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HK FILMART 2014: mining old stories for new meanings (part 2)

Engagement was the key theme of talks presented as part of the Hong Kong Trade and Development Council’s fourth Digital Entertainment Summit, held 26 March at FILMART.

The summit’s theme was “What’s New & What’s Next in Animation, Interactive Design and Trans-Media.”

Simon Yuen, a Character Supervisor at Digital Domain, addressed the changes that ever-improving digital capability is bringing, to games, film and television. Yuen demonstrated how virtual reality was now able to replicate and replace sets and performers.

That proven, Yuen emphasised that one thing didn`t change however fancy the tech might get: the storytelling and the experience had to be good to engage the audience. “It’s no different from when they shot on a mountain that had been built as a set. Whether real or not is not so important; it’s about whether the viewer enjoyed the experience.”

The viewer experience was also at the heart of Alex Li`s presentation on computer-generated (CG) cinematography.

Li`s worked on major animated features including Ice Age and Rio, and noted that current developments in CG were focused on replicating natural movement.

Just as the sound from CDs was initially perceived as being too sterlie, too pure, the inherent lack of natural flaws in CG animation and cinematography often led to audiences experiencing “robotic” character or camera movements rather than the slight variations in pace, rhythm that might come from a character or camera moving, say, on a boat or across uneven ground.

Digital needed to overcome its inherent robotic qualities in order to tell a convincing story, Li suggested. CG animation needed “to simulate live-action cinematography”. Without that, those robotic qualities erected a barrier between the viewer and the content.

Reality TV, a growing genre across Asia, is a genre long keen on viewer engagement – whether that`s just shouting at the screen, engaging in voting or, in the case of shiny floor talent shows, experiencing live shows, online chats with participants and presenters, as well as the TV output.

While Asia might have long been ahead of Europe and the US in converting engagement into income via mobile-based micro-transactions, some of the region`s broadcasters are still playing catch-up in technical areas.

At a session on Tuesday, Judy Chan, SVP at Star Media China Ltd, shared her company`s experience of producing Endemol format The Voice as Voice of China.

The Dutch company sent people to oversee production, controlling everything from the brand to on-set acoustics, stage settings and camera angles. Chan said it helped the show stand out against local (more cheaply made) competition.

Picking up on points made by Simplynew`s Mark Scarpa during an earlier panel discussion, Communication and Digital Design lecturer Wai-keung Lam addressed the potential for trans-media experiential story-telling in Asia.

Lam acknowledged that European and US networks had moved down the track more quickly than most of their Asian equivalents. In Asia, brands have been quicker to adopt for campaigns than content creators have for use around film or TV properties.

He cited Sony, Coca-Cola and Audi as brands which had run successful trans-media campaigns – although there was some debate around whether merely adding the ability to interact with a brand via social media really qualified as taking a “trans-media” approach.

There were also the questions about the differing values of reach, engagement and consumer activity. 2 million unique visitors to the company website – the result of the Audi campaign – were “impossible numbers to ignore,” Lam claimed.

While those numbers are impressive, the difference between the number of vehicles Audi sold during the campaign and a comparable period would give a stronger indication of the campaign`s ROI.

Engagement, however, is considered valuable in itself, although some would argue it delivers most value in long tail environments. Gaming`s freemium model, for example, delivers developers their greatest returns via (small) purchases repeated over a period of time, which would not be possible if player engagement was not maintained.

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