Update: Night Creatures won Best Interactive / Immersive Documentary at the 2023 Australian International Documentary Awards.
According to the jury:
"Whilst we were impressed by so many of the year's amazing interactive works, Night Creatures stood out with its impactful use of stop-motion AR characters; activated by the naturally accessible audience of queueing ticket holders. We loved the artful animation style, the appealing characters and the delivery of story fragments that were full of reminiscence, whimsy, and charm.
We appreciated the consideration of the artists to conceive of a work that could be iterated on — creating the opportunity for a long-lived evolving work in the developing field of AR. All up, we found 'Night Creatures' to be a wonderful example of intimate storytelling, technology and accessible experience all coming together in a very compelling way and we are thrilled to name it the 2023 winner of AIDC's Best Interactive/Immersive Documentary."
Read on to learn how this award-winning project came together.
To celebrate the energy, connection and intimacy of Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) queues, an augmented reality (AR) experience introduces audiences to animated cinema-goers in the form of fruit bats—the city’s beloved creatures of the night.
“What did you pack today?” asks Celeste, a fruit bat that’s appeared in front of you as she takes her lunch from her bag. “I actually once brought a sardine sandwich in and that was a mistake. So now I just bring in peanut butter sandwiches,” she reveals. This is the sort of personal, open, surreal interaction that movie lovers at the Melbourne International Film Festival are enjoying as they wait eagerly to see the next movie.
Local artists, Isobel Knowles and Van Sowerwine, have created Night Creatures—augmented reality experiences that supercharge the queues at the Forum, ACMI, The Capitol, Hoyts and The Astor Theatre. It’s part of the celebrations for the festival’s 70th anniversary and MIFF XR, a program to enable emergent 360-degree and interactive filmmaking.
Say “Hi!” to the fruit bats
When festival-goers scan a QR code with their phone, stop-animated fruit bat puppets come to life around them. Each bat is a character based on real interviews with MIFF patrons, volunteers and employees. There are eight videos in all with people recounting tales from their time at MIFF. The research interviews with actual people were so alive and engaging that Van and Isobel decided to use the real versions rather than writing scripts and recruiting actors. This gives the experience an easy authenticity.
Celeste is a film student who’s excited to see how different directors approach filmmaking. Blanche is a horror film buff who loves to be frightened, even though, “Everyone thinks I’m nuts.” Jarren has left his kids at home with their Nanna so he can be inspired to write about his family’s Indigenious history. What they all have in common is an enthusiasm for film and Melbourne.
Sparking community connections
The aim of Night Creatures is to both generate and celebrate new community connections made in MIFF queues. “We wanted to show the connection between the film festival and the city—physically, socially, emotionally and mentally—which is why the queue is an interesting thing to explore,” explains Isobel. “It’s special because you know everyone around you has chosen the same film. It’s a space with like-minded people and that makes it easy to talk about a shared interest.”
“The hope is,” adds Van, “that the AR experience will prompt people to have even more conversations.”
Jonny Kirk, Senior UX Designer at Art Processors and a regular MIFF attendee, understood straightaway why AR made sense as the medium. “It means you can share a moment with the people around you,” Jonny says. “Something like VR is more isolating. By meshing the physical and the digital, AR adds an extra layer rather than taking you out of the special experience of the MIFF queue.”
Supporting local culture
Art Processors worked with the artists and Film Camp, to develop the UX/UI design, software and a 3D AR Instagram face filter. We carried out our work in-kind as our team are passionate about the local arts scene and many of us are involved in it ourselves. It’s a real opportunity, says Jonny: “Working on these types of projects enriches us as people and a business. It’s the perfect place to experiment with other creative people who are pushing at the edges of what’s possible.”
The original plan was to create an app but a web browser turned out to be simpler and more immediate for the user as there’s no downloading involved. We worked really hard to remove blockers like this at every stage. For instance, right at the start, we wanted people to feel comfortable to allow access to their camera and to make it as easy as possible. Instructions and navigation are really clear as well, but they’re also fun. It was important to bring playfulness to every element of the experience and that’s why the visual design is rich and bright, reflecting the brilliant stories of the fruit bat characters.
Making artists’ visions a reality
One of the great things about developing our technology in-house is that we can build what artists need to tell their stories exactly as they imagined. “It's pretty much exactly how I envisioned it, if I could have envisaged it,” says Van.
But it wasn’t a straightforward project. “This is quite a departure from our other work, which is quite meditative and slow. It's action packed, as far as one person talking to you can be,” says Isobel.
“It was definitely a total jump into the dark when we took on the project as we'd never done augmented reality before either,” adds Van. “At the start, it felt like the world was our oyster and then we faced constraint upon constraint.”
“Yeah, there’s a big difference between making something that works and making something that's stable and usable,” Isobel agrees. “This was for MIFF so it had to be great. We really did need a tech partner to help take over some of the responsibility.”
Overcoming plot twists
“We consulted with some experts early on and one tech company suggested we needed to go down a particular road that we just weren't really happy with,” says Van. “That’s how we ended up working with Art Processors who were really great because they were very open to listening to what we wanted and trying to make that work.”
“Together, we went through all the possibilities and did some early tests to check we were comfortable with the direction. When we found a way through which meant we were able to do stop motion animation and digitise analogue puppets, we were so relieved and we ended up creating something that we are really happy with. It was a bit of a leap of faith but we had high hopes that paid off.”
MIFF Artistic Director, Al Cossar agrees: “As much as we want to rush back into cinemas in 2022, Night Creatures makes clear that the queue is also one of the most interesting places to be.”
Experience Night Creatures by scanning the QR codes at sites across the festival (and look out for the Easter Egg on the brochure).