In Focus

In Focus: Ranger & Fox on Motion Graphics

We sat down with Telly Award Winner, Brett Morris, Creative Director and founding partner of the motion design studio – Ranger & Fox. Self-taught in motion design after formal studies in film, Brett honed his craft of motion design while working across film, broadcast and commercial work in his home of Sydney for various production houses and broadcasters. Now based in Los Angeles, Brett partnered with Steve Panicara to create their dream studio, specializing in discovery, strategy and visual communication. 

What is the origin story of Ranger & Fox?

Steve Panicara and I started the business at the beginning of 2017, however the origin of our relationship goes back a few more years than that. I’m originally from Sydney, Australia and in 2011 design studio Capacity tapped me to join their team in Los Angeles, which was where Steve and I first met. Over the next five years at Capacity we pushed each other creatively and technically while directing and leading the team at the studio. We had aspirations to build something of our own and starting a business together was a natural step in the creative partnership we had forged.

What technical advancements over the past decade have impacted the motion design industry?

As we are a 3D studio and our pipeline has dramatically changed with the introduction of GPU accelerated graphics cards and third-party GPU renderers. Initially, we adopted Octane which was essentially the first production GPU ray tracing renderer, it allowed us to increase our production value by having near real-time feedback in look development and dramatically reduced the time spent rendering shots through the pipeline. Over the years since the introduction of GPU rendering new competitors have entered the space, each one with their own outlook and perspective on how they approach rendering and we’ve ended up using RedShift as our go-to renderer for the integration and memory management we benefit from.

You won a Telly Award for your playful Emoji Manifesto piece. How did this project come about?

We’ve entered into a very competitive market and since we’re a young studio, we don’t have a huge body a work to show under the Ranger & Fox banner. Both Steve and I have extensive experience across a pretty wide range of projects and clients yet our biggest challenge in starting the company has been to be able to show the world what we’re capable of. Our solution is simply creating the type of work we want to be doing. The emoji project embodies a lot of the qualities we want to be known for, a concept that leans on a great design, with considered typography and technically challenging 3D that all boils down into something visually interesting that makes you smile. We’ve always got a handful of ideas on the boilerplate and as soon as we have a gap in our schedule, we focus all of our energy into an internal project like the Emoji Manifesto. Since the project released we’ve followed that up with an ode to Los Angeles’ traffic issues called ‘Carmageddon’, which we hope to enter into the Telly’s next year.

What’s coming up for you over and Ranger & Fox in 2018-2019?

2018 has already been a really great year for us. Along with snagging a handful of Telly’s, we’ve also added some really great clients onto our roster including the UFC, HP, and Paramount Pictures. We’re currently deep into a large project with a director we absolutely adore and hope to have the piece live in the wild in the fall. As we look beyond, we’d like to continue building our client roster, present more services and capabilities through new work and keep growing the studio with new personnel and an expanded pipeline.

In Focus

In Focus: Yankees Productions on Sports Video & Fan Engagement

Our latest In Focus interview features a sports team that is captivating fans’ hearts (and eyes) both online and off: the New York Yankees. We spoke with the team about using video to engage fans throughout every step of the game, and crafting quick, relatable content.  

What is your overall video strategy and how does it serve your needs across fan engagement, marketing, and game capture? How do distribution platforms interplay with this?

Our overall strategy is to give fans an in-depth look at and knowledge of the New York Yankees, both on and off the field. One of our goals is to display the players’ personalities and humanize their larger than life personas, in order to foster a strong bond between the team and fan base.

For the in-stadium experience, we aim to provide an intimate interaction. Video board content helps set the tone of the fans’ game day experience from the time they enter the building hours before first pitch, until the final out is made. Players’ intensity is displayed through dramatic and energetic hype videos, and their humanity is portrayed through light-hearted inning break features.

We hope that the game day show experience motivates fans to seek out more unique content via our social and web channels. Our social and web footprint is the largest among MLB teams, and provides an in-depth experience with long-form content such as player documentaries, as well as short-form content like game and event recaps. Our varied content provides something for every demographic among our fan base—from the New York Yankees history, statistical breakdowns, on and off-field events, player and alumni interviews, to humorous player promos.

Previously, the relationship between teams/players and fans was controlled by third party media—now players create original content on and off season. How has this shift altered the fan/player relationship, and your internal production teams?

We have embraced this new shift in the fan/player relationship, and have created varied content to celebrate this new channel of conversation in our in-game entertainment as well as our web and social voices.

Technologies that impact sports video (data visualization, AR, VR graphics, etc) has advanced significantly in the past years. How have you adapted and incorporated these into your work?

The advancements in technology in the sports world are very exciting. With our content, we are just beginning to scratch the surface of what is possible. Some of our content has been created to capitalize on the availability of new player statistics; we are excited to explore new ways to create and present content that capitalizes on these advancements.

Now that the season is underway, how does your video production output, scale, and focus change?

We are delivering more timely content every week, and our focus has shifted to on-field performance and in-Stadium activities as we strive to be as up-to-date as possible with our deliverables. Because baseball is played almost daily, we are constantly working to create current and relevant content for our viewers.

What excites you most about sports video in 2018?

We are excited that our 2018 Yankees team is a very diverse, energetic, and talented group. They are excited to work with us to create content for our passionate fan base. They embrace their relationship with the fans and we look forward to continuously finding interesting ways to capture and present this dialogue.

 

In Focus

In Focus: Michael D. Ratner – Founder of OBB Pictures on Producing Content for All Platforms

Last month, we were thrilled to sit down with President/CEO of OBB Pictures, Michael D. Ratner. Founded in 2014, OBB Pictures is a leading millennial-driven and digital focused content production company whose current slate includes developing and producing original scripted and unscripted content across all media platforms, including Netflix, MTV, ESPN, EPIX, VICE and many others. Most recently, Ratner served as creator, showrunner and executive producer for seasons 2 and 3 of The 5th Quarter a scripted comedy series he created for Verizon’s go90, as well as creator, executive producer and director of OBB’s most recent show, Cold as Balls starring Kevin Hart.

Our conversation covered Michael’s rise from NYU Tisch graduate to company founder, his approach to creating content for all platforms, and his thoughts on the long-running debate on the differences in the East and West Coast industry!

Tell us a little about your journey from graduating NYU Tisch to your move to LA? 

Following my second year at NYU Tisch Grad Film, I interned at Relativity and spent the time between terms making content specifically for their sports division.  They needed a one man band to create limited size and scope content, and I fit the bill. By the end of summer, I had a job offer on the table and had to make a decision: go back to school or stay out in LA to start my career. I opted to head back to New York and finish the MFA program, but luckily after graduating, I set up a first look with the studio.

What differences have you seen in the how the industry operates on the East vs West coast?

I love New York and often miss it—I spent the first 24 years of my life on the East coast.  That said, if you want to break into this business, I do think you have to come out west, at least to start. I always joke that what you can accomplish in a day in LA, takes a week back home.  That may seem counterintuitive because New York is known for its hustle—and I certainly find LA to be more laid back, but I attribute this more so to the ability to really have face-to-face meetings in LA. Many of our world’s decision makers are based in LA, and a phone call just isn’t the same as a sit down. Plus, a little New York hustle in LA isn’t such a bad thing either.  

Interestingly, nearly our entire company is originally from the North East, which is where many of us met and first started working together, but I think we’ve all found ourselves in LA because we felt there were more opportunities to collaborate with exciting partners and to tackle bigger projects.

OBB was founded on creating successful sport related content. Today, you not only produce content on wide ranging subject matters, but also are platform agnostic across the film, TV, and digital projects you make. Why the expanded focus?

I enjoyed my time focusing on sports content, but always knew that was just the opportunity that got me in the “Hollywood door.” I always wanted to diversify the portfolio and make content across all genres—that could be platform and duration agnostic. I just wanted to make cool, premium stuff.  After my first look at Relativity, my brother Scott and I took our time to position ourselves to be able to make the types of content we’d want to watch, and opened up shop independently as OBB Pictures. For the first time, we had no ties to any company or first look, and we opened the first OBB office in Beverly Hills with just a handful of employees.  

Two years later, we’re more than double in size and just moved into our new, expanded offices in West Hollywood (former home of Scooter Braun Projects), where we have room to shoot in-house, handle all post-production, and can oversee an expanded slate ranging from unscripted to scripted, sports, comedy, music, drama, and horror.

With a proven track record of producing wide-ranging work from episodic to film, and social video to television, how does OBB stand out from the crowd?

When founding OBB, we saw an opportunity to make premium, millennial-driven content for this burgeoning OTT space that was continuing to grow (lucky timing given our particular skill set and sensibilities.) In our minds, all questions about format, genre, length, structure, or platform should be determined by one, simple mandate: “would we want to watch it?” That’s the connective tissue across our work, from the interview series like Cold As Balls with Kevin Hart, our half-hour scripted comedy The Smart Money, or our hour long horror series with Crypt TV, Mercy, and more.

We are lucky to be a part of the demographic we create for, so we can assess within OBB’s walls if something will work or not. The dream at a production company is to have a team of executives, tastemakers, and entrepreneurs; that’s what we strive for at OBB.

What are you most looking forward to in 2018?

We are closing deals on four serial projects that have been 2 years in the making, so it’s a crazy time right now!  I’m excited for our traditional projects to roll out—three are half hours and one is an hour-long on exciting networks and platforms. It will be fun to shift a bit from selling to creating again. Recently, we were in Canoga Park shooting Season 2 of Cold As Balls with Kevin Hart, which has really amazing moments. I’m excited for everyone to see this when it drops!

 

Feature

In Focus: BBC.com on Developing Global Multimedia Content

For our latest story in our In Focus series, we spoke with Dan John, a Multimedia Producer for the BBC.com Features sites at on how his team creates unique, cross-platform video content, his career evolution from Public Relations to Editorial, and how to scale video for global audiences.

Tell us about how you and your team sit within the larger BBC organization and interplay with the various departments?

I work as a multimedia producer for the BBC.com Features sites, which include BBC Culture, BBC Future, BBC Capital, and BBC Travel—we produce content specifically for an international audience.

 I currently sit within a small in-house multimedia unit that has a few members based in London and a few in New York. Since joining the BBC, I have predominantly worked with the BBC Cultural editorial team as their lead on video content. Having members of the multimedia unit working closely within the editorial teams of the features sites has enabled us to not only become more reactive, but has also helped in developing both a stronger video strategy across BBC.com, and understanding the tone of videos that appeal most to the different audiences we attract.

 We also work closely with the BBC World News channel, where we have produced content from review segments from the Cannes Film Festival to a series on photography, that both ran online and were broadcast on the TV channel. More and more, we are developing a two-way relationship between the website and TV channel to try and make the most of the content being produced so that it works effectively across markedly different platforms.

 

With a focus on building and catering to a global audience, how do you configure your team on the ground in London and around the world, to ensure a broad spectrum of relevant content, but also production support?

 For the BBC.com features teams, catering for a global audience is one of our most important editorial focuses and challenges.

 As a part of the in-house team in London, this can be a challenge. I produce, shoot, and edit video content regularly, and although I have had opportunities to travel, a lot of what I produce is shot in the UK. In these instances it’s key to ensure that the story itself is relatable to global audiences, or can be built with other global elements to broaden the story from a purely UK focus. If the video does have a UK focus, it is often looking at  a story that’s new and intriguing for an international audience.

 Another way we are telling compelling global stories is by growing an international network of video journalists. It’s often the case that the most insightful video stories can be captured by video journalists who fully understand the culture and communities they are filming within. his network’s growth combined with the connections and reputation the BBC has as an organization is liberating— and means that we can tell any story without feeling limited by geography.      

 

Unlike a number of your colleagues who have had careers in journalism, you began your career working in PR, working directly with brands (and the London Zoo!). How does that experience interplay with your work at the BBC?

 Over the years, as my career moved towards editorial and journalism, I’ve found that my background in PR, and having previously worked closely with marketing teams, has become more useful.

 As the digital advertising world has evolved in recent years, commercially funded publishers are having to redefine how they generate that funding. In a world where ad-funded content is becoming increasingly important, having an understanding of working with brands is more and more essential. At BBC.com, the editorial teams work closely with the sales teams to create editorial ideas and series concepts that will attract sponsorship from brands. For us the story is always most important, and the BBC has high editorial standards that will never change. However, understanding the type of stories, topics, look, and feel of video content that will appeal to various brands, and breaking down the barriers that often form between editorial and sales teams is important. Starting my career from a commercial background has helped me adapt quickly.  

 

How has the use of video been approached historically across BBC.com, and is that continuing to evolve in 2018?

 Video is becoming an important focus across BBC.com, and its evolution will be very exciting in 2018.

 Whereas online video in the past was seen as just one part of what we offered our audiences, this year there is a real drive to make BBC.com a go-to destination for ground-breaking, innovative video.

 As mentioned, thinking across platforms is more important than ever. eb-first content needs to be mobile friendly and work across our multiple social media platforms, whilst having the potential to be broadcast on television. We’re also developing ways to re-work television content so it works for the way in which web and social audiences consume video content online.

 BBC.com is scaling up its video output this year— especially amongst the features teams,moving away from stand-alone, one-off video pieces and towards series formats that will create consistent, recognizable content to engage audiences.

 We’re excited for big changes, which will be announced later this year, to shape how audiences encounter and experience our video content on the BBC.com site. It’s an interesting time to be involved in video at the BBC right now, so watch this space!

Feature

In Focus: Fast Company + Inc. on the rise of Social Video

For the latest edition of our In Focus series, we sat down with Chris Allen – the Director of Social Video at Fast Company + Inc to talk about the rise of video for social platforms, his career evolution from large format reality television to social and how to stand out in a crowded market.

Over the past year, you have greatly scaled the video output for Fast Company. As a publisher making big inroads into video, what is the largest lesson you’ve gleaned over the last 12 months?

Over time, we’ve expanded the type of stories we want to tell and how to best tell them, while incorporating Fast Company’s brand voice and its focus, which is “the future of progressive business and innovation.” An important thing we’ve learned is that we don’t have to be singular in the way we tell stories. Part of the excitement of creating digital content is the opportunity for experimentation. We have the chance to truly be creative, as well as try different styles and approaches; some of them have really worked while others have not.

With each success and failure you learn something new, whether that’s about your audience, the ever-changing digital landscape, or the brand itself. Sometimes something you put your heart and soul into doesn’t do as well as you’d hoped while another unassuming piece takes off, and people connect with it. You have to be cognizant of what’s working for the brand while also not being afraid of experimentation— some of the most successful ideas come out of it. I believe great storytelling and a strong editorial voice will always make a brand stand out and truly connect with an audience.

Your career has taken you from large reality TV formats, such as “The X Factor” in the UK, to now overseeing social video strategy in the US. Tell us about this transition, and what crossover you have you seen in terms of the skills that are needed.

I was working in reality TV for about 10 years before making the decision to fully transition into digital, and the shift was actually not as smooth as I thought it would be. Although TV is adapting to the new ways it’s being consumed, it’s a rigid medium in that many of the shows I worked on are heavily formatted and left little room for creativity.

Moving into digital video content was almost overwhelming because the industry is so oversaturated, and there’s an abundance of great content that can be intimidating. Asking the question, “how are we going to stand out?” is daunting if you think about it too much. However, trying to answer that question allows us to be truly creative and original in the way we think about video content. We’re not tied to strict formats, and the industry is constantly adapting and changing, which means we have to do the same. You’re never doing the same thing for too long, which is both challenging and exciting.

I feel like I have the opportunity to truly think beyond what we’re doing right now, to think about how digital video is evolving and how we can evolve with it.

You’re overseeing Fast Company and Inc’s social video strategy—what is the current strategy for both brands across platforms, and how does it interplay with your editorial team’s focus?

Overseeing the social video strategy for both brands has been another exciting challenge. Not only do I have to think about two brands and their unique voices, I also have to think about how we can reach new audiences that may not be aware of these brands. They both look at the world through different lenses: Inc embodies entrepreneurial grit, while Fast Company embodies world-changing ideas. There are so many incredibly diverse and interesting stories out there that are waiting to be told, and fit within either brand. My job is to think about how we tell those stories differently, and how we create content that makes a real impact on people.

We want to be informative and entertaining, but we also want people to feel like they’re part of an active community of thought-leaders and game-changers—the best way to build community is through social platforms. As media brands that started in print before moving into digital, we haven’t focused as much on creating content for social platforms as we are now. The industry is constantly changing; we need to diversify in order to continue growing and to foster the community we’re building. We are focusing more on YouTube starting in March or April. That’s been a huge shift in our creative direction and process. The video team works across both brands and is relatively small for the amount of content we create. However, we have some incredibly talented and passionate people.

It’s been great to really take a moment to think about what we should be doing and what direction we should be heading in. That’s given everyone the chance to be creative and be excited about our future content. We’re fully integrated with the editorial team—a number of writers and editors are often featured in videos, which helps strengthen the voices of both brands for video. Ultimately, we want Fast Company and Inc’s video content to translate the brands, rather than just transcribe them.

What piece are you most proud to have worked on?

It’s difficult to choose just one as our content is so diverse. We create experiential videos like the one we did on the company Tentrr, an office-based comedy series that once featured “Sesame Street” muppets, product testing videos, and more. We recently produced a series called “A Better Me,” which focuses on self improvement—and is closest in style to my television background.

My favorite piece might be our video about Ichiran Ramen in Brooklyn. I loved the company’s story, as well as the idea of making public solitary dining more socially acceptable and less anxiety inducing. I enjoy taking an idea that doesn’t seem like it fits within Fast Company or Inc’s wheelhouse, and identifying an angle that no one else has hit that is uniquely us.

The thing I love most about creating digital content is how shareable it is. When working in TV, people may have posted something on social media or discussed an episode the next day, but it’s reactive. With the content we’re creating, someone may watch a video, and share it instantly with a friend or family member. They can take a few minutes to watch it and have a real connection with one another in that moment. People love to discover something new or interesting, and to share it with somebody else; that’s why I’m excited about this next chapter for both brands.  

Feature

In Focus: Litton Entertainment on 30 Years of Global and Digital Programming

Litton Entertainment has been in business since the late 80s, producing hours of award-winning programming that is watched across the globe. We sat down with this Telly Award-winning company, to get a snap shot of how their business has changed in that time and what core values have remained unchanged since 1989.

Founded in 1989, Litton has been in business for nearly 30 years. How have you seen the industry change in that time?

There has been so much change, from three or four networks to thousands of platforms. Digital is a game changer in terms of people being free to chart their own course, and watch what they want and when. However, great shows still reign!

Litton develops over 800 hours of award-winning programming for its ten television networks and hundreds of television station partners. What sort of content is being produced and for what platforms? How did this change with the rise of digital?

As of January, we have increased the number of networks to eleven with the recent addition of our new block on Telemundo, titled “Mi Telemundo”. Litton also syndicates a variety of educational, entertainment, and news programming in partnership with the major station groups and newsrooms. We distribute our programs on a myriad of digital platforms—our goal is to provide high quality content around the globe 24/7.

Working with major networks, both domestically and internationally, have you seen certain programming performing differently in varied markets?

Our programming is designed to be inclusive for a co-viewing audience. Litton’s series are the great equalizer as everyone seeks knowledge and perspective. The stories we tell are experiences that are relatable to everyone; all continents, all seasons, all of the time.

Litton Entertainment has been at the forefront of television innovation, (you were the first producer in the United States to roll out audio description in all of your network programs). What innovations do you see as impacting the industry in 2018?

Our mission has always been to lead in making quality programming accessible to all audiences. We just launched Telemundo’s “Mi Telemundo,” three hours every week of E/I programs, and our shows are fully translated in LAS—the first effort of this magnitude. In 2018, we will continue to take the lead in expanding the reach of our shows!

For this month’s In Focus interview, we are so excited to profile a company that has pioneered animated storytelling since 1987: Passion Pictures. Founded while producing Steven Spielberg’s, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Passion has created the animated identity of some of the most notable brands, including the animated band the Gorillaz.

As the holidays approach, we sat down with Passion to discuss its legacy, how the animation field has evolved, and their renowned animated Christmas commercials crafted for major brands in the UK and beyond. Above you can watch their latest holiday animation for brand Very.


Passion Pictures has been at the forefront of animation since the 1980s. How has the industry changed over the years and how has that affected the work you create?

Passion began in 1987, with our founder Andrew Ruhemann producing the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit for Steven Spielberg. This set the standard for Passion’s values going forward for the next 30 years…to connect and inspire through the moving image.

At the heart of that has always been storytelling. Over the years, we have seen the kinds of films and adverts that brands are looking for change, but what we do has always stayed in demand.

Nowadays, the industry is a very different place. When we got started, agencies did what agencies did. They were the bridge between clients and production companies. That’s not always the case any more; we can’t function within those constraints because the market has changed and the lines are blurring.

A number of your award winning pieces are animated commercials – why do you feel that this medium works so well to convey a brand’s message?

Animation occupies a special place in people’s hearts that goes back to childhood. It’s easy to project yourself into an animated character, easier than it might be to relate to a live action film.

Character and storytelling have always been the foundation of what we do. With animation you get to fully explore a character’s development, through their physicality all the way to tiny ticks and nuances, until they’re the absolute right vessel for the story. Several of our films have emotional or moving storylines; it’s the characters that bring them together and give audiences someone to relate to.

Passion is also well known for its work with the Gorillaz whose animated music videos are synonymous with their brand. How did this collaboration come about?

We were working on a commercial with Jamie Hewlett for Virgin Cola, and he mentioned that he and his “flatmate” were interested in starting an animated band. He then mentioned that his “flatmate” was Damon Albarn, so we said, “Where do we sign?!”

We started working very traditionally on the videos: drawing in pencil, photographing the paper and scanning it in. With each iteration of the band—new videos and new albums—things have progressed, so much so that their latest video was a VR experience for Google Daydream, which went on to be the biggest VR Launch YouTube has ever had!

Passion is not only known for its Animation Studios, but is also highly regarded in the film/documentary world through Passion Pictures and Passion Planet. In this age of content ubiquity, how important is it for production companies to diversify across mediums?

As a business, it’s always important to grow, but we have never diversified for the sake of diversification. It has always been about where we can grow and tell our stories in the best way, through the best medium. We have expanded into feature documentaries, television series, live action, gaming and VR, but it has always been about finding the right home for the right story, with the right people.

What do you see for the future of the Animation industry?

As the industry grows and changes, it’s easy to become scared by the blurring boundaries. However, we’ll continue doing what we do because there will always be a real demand for great stories and characters, whether that be a 30 second commercial or a 90 minute feature. One of the biggest changes is actually that we don’t think in those terms anymore; projects are now all about the story and finding the right way to tell it.

We’ve stayed independent for 30 years and we’re well prepared for the next 30.

In Focus

In Focus: WITHIN on VR/AR Entertainment and Technology

How would you describe the main mission and work of WITHIN?

WITHIN is a virtual reality and augmented reality entertainment and technology company aiming to bring people together with immersive experiences. We currently host a careful curation of VR works from a variety of artists and content creators, in addition to our own original content, currently available via the WITHIN app on iOS, Android, and all VR headsets.

WITHIN’s mission is to push virtual and augmented reality further, continuing to innovate storytelling techniques with a focus on social, multi-user experiences. Born from two creative minds—Chris Milk, an award-winning filmmaker, and Aaron Koblin, a data artist and former head of Google’s Data Arts Team—the team at WITHIN embraces a creator-first ideology. We provide creatives a playground to explore their ideas and support them by creating the technology necessary to make their ideas possible and bring them to a mass audience.

What are the key attributes you feel are needed when creating a truly memorable VR experience or story?

Virtual reality interacts with our senses in the same way that the real world does. There is, however, a unique opportunity to break the rules of reality within the VR headset. There’s a fine line—we must keep the rules similar enough that our brain accepts the experience as real, but bend them just enough so that we can create a fantastical experience only possible in VR. We want to give viewers access to stories, people, places, and experiences that could previously only exist in our imaginations. In order to create memorable experiences, we must craft the virtual world to reflect the most profound and special moments of our lives–while other mediums allow us to bear witness to another’s story, in VR we have the opportunity to let users live those stories firsthand.

We can’t solely rely on what legacy mediums like filmmaking have defined as storytelling, but we can be influenced by them and learn from them. Many devices that we use in filmmaking don’t work or don’t have the same effect in VR. Cutting can break your immersion, for example. On the other hand, having someone stare into the camera can create a personal connection between you and that character, whereas in filmmaking it breaks the fourth wall and takes you out of the story that’s being told. If there is one thing to keep in mind when creating a memorable VR experience, it’s to try to create something that exceeds the boundaries of the world we live in today, and gives people access to something that inspires awe.

When collaborating with partners on a piece, what are the main challenges and opportunities that arise?

The golden opportunity in this period of the industry’s growth is the need for an influx of creative energy from all disciplines to help crack what makes VR special. There is always a learning curve, as there is with any new medium or format, but we try not to let that get in the way of creative ideas. If something hasn’t been done yet, we’re currently in the stage where we learn how to build it ourselves, rather than dismiss it as impossible. It’s a rare moment in time where any idea, no matter how far-fetched, can lead the way to developing the future of the medium.

Your recent piece, HALLELUJAH, reimagined Leonard Cohen’s song as a fully immersive experience. Talk us through how it was created.

Our interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is centered around a unique five part a cappella arrangement. For this piece, we partnered with Lytro, creating the first-ever public display of their volumetric light-field technology. Viewers are placed inside a virtual world that feels and looks like our reality, and are able to physically move around within it. While most live-action VR systems keep the viewer fixed in a single point in space, Lytro’s technology breaks that boundary by giving the viewer freedom to move, allowing for a lifelike sense of presence that hasn’t been possible in virtual reality until now. We wanted to put viewers at the center of the a capella arrangement ,  so they can experience Cohen’s iconic song in a new way, both aurally and visually.

What’s next for WITHIN?

There’s a tremendous amount of momentum and interest in the VR/AR industry, and WITHIN is thrilled about all the emerging immersive technologies that are becoming more accessible. It’s our goal to marry the creative and the cutting edge to bring social immersive narratives to a wider audience, and we’re excited to see how AR and VR will be used as a tool for storytelling.

In Focus

In Focus: National Geographic on bringing a legacy brand to new digital platforms

JP Polo

Director, Digital & Social Video, National Geographic

Originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico, JP serves as Director of Social Video for National Geographic. For the past six years he worked as a producer, cinematographer and editor for National Geographic, producing content for their digital and social platforms as well as TV content. He received his BA, in international Affairs from George Washington University, MA in film production from American University and his JD from the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico School of Law.

As a legacy media company, how has Nat Geo been able to maintain and grow its audience across platforms?

At National Geographic we remain true to our mission and to our core content. This has been the key to our social and digital success. We are the top social media company in the world with over 350 million followers across our social and digital platforms, yet we are not a celebrity or a celebrity driven company—we are a mission driven company. When you analyze and understand that, you realize that the reason we have a massive social following is because people across the planet truly and passionately believe in what we do. That led all these millions of people to follow us online. Once you have a massive following like we do, the key is to continue to engage and evolve your content at the rapid pace that social and digital platforms require while making sure not to veer away from what brought those people to your brand in the first place.

We continue to push further, because that is what made us who we are. Our keen instinct for exploration is applicable to the way we produce video content for our social and digital platforms. While other companies were reactionary to social and digital platforms, Nat Geo embraced them from the get-go. Social and digital have become our primary ways to tell stories. These platforms combined with our first class storytelling and access allow people around the globe to not only experience the world from another perspective, but to actively find ways to be part of the changes we need in order to protect this planet.

How has the rise of social media platforms in recent years changed the way you think about making videos and reaching new audiences?

On a personal level, I truly believe that social and digital platforms have not only become the primary way people consume video content but also the primary way they can actively engage with your company’s mission. Gone are the days where social and digital video were an afterthought. They are now at the forefront of every content discussion we have as a company; they drive our audience development efforts and also our revenue discussions as well. In order to reach new audiences, you have to diversify your content offering while staying true to the brand. One of the things we do extremely well at Nat Geo is looking at data to inform our video production but not letting data drive it. If you become data obsessed, then your videos will quickly deteriorate and lose their appeal. In social and digital platforms data is important but it is also ephemeral, so basing everything on last month’s data can have devastating effects in the long run.

When you work on social and digital platforms you quickly realize that all platforms are not built the same. They have different audiences and different video consumption habits, and there are little intricacies to each one. This means our social and digital video teams have to be skill-diverse, they need to be nimble, they need to be fast, and they need to be detail oriented all while staying focused on the overall goal: to promote our mission and entertain our audience. At Nat Geo we we believe in the power of science, exploration, and storytelling to change the world. Our social and digital teams understand that social media is a powerful tool for video, it’s a powerful tool for conversation, and ultimately it’s a powerful tool for change.

Nat Geo has has a huge archive of content that you have refreshed and remixed for a digitally native audience. Why the push now into creating original premium content for these platforms?

Unfortunately, social and digital platforms got a reputation for being the place where low quality video would live and possibly shine. While there was no doubt that social platforms could drive traffic and help companies build their audiences, no real effort was put behind producing content specifically tailored for social platforms. At Nat Geo we saw it differently, we took advantage of our vast library of high quality footage and produced highly engaging and educational material for our audiences worldwide. The next natural step was to start producing digitally and socially native original series and content.

That’s where we are right now. We have invested significant resources and expanded our original content slate for our social and digital platforms. There is no doubt most people consume their Nat Geo content online, and we want them to know that online they will have a premium Nat Geo experience, not just repurposed material. Currently we have over 15 socially and digitally native original series in production or in development, and we are constantly developing and partnering with content creators to bring more of this premium experience to our online audience.

What sort of content have you seen perform better on certain networks?

At Nat Geo we produce content for and manage a significant number of social and digital platforms. For Facebook alone we have over 8 pages for different types of content and verticals. Each one of these platforms has their unique audience, and there’s a specific type of content that each audience enjoys. Some are obvious: Our Travel Facebook account features travel tips and our Adventure account highlights visceral adventure content. Others are strikingly different. Take our main Facebook account—its 42 million followers love to consume newsy, timely, and non-cinematic content. However, our Magazine Facebook account is quite the opposite. That audience likes slow, cinematic stories on people and cultures.

YouTube is a great place to host a diversity of content. There you have a more active and captivated audience. We use YouTube for most of our hosted content, 360 VR, documentary work, and experimental films.

How are you, as a team, able to produce such a large quantity of videos across your platforms?

I like to think this is possible because of the quality of filmmakers and producers we attract. They are passionate, dedicated, and extremely good at what they do. It’s also possible because of the diversity of workflows we have in place. Digital and social content is in constant flux, and our ability to be nimble and to work with diverse workflows allows us to produce an insane amount of videos at the quality that we want produce them in. Our team is not about sacrificing quality for quantity. If my staff was not at Nat Geo you would probably see them thriving as award-winning independent filmmakers. We give them a place to call home, a mission they believe in, and the resources to achieve it.

A lot of the success has, I assume, been around the way your audience engages with the videos (i.e. sharing and commenting). What have you learned about the sorts of videos that your audience engages with the most?

You don’t win the internet by being neutral. But you also don’t achieve worldwide credibility by sacrificing journalistic standards in the name of entertainment. Our team is extremely aware that Nat Geo has a worldwide audience because they trust us, and because we have built that reputation since our founding fathers established the Society in 1888. However, we also believe we are experts, and can speak on environmental, wildlife, and cultural topics. Our team’s goal is to inject our expertise into our video content—this in turn gets people to stop, think, and share.

How do you interact day to day with your colleagues who are producing longer form shows and other types of work?

I don’t have a private office, it is a creative and open space for people to come in and discuss ideas. It really feels like a madhouse. On a daily basis I will interact with all of my team, from senior producers to production coordinators. I encourage them to take the helm of their projects. I’ll question their decisions not with the intent of having them change the content to my specifications but rather to serve as devil’s advocate.

The team producing longer form shows are either out on the field or in a studio. Depending on my involvement on the series I will stop by, read scripts, go shoot with them in the jungle, and be involved at many levels. The end goal is to be aware of everything that’s going on but not to micromanage it. The internet is full of diversity and I encourage diverse voices and diverse approaches to how we produce our video content.

In Focus

Eko on Interactive Video and Engagement

Jim Spare

President and COO of Eko

Jim has spent his career growing disruptive tech businesses in the media and entertainment ecosystem.  He currently serves as President & COO of Eko, a venture-backed company pioneering a new medium in which live action stories are shaped by viewer choices in real time. Eko also provides the leading tech platform for crafting and delivering this kind of serial, interactive, video entertainment, and partners with media companies, independent creators, and top brands to create experiences for engaged, digitally native audiences.

At Eko you are creating a new storytelling medium – tell us more about what you mean by that?

Eko is pioneering a new platform for storytelling by allowing viewers to shape stories as they’re being told. By giving audiences the opportunity to affect, control, and influence narrative live-action entertainment, our interactive original series are providing for a brand new way for people to interact with digital media.

How do you see interactive video changing the landscape for branded content?

We are finding that our seamless form of interactivity enables an entirely new kind of “branded content” that allows both the creator of original entertainment and the brand to EACH tell exactly the story they want to tell.  This avoids the conundrum whereby a brand’s involvement can dilute a creator’s vision making an experience less successful, and a creator’s lack of flexibility in communicating a brand message can mute the value to the brand.  By seamlessly inserting authentic and organic brand messages within interactive experiences (we call these “Sparks“), we solve this problem and thereby introduce a new kind of branded content where the brand message is delivered within content, but in a way that upholds the creative integrity and independence of the original entertainment.  

Furthermore, because of their interactive nature, Eko videos measure an audience’s engagement within a piece of interactive content, providing analysis and insights into a brand’s target audience that is far beyond what is possible with standard linear branded content.

You have seen some interesting metrics around audience engagement and interactivity – what are some of the most interesting case studies here?

We consistently see engagement rates over 70%, showing that consumers do seek to actively engage in Eko experiences, especially when the choices have meaning within the context of the story and are not just trivial left/right choices.  In addition, because consumers are naturally curious as to what would have happened if they would have made different choices, we consistently see retention rates of 200% – 300%, meaning on average a consumer will go back and play the entire experience again 2-3 times.

Eko’s interactive VR piece was at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival – tell us more about this piece and the experience of combining interactivity and VR

We see a huge opportunity to enhance VR as a storytelling medium by bringing the ability for the consumer to shape the story as it is being told. Broken Night, the first VR experience built on our platform, points to the future possibilities of greater immersion and control in VR through interactive storytelling in live-action video. Throughout Broken Night, the viewer has multiple opportunities to make choices that shape the way the story unfolds. At crucial moments in the plotline, the direction of the user’s gaze directs what happens next. These branches in the narrative unfold seamlessly, allowing for fluent storytelling while involving the user in the story. And the fact that the user has agency is itself crucial to the story.

In Focus

The Whitney Museum on Digital Storytelling

Sofie Andersen

Director of Digital Media, Whitney Museum

Sofie Andersen leads interdisciplinary teams of digital storytelling and product development across platforms and in-gallery. She designs impactful, user-centered experiences and tells stories at the intersection of art and place. Previously, she worked as a Digital Strategist and award-winning multi-media producer with leading arts organizations and brands including MoMA, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Tate Modern, The National Gallery, London, Statens Museum for Kunst, The Hong Kong Museum of Art, Discovery Communications, and Hugo Boss. Sofie holds a BA Hons in Art History from the Courtauld Institute of Art, UK, and a certificate in Arts Administration from NYU. She runs production and digital strategy workshops, speaks regularly at industry conferences, and conducts research on emerging digital storytelling trends.


 

What role does video play within the context of audience engagement?

Video plays an important, integrated role within our digital presentation, communications, and education strategies to engage our audiences. We use video strategically and aim to give artists a platform to talk about their art, as well as to share behind-the-scenes footage of artists studios, and to provide opportunities for the viewer to learn more about our and exhibition installations.

With modern and contemporary art in particular, it is important to see art in context and as true to its intended purpose and original form as possible. During the museum’s move downtown, the museum launched Whitney Stories, an institutional video-storytelling series, which helped us to share the process of moving downtown and building a new building, keeping our audiences alongside us in real time. It helped our audience follow along with the transition and to give authentic behind-the-scenes access. Now that we’ve grown into our new home, we’re focused on using video to help create a connection between our audiences and our dynamic programming and collection.

What platforms work best for you to reach a new audience using video?

We use video for a range of purposes, from live streams of performances or talks, to documentation of works in motion, such as our current Calder show, to more expansive storytelling in the three-part series on the history and themes of the 2017 Whitney Biennial. It’s all about picking the right channel for the content. YouTube and Facebook are the primary primarily platforms for live content, and our deeper content lives across whitney.org, Vimeo, and YouTube. We also post on Google Live. It’s an area we’re looking to grow in as we experiment with newer tools like VR and 360.

What are the specific challenges cultural institutions have in creating original video content?

Resources are always an issue—producing great video is expensive and time-consuming. The Whitney’s exhibition program is very dynamic, so we try to balance restrictions with being nimble. There are also practical considerations for when we work with artists’s estates, and in capturing installation-based experiences. There is also often a balance between providing too much access versus giving just enough to pique our audience’s curiosity.

On the flip side, some exhibitions can really lend themselves to experimentation. So for the Dreamlands exhibition last fall, we created worked with 360-videos and shared less didactic film reels for the exhibition’s related film program. We are also lucky to have an incredible installation team at the museum. So for our current Calder:Hypermobility exhibition, we filmed the works in motion….and experimented with how the audience will activate the videos across our platforms—along with a specially commissioned video of one of the works accompanied by an original soundtrack by musician Jim O’Rourke.

How does video interweave with your bigger digital strategies?

Video is a critical part of our digital storytelling strategy and is fundamental to how we communicate across platforms. Video supports our mission of supporting the work of artists, and so beyond providing engaging experiences, it is critical as part of our function as storytellers and documenters of artists and their work.

In conjunction with our user experience and development strategies,  we are looking to present well-produced videos, that are sometimes fast-paced and engage with larger themes, such as the Biennial, and at other times are more documentary in nature. It’s an investment, but we are increasingly approaching it as we do all other aspects of our programming, with a view to presenting the most engaging and innovative approaches we can. For the Biennial, video helped us tell the story of the show as it was being created, as well as share first-person interviews which formed an archive of the show—culminating in the last episode of the three-part series which came out in the closing week.