The Narrative Complex
What happens when our favourite narratives are retold by the viewer? How might we experience a familiar story in multiple ways? Could the tale of Harry Potter be retold through the viewer’s choices?
The Narrative Complex is an interactive storytelling platform that immerses viewers in the setting and narrative of cinematic stories. The project presents films in dream-like VR settings, where viewers can traverse the film environment first-hand and advance in the storyline through their own navigation decisions. To do this, film sequences were converted into 3D virtual spaces using photogrammetry and interconnected through an analysis of their metadata. For the initial design development, the Harry Potter film series was used and alternative narratives from the transgender community were incorporated. By turning a linear storyline into a multi-branching environment, the project opens up endless possibilities to incorporate new and more inclusive storylines.
The goals of the project are to expand the ways in which interactive films are viewed and empower viewers to take ownership of familiar stories. The primary audiences for this platform are those who are already familiar with the implemented film’s narrative, but more specifically, audiences who might not have previously felt a sense of agency in the tale. By subverting the original storyline, The Narrative Complex offers the opportunity for films to evolve and be experienced in unexpected ways such as 3D virtual environments.
The main components of developing the project are 1) identifying parallels between physical navigation of mazes and virtual navigation of immersive spaces; 2) using the metadata of film sequences to generate an interconnected network of scenes and using this reconstruction process to include alternative narratives; 3) generating virtual environments through photogrammetry and exploring different visual styles; and 5) creating and testing interaction mechanisms for viewers to progress in the story.
01 – The Maze
The Narrative Complex draws inspiration from spatial navigation strategies for moving through the structures of mazes and labyrinths. Our the main areas of conceptual exploration centres around the relationship between navigation, decision-making, and the branching of the spatial structures.
The explorations lead to how the relationship between navigation, decision-making, and branching can also be manifested metaphorically in interactive films. This connection is further explored by analysing the structures of interactive narratives such as Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch episode.
Following up the analysis, the project team questions if existing stories can be turned into interactive structures and if our favourite narratives can be retold by the viewer? Stories like the Harry Potter film series constitute a great use case of a popular linear tale with current controversies and rich visual content to work with. As a result, The Narrative Complex aims to turn the linear cinematic tale into a dynamic narrative that is shaped by and evolves with its diverse audience.
02 – Data Network
To create the branching network of an interactive narrative, scenes from the original movies were cut and most frequently occurring content such as objects and characters were identified and tagged in each scene to function as connection points.
The tags are then used as metadata to generate a graph network based on the textual information that creates links between the scenes. Using this process, a complex network of 132 interconnected scenes is created, forming the foundation of a multi-branched story.
Due to our limited time and resources, our work focused on a fragment of 23 scenes of the overall network.
Given the opportunity to expand on the existing narrative, the project uses this chance to address the lack of representation of transgender narratives in the original Harry Potter story. An online discussion was initiated by the project team to engage Harry Potter fans from the transgender community about their perspectives on what an unbiased Harry Potter world might look like.
Inspired by suggestions from the online transgender community, new content and tags are created to represent more inclusive choices. The tags are added to scenes with less than two connections to avoid binary choices, resulting in a new network structure.
03 – Visual Development
To build an immersive environment, the project uses photogrammetry to turn clips from the original movies to 3D spaces. Ideal clips have the attributes of high contrast, continuous, slow, and panning camera movement. A total of 132 scenes were converted to 3D models which are used as spaces in which new narratives take place.
After exploring and iterating on visual styles that best fit the context of this narrative, the project team created the virtual environments in moving VFX particles to resemble a dream-like setting.
04 – Gameplay
To contextualize the experience of the viewers in this virtual setting and to provide a motive for engagement, a background story of shattered memories is introduced to viewers at the start of the film. In order to advance in the story, viewers are given the task to form new stories by choosing fragmented pieces of memories.
Moving through the scenes, viewers detect interactable objects that are derived from the tags and represent fragmented memories. When viewers enter the trigger zone of each object, a text pop-up animation is activated showing a sentence that corresponds to each tag. Viewers can select an object of their choice and transition to the next scene that’s connected through the same tag. The sentences that they choose throughout the experience form the narratives of their film.
The Narrative Complex not only opens up endless possibilities to transform linear tales into interactive virtual experiences, but also offers a framework to alter and incorporate alternative storylines. The project team is working towards building the experience in full and looking for opportunities for feedback and support.