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It doesn’t have to be real, it just has to be something that fools the eye.

- Grant McCune

Transmedia Next and the Passion of Anita Ondine

Next month, London will host two key media industry conferences – the venerable London Book Fair and the second outing of Transmedia Next. Storytelling professionals happy to stay in the world of business-as-usual will be attending the London Book Fair. But those who have discovered that business-as-usual doesn’t cut it in the 21st century – who want to stay at the cutting edge of media production – those people will be hitting Transmedia Next.

Transmedia Next is a three-day series of seminars, workshops and exercises aimed at training storytelling professionals in the theory and practice of transmedia storytelling. It is hosted by Seize The Media, with the support of the EU MEDIA Programme. Lance Weiler, Seize The Media’s creative director and chief story architect, unnerved attendees of the Sundance Film Festival with the short film his short film “Pandemic 41.410806, -75.654259”. The film played in conjunction with a transmedia experience accessible to people on the streets of Park City too, and the Sundance crowd got a peek into Weiler’s compelling and intricate storyworld, “Pandemic 1.0” (www.hopeismissing.com).


Lance Weiler’s Pandemic 1.0 short film, shown at Sundance

I spoke with Anita Ondine, transmedia producer and CEO of Seize The Media about transmedia and Transmedia Next. Anita is passionate about educating creatives and producers in the method and vocabulary of transmedia production. She grew up in Australia surrounded by artists and creatives. Her later years took her to law school and then to a series of positions tackling legal issues of technology and intellectual property for major firms. She was a Senior VP at Lehman Brothers in London until 2006 when she decided to pursue filmmaking full time. For her, the transition from finance to film was perfectly natural. She has always been a storyteller, a communicator, and her practical experience in the no-nonsense arena of The City gave her the perfect toolkit to becoming a 21st century producer.

The term “transmedia” is thrown around with ever-increasing frequency, but surprisingly few people, even those in the media industries, have a solid grasp of what it exactly is. “Transmedia” is often confused the old-school term, “multi-media”. Multi-media is the presentation of a story in multiple formats – often repeating the same story in a book version, then a film version, then a game version, etc. Ondine explains that transmedia is a type of storytelling in which the story exists independently of the media used to present it. The story exists before and beyond its appearance in a specific form and each media experience is a limited window onto that larger story. “There are gaps in the storytelling,” Ondine says, “where the audience – or participants as I like to call them – fill in their own experience, through their own imaginations or by supplying content themselves or by actually physically taking part in the story.”

Anita Ondine, Transmedia Producer

Anita Ondine, Transmedia Producer

Lance Weiler’s “Pandemic” short, which Ondine produced, is only one viewpoint into the Pandemic storyworld. An web of online and real-world content, carefully architected, allows participants to interact with the Pandemic 1.0 storyworld in a variety of ways. It is that careful structuring of the storyworld parameters – its characters, timeline, rules, narrative style – and the orchestrating of the venues by which participants can access it that makes transmedia such a challenging and exciting storytelling arena.

Developing a transmedia storyworld requires forethought and vision. The development and production of a computer game might be a comparable endeavour, but a highly complex transmedia story might have a computer game embedded in it as only one of the numerous experiences available to the participant. And how each of these different experiences interacts with each other and with the ever-evolving participant can be unpredictable. In a transmedia experience, the participants or audience might begin contributing more to the story, changing things in real time, introducing complications and story twists of their own. The story architects must be meticulous in their preparation of the underlying narrative and technological structures supporting the storyworld. Transmedia Next emphasises the preproduction of a transmedia story is as important as the storytelling itself. Though some of the well-tested workflows of 20th century media production still apply, new ways of building a story and offering it to an audience have had to be introduced, often through an R&D process that continues beyond deployment of the story. The world of transmedia storytelling is still in its infancy, a “Wild West” where methods and techniques are still being pioneered and experimentation is the name of the game.

Transmedia Next is a gathering of professionals who already have a solid grounding in their own creative arenas – design, writing, finance, production, and this is one of its features that most excites Anita Ondine. The conversation that develops among these gathered professionals can be as enlightening as the seminars themselves. Transmedia Next participants are reminded that they are as vital a part of the learning process as Ondine and the rest of the seminar leaders. Characteristic of a transmedia experience, attendees move out of the realm of passive observer to active participant, discovering insights and methods that a single artist might have never arrived at on his or her own.

Ondine is eager to help people discover how transmedia stories can both creatively financed and produce profits. Because transmedia has such a wide reach in terms of the demographic of its participants, as well as a variety of venues in which it might be encountered, it has a potential for many different kinds of revenue streams. Typical of the digital age, revenue generated by transmedia projects tends to be non-linear with multiple types of revenue potential, from the old media model of volume and unit selling to a whole salad of options including subscriptions, sponsorship, ad sales, and franchises. Ondine says, “Transmedia is about the experience. That’s what makes it unique. You’re not restricted to moving units. The income can come from selling experiences.” And certainly, there is no limit to what can be experienced. The transmedia income model calls for as much creative vision as the transmedia story architecture.

This year’s Transmedia Next will again feature Anita Ondine and Lance Weiler. Joining them again this year will be Inga von Staden, Berlin-based media architect, educator for 21st century media creatives. She has published and lectured widely on technology-enhanced media and brings an intellectual rigor and years of experience to the seminars. New on the Transmedia Next team this year is Jonathan Marshall, who has been a lead technical strategist for the BBC’s interactive TV initiatives and is CTO of Social Television at SlipStream. His work for the BBC also won him a BAFTA.

Transmedia Next takes place 12th – 14th April, 2011 in London. For more information go to TransmediaNext.com or email sam [at] transmedianext.com.

I Ask Inga von Staden: What IS Transmedia?

The term “transmedia” seems to have originated in 1991 with Marsha Kinder, the critical studies dynamo of USC’s cinema school. When I was at USC, cinema students were divided into two theoretical camps. You were either a Marsha Kinder devotee (European, experimental, theoretical cinema) or a Drew Casper devotee (classic American cinema with big movie stars). And I have to say it was Drew Casper for me at the time. But I was young and narrow-minded. Today it would be Marsha though, definitely.

MIT gave “transmedia” its seal of approval in 2003, when Henry Jenkins – also a USC media professor now – wrote his game-changing article “Transmedia Storytelling”. I’ve always thought that knowing the names of things is one of the differences between an amateur and a professional. But the terminology is still flux when it comes to 21st century media. We’re making this stuff up as we go, and it will take some time to get our toolboxes properly organised. In the present Tower Of Digi-Babel ruckus, some people say, “transmedia”, some “crossmedia”, some “media 360”. Me, I say “full spectrum media”. Richard Wagner said “Gesamtkunstwerk”. And people in 1999 said “new media”.


The key feature that distinguishes true transmedia from stories presented discretely in traditional formats is that in transmedia, the story exists before and beyond its appearance in a specific form. I’d like to think that the pen & paper role-playing games of yesteryear were one of the first truly transmedial entertainments, where characters, places, monsters and events are assumed to already exist and the stories experienced and told by players are spin-offs and riffs on the already existing world. Some of the major science fiction franchises too have offered up stories, characters and worlds that appear transmedially, as children of the original universe. But we are still in the Wild West phase of transmedial storytelling and transmedia is yet to fully stand on its own two – or three or four or twelve – feet.

Last September, I attended one of the most important conferences of the year for European media professionals – Transmedia Next. The three-day event took place in London – in a lovely Thames-side corporate building, halfway between the Tate Britain and the Houses Of Parliament – and was hosted by transmedia pioneers Seize The Media. It featured lectures, discussions and exercises facilitated by a full spectrum of transmedia expertise – Seize The Media’s CEO Anita Ondine, the company’s Chief Technical Architect David Beard, and its award-winning Story Architect Lance Weiler.

Providing intellectual backbone to the Transmedia Next conference was media expert and educator, Inga von Staden. She is director of the Interactive Media programme at Berlin’s Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg and also directs the MEDIA training program at the Media Business School, Spain. She works first-hand with visionary creatives who are in the process of inventing 21st century media. She has been a guiding force in moving them forward and has, as often, learned from them what transmedia really can do.

I had the good fortune to interview Inga von Staden about her work and the past, present and future of 21st century media:


Inga von Staden

Inga von Staden

NEAL ROMANEK: So how do you answer when someone asks you “What IS transmedia?”

INGA VON STADEN: I tell them it is one of several terms used in the converging media landscape. “Transmedia” was coined by Jenkins (and Kinder—NR) focusing on a story to take the user through different media platforms. The other terms currently in use are “crossmedia” which was coined by the advertising industry, referring to integrated, cross-platform campaigns. And there’s also “360Degrees” which refers to a theme playing out across a multitude of platforms and also includes factual content that may be less story-driven than fiction. 360Degrees is quite popular term in the European media industries.

NEAL ROMANEK: You started out as a filmmaker. How did you get to where you are now?

INGA VON STADEN: I began working in television and film productions in 1987. In 1995 I migrated into games and internet development  as a conceptor and project manager. Then I worked as a consultant for the media industries from 1999 to 2008 helping with the paradigm shift from analogue to digital. My clients were print publishers, tv broadcasters, and also the film industry.

The more I worked with these companies, the more I became aware that there were too few professionals who could do the work that converging media implied. So in a lecture I gave at the Bertelsmann Association in 2000, I proposed we change our narrowly focused film education to a wide media education to create professionals who develop and produce content for all media platforms. My proposal was not particularly well-received at the time. But ten years later the director of my film school wrote in the school’s studies guide: “360Degrees is the new magic term.”  I do not really think it is magic, but I do think it is a very sensible approach to the media business.

In 2002 I set up Germany’s first European MEDIA programme, “The Academy of Converging Media”, training authors and designers to think transmedially. And I wrote the first national studies on digital cinema for the German Film Fund in 2002 and 2003 . Today I run a four-year diploma studies programme at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg (www.filmakademie.de) dedicated to 360Degree Media. Our students are trained to work as transmedia producers and transmedia content directors.

Now, apart from giving lectures at conferences, hosting seminars and directing the studies program mentioned above, I coach interdisciplinary teams through the transmedial development process. It is very stressful to be suddenly doing what you have always done your way with others who do it their way. We see this even when we bring together students from different departments or schools in our Content Labs. But the innovative force that is unleashed once the communication and methodology have been practiced is simply amazing.

NEAL ROMANEK: And you became involved in Transmedia Next how?

INGA VON STADEN: For the Transmedia Next conference, I was contacted by Anita Ondine, who had heard of me through European MEDIA training programs on converging media.

NEAL ROMANEK: So is there any going back to the traditional, 20th century way of doing things for you? Or do you see yourself now permanently operating in a multi-platform world?

INGA VON STADEN: Once I began seeing ideas, stories and themes through the transmedial lense, I found it very hard not to make transmedial suggestions when involved in a development process.

NEAL ROMANEK: What are the most difficult parts of the creative process in constructing transmedia material? What are the unique challenges that are not present in producing other content?

INGA VON STADEN: To go transmedial means you have to allow for a pre-development. In other words, before you develop a format – a film, a game, etc. – you must first develop the story universe that will be the foundation on which all the different media formats will be based. This concept of pre-development is not usually taken into consideration in the development process of content. Or in the budgets for the development process. Furthermore, you have to change the process to be less linear. Transmedia is much too complex to be designed by just one person. It is a team-oriented pool process. The producer needs to bring in other disciplines to participate through the entire development process – a technical director, for example, and a community manager. And the content director needs to be educated in all media formats to understand the input they’re getting from the different team members.

Transmedial projects tend to become very big and complex. The art is to allow for all the possibilities that transmedial thinking can offer to come into the brainstorming sessions at the same time, and to structure the development process along a commonly accepted methodology, ie the “content onion” by Raimo Lang (YLE). You have to consolidate the content into an operative idea – the creative kernel – and from there build the red thread through that story universe the team has designed. The art is to keep it simple.

NEAL ROMANEK: How is today’s transmedia different from past efforts at presenting a story across multiple platforms? How does it differ, say, from what Walt Disney was doing with simpler technologies 50 years ago?

INGA VON STADEN: Transmedia is more than just crossmedial distribution. Transmedia is understanding an story or theme to be more than just a film or game or an app. It is about the notation of the story universe that an author has in his head as he writes a story. By exposing that story universe, the team members and co-production partners can share in it and become part of the creative process. They can collaborate to design a media architecture that will take that idea or story or theme across different platforms. This is not about a film going onto the internet or a character being merchandised, though that could certainly be part of the design. It is about understanding what part of the idea, story or theme plays best where and how the different media formats are interlinked, via “rabbit holes”, portholes into the various spaces within the story universe. Simple examples are having the main plot of a story happen in a TV-series and different sub-plots staged on the Internet. Another example might be opening up spaces in the story universe to users who will create user-generated media to feed into the overall content.

NEAL ROMANEK: Whenever I talk to producers about transmedia, there often seems to be the same response – and said with quite a lot of confidence: “There isn’t any good way to make money from it”.

INGA VON STADEN: Transmedia is more expensive than “simply” making a film, game, app, or building a community. But each format in a transmedial architecture will be cheaper than if it had been produced on its own. You create synergies, production resources that can be reused and reconfigured. So rather than making 5 films for the sum of X, you are creating 5 different formats for the sum of X minus Synergy.

And furthermore we are seeing film producers having an increasingly hard time to come up pre-financing. So thinking transmedially, you can create content that feeds into another platform and then cross-finance your film with those revenues.

There is no one business model. There are many business models out there. Each media platform has its models for making money. They would otherwise not exist. Now you will probably not be making money by uploading your film to YouTube – a film does economically much better in a cinema, on DVD or VoD-platform. But you may make money selling elements of your story universe on a pay-per-item basis and collecting micro payments from an online community. A transmedial producer must creatively combine the financing and revenue models out there to come up with a project’s very own business model. I call it the transmedial business mash-up model.

NEAL ROMANEK: What is the biggest potential growth area for transmedia? Entertainment? Marketing? Education? And where is the best transmedia work being done today?

INGA VON STADEN: Transmedia will most likely be making its big money with entertainment as most media does. But we are currently seeing the most interesting projects come up in the factual realm born out of the necessity of documentary film companies to find new business models in order to survive. Examples are “Prison Valley” or “The Galata Bridge”. And we have seen transmedia happen for years already in children’s media. Kids find it so easy to surf a story environment on different platforms.

NEAL ROMANEK: I feel like transmedia now is in the same place as movies were in the 20th century. Movies imitated past popular media, like novels and theatre. A lot of transmedia seems to imitate movies. How do we get away from imitating movies?

INGA VON STADEN: You soon become more creative than simply emulating the movies if you bring in different disciplines into your creative team. A game designer has a very different approach to content, as does a designer of apps or a builder of communities. Take a look at the great work Dr. Randy Pausch (creator of the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University) did with his “Building Virtual Worlds” class.

NEAL ROMANEK: How can transmedia creators help each other?

INGA VON STADEN: Share experience and build a body of professional knowledge! That is the only way we can all begin making interesting projects and earn a living with them.

Solving 3D Headaches

(printed in April 2009 TVBEurope as Solving 3D Headaches: Matt Brennesholtz Helps Negotiate A Challenging 3D Future)

“I love watching 3D, it’s just that after 10 minutes I have a pounding headache.”

At tradeshows, exhibitions, screenings, even meet-ups of 3D devotees, one hears it over and over. At the Digital Television Group’s Summit 2009 in March, an overview of Sky’s plans for 3DTV was introduced with “Here’s Chris Johns to tell us about eye strain.”

There has been a mad rush to produce 3D content even though their may not be the viewership for it. Critics vocally wonder if the producers of 3D content are living in a fool’s paradise, preparing for The Next Big Thing that may never come. The Beijing Olympics was touted as the “3D Olympics”. 3D trials were to play in limited markets, primarily in Asia. The fact that few people have heard that Beijing was the “3D Olympics” may suggest how successful the experiment was.

Creating dynamic, believable and commercially viable 3D images is a challenge that has been around longer than most people suppose. 3D is usually associated with the 1950’s and the spate of anaglyph-based 3D feature films – although the anaglyph technique had been used to create 3D images since the 1850’s. The first stereoscopic motion picture patent was taken out in the 1890’s and the first 3D camera rig was patented in 1900.

TVBEurope talked with 3D expert Matt Brennesholtz, a senior analyst at Insight Media who has worked in partnership with the 3D@Home Consortium. The 3D@Home Consortium was formed in 2008 to speed the commercialization of 3D into homes worldwide. It also attempts to facilitate the development of standards, roadmaps and education for the 3D industry. In 2007 Brennesholtz co-authored a 400-page report “3D Technology and Markets: A Study of All Aspects of Electronic 3D Systems, Applications and Markets”. This all encompassing document forecast the viability of 3D display technology in a vast array of markets into the next decade. Its scope included not just stereoscopic 3D displays, but a variety of autostereoscopic displays, and rotating image plane, vibrating membrane, and micropolarizer technologies.

Brennesholtz is an expert in display technologies, having been a lead projection system architect at Philips LCoS Microdisplay Systems. He has a masters of Engineering in Optics and Plasma Physics from Cornell University and has been granted 23 patents. Still, we asked question most on everyone’s mind – why do we get a headache when we watch 3D?

“One of the fundamental problems with 3D displays,” he explains, “is the problem of convergence and accommodation.” Convergence is the ability of the eyes to stay trained on a point in space and allows you to focus on the text on a mobile phone three inches from your nose. Accommodation is the ability of the eye itself to focus in distance like a mini-camera.

Stereoscopic images rely on the brain’s default setting of always making a single image out of the pair of images received by the eyes – as opposed to how chameleons do it. The perceived “space” between the two side-by-side images in a 3D show is compensated for by convergence with the eyes going from being parallel towards being crossed and back – just as they would in watching a live event.

The element that is challenging for the brain – and for some viewers – is the image in a 3D display is always exactly the same distance away, on the surface of the screen. The convergence of the eyes sends the message that objects are moving forward and backward in space, but the real image each eye is capturing stays put. The brain is trying to tackle two different ways of seeing at once, like a computer running two memory intensive applications at the same time. The fact that the eyes are making very few focus changes, doesn’t mean that the brain is not revving like an engine every time it thinks something is moving toward it or away from it. Perhaps, like the trick of being able to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time, the brain may get the hang of it with repeated viewing.

“There can be other human factor problems associated with bad 3D displays,” Brennesholtz notes, “with certain types of encoding, for example, but this is a fundamental problem that really is inescapable in the 3D display world.”

The most serious aggravation of the accommodation-convergence discrepancy is when the content creator puts images in the virtual space in front of the screen – the monster reaches out to camera, the enemy fires a hundred arrows at us, and the like. These are the effects that producers may push because they have greater visceral impact, but they are also the things that most bother the eyes. Brennesholtz says the solution is to place most 3D effects at the level of the screen or behind it.

Another significant issue, one to induce headaches in content creators rather than viewers, is that the content has to be created for the screen size and viewing distance of the intended audience. Analogous to needing different sound mixes for DVD, theatrical, and mobile device content, each 3D version of a programme must be mastered with its final destination in mind. Sound mixers have managed complex sets of presets for each intended format, it seems likely that 3D mastering will have to learn to do the same.

Although some roadblocks to the perfect 3D experience are exactly the same as they were in the 1950’s, Brennesholtz points out that the sophistication of today’s technology may overcome the others. “Some of the other problems that have been associated with 3D, like dimness or differences in brightness and color between the two images, can be overcome with proper display, screen and video signal design.”

Brennesholtz underlines the consumers demand for a quality experience that is the principle factor in adoption of 3D. “The end user, whether he’s watching broadcast television or cable or blue ray or is sitting in the cinema, is not going to give up anything to get 3D. He’s not going to give up resolution. He’s not going to give up frame rate. He’s not going to accept flicker. He’s not going to accept headaches. Basically, he wants his 2D experience – which right now when you look at HDTV is really good – but with 3D.”

Questions about 3D are in no short supply. Approximately 10% of the population are unable to properly see 3D, and what kind of a strategy must be developed when such a large segment of the audience must automatically be discounted? Most people are unaware that many TV’s are already “3D ready”, but where is the extra bandwidth going to come from if 3D TV is going to become a reality? And finally, if eyeball convergence and focus are such core issues in 3D viewing, what happens to the 3D experience after the third beer?