For the second edition of The New Storytellers, Phi talked with Mike Woods, speaker at the conference, and Founder & CCO of the recently created White Rabbit VR. In this interview, he sheds light on the intricate and evolving notion of storytelling, and how virtual reality shapes up stories in 2016. 


Pioneer of real-time filmmaking, animation and virtual reality, Mike Woods has instilled his creative and technical knowledge of the gaming, social and experiential industries into successful campaigns for Coca-Cola, Geico and Beats by Dre. His creativity and forward-thinking had also led to innovative VR projects, such as the groundbreaking HBO’s Game of Thrones Oculus Rift exhibit, the VR Teleporter created for Marriott Hotels, the Interstellar Experience–a virtual tour of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar’s Endurance spaceship–, and two cutting-edge Marvel experiences, among others. As the Executive Creative Director at VFX giant Framestore and the founder of its Digital Department and VR Studio, Mike Woods has dedicated the last decade to virtual technologies. Inspiring individual, he has been featured in the 2013 Fast Company’s Creativity 50.

From oral tradition to virtual reality, the notion of storytelling has greatly evolved in recent decades. How could we define storytelling in 2016? What new forms does it take?
It is always a problematic question to address, as the term “storytelling” has been caught up in muddled semantics. What constitutes a story? Can I get a story from exploring a museum? Playing a console game? In its purest form it’s a social, cultural activity and in modern technological terms, there is a never-ending arsenal at the disposal of any person wanting to tell a story in 2016. Matching the narrative with the weapon of choice can be as creative in its execution as the story itself.

Is this redefinition of the narrative experience limited to the digital world?
Not at all, and it should not be. “Immersive” theater is exploding in popularity and is so organic it could have been realized hundred years ago.

Do the artistic forms based on interactive narration, such as immersive theater, magic and improvisation, could be considered as storytelling?
Of course, again we come back to semantics. The decision on whether a piece of art/work carries a narrative is purely and subjectively in the hands of the beholder/audience.

What could the pioneers learn in immersive storytelling in the digital world of the narrators of the physical world, and vice versa?
The cross-pollination between these worlds is so fluid currently that I think any person, in any field, is drawing influence from everywhere. “Digital” is not just the technology, it is also the ease of dissemination. A thousand years of cultural history and its respective experts are now available to anyone at any time. But points of human interaction and user experience are now hugely important to fields that were once intrinsically selfish.

How new forms of narrative, such as interactivity, three-dimensionality and immersive storytelling, for example, change the public's role in regard to the stories?
The public’s decision making in someone’s else’s construct leaves opportunity for endless interpretation, but purveyors of traditionally linear and selfish forms have to understand to let go of that control. We can learn so much from the “gaming” world. Understanding the fully developed worlds of game mechanics, risk & reward, loss avoidance, structure building, for example, can reap huge dividends for artists coming into this space from linear ones. We have a tendency to think that linear film is the most popular form of story, but gaming’s success is insanely overlooked. More people play console or PC games each month than go to the cinema, so these so called “new” forms of narrative are not really new at all.

Have public expectations in terms of storytelling evolved? In 2016, what does the public expect from communicators?
That’s a tough question. I think the public have been taking “story” from all directions all of their lives. Whether or not “active” storytelling has created a demand for it that surpasses “passive” storytelling remains to be seen. Once again, Call Of Duty franchise outselling Star Wars films tells us that this has been the case for many years now. But I do think frequenters of passive mediums like films, theatre and TV are now quite used to interactive elements being added. And seem to really welcome them.

By Isabelle Benoit

The New Storytellers II is a conference day curated by Phi and Future of StoryTelling on the theme Real and Virtual Worlds: Blurring the Boundaries.

To help make Montreal a vibrant city and to contribute to its appeal as a cultural epicentre that attracts acclaimed talents and avant-garde thinkers, the William Gray hotel presents a series of articles about The New Storytellers II conference’s groundbreaking speakers.

About William Gray

To help make Montreal a vibrant city and to contribute to its appeal as a cultural epicentre that attracts acclaimed talents and avant-garde thinkers, the William Gray hotel is proud to be the official hospitality partner of the Phi Centre.

About Centre Phi
The Phi Centre is a versatile space with venues that adapt to accommodate the event at hand: launches, conferences, seminars, screenings, exhibitions, concerts, performances, interactive installations. It has creative studios and production suites equipped with the latest technology for all artistic needs. It’s a multifunctional centre where art can express itself in its various forms. It’s a space where people can exchange, learn, discover, launch, shoot, record, and more.
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