more than a fraction of the extraordinary stories out there. How might these stories be documented communities themselves? How might a young person follow in their footsteps? What are the essential skills they need? How much can be done with a simple smart phone?
The longest journeys always start with a single step and in storytelling, be it oral, by paper, or video, it often starts with trial and error, with experimentation and learning from others.
This is the story of four individuals who have found both their voice and their career doing the thing they love - these all starting telling their stories through film and media at a young age.
A young high school student from Skopje, Macedonia, who was good at writing screen plays - fast forward 15 years now one of the Balkans best Directors and scriptwriters with award winning credits to her name
A young man from a rural village in Northern Macedonia. After picking up a camera on a youth programme realised he was good at it - now 15 years later a senior technical advisor for Disney Cruise Liners
At 16 she joined a youth programme and realised she could pull interesting stories from others, so she changed her chemistry degree to film and media studies and fast forward 5 years is now teaching media to students at Lancaster University.
After finishing university James developed his portfolio working on a number of international documentaries around inclusion and disability and now runs one of Manchester tops film production houses.
All of these young people started their careers working with a CILL collaboration which challenged them and supported them in different ways.
So where might you start if you are interested in the field of immersive storytelling.
Don't worry about technical ability or equipment, decide on the story you really want to share?
Focus on the human element of the places and stories of individuals living there, that would be forgotten if not captured.
Find friends with different skills and perspectives that you can work with
There are many sites around us that are not given the proper attention they need, so its always best to start with those, if you decide to focus on a popular site you have to make your content very unique.
Use mixed media (ambient sound, photos and video) to combine with visuals to create the experience you want.
CILL working with 4DHeritage are running courses on immersive storytelling where participants can learn about how to get started in creating an immersive experience, working collaboratively to build on the creative, technical skills of your team with the result being a short immersive project about their local heritage. One example is the Ateeq mosque in the Siwa Oasis, Egypt.
This is as much about understanding the process yourself as it is learning to build on the diversity of skills and insights of those that you will be working with, in order to celebrate and share a story associated with their community, country, history and identity.
It is often the first step on an exciting journey.