From Storytelling to StoryLIVING: A New Reality

July 23,2020 by Vicki Dobbs Beck

ILMxLAB just celebrated its 5 year anniversary in June.

Executive in Charge Vicki Dobbs Beck gives a peek at where the studio is heading in the next 5 years, and beyond.

ILMxLAB Executive in Charge Vicki Dobbs Beck

Famed science fiction author Ursula K. LeGuin once said: “There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”  Stories are as much a part of us as life itself and when there are new ways to tell stories, we as content creators and storytellers should be there, pioneering. It was for this reason that ILMxLAB, Lucasfilm’s immersive entertainment studio, was formed in 2015. Using both virtual and augmented reality we could invite people to ‘Step Inside Our Stories’ as never before. We believed that these platforms offered unique opportunities to establish deep and intimate connections to characters and places.  As we celebrate our 5 year anniversary this year, we’ve continued to push the boundaries of what’s possible, now aspiring to transition from storytelling – one-way communication – to storyLIVING where you’re inside a world making meaningful choices that drive the narrative forward.

A fan uses their lightsaber to deflect blaster bolts in our first VR experiment, Trials on Tatooine.

Needless to say, this kind of storytelling is in its infancy but what’s true is that our relationship to reality is fundamentally changing. A seamless blend of the real and digital worlds can create new and lasting memories – memories that impact who we are, where we go, and what we become.  At its core, StoryLIVING is made up of experiences where choice matters. The journey is personal but can also be shared. The worlds are persistent; our interactions with characters are compelling; and engaging stories unfold around and within us.  By approaching the creative concept holistically, across connected but unique experiences, the whole can truly be greater than the sum of the parts. StoryLIVING, if well and fully crafted, can transcend any single device and eventually establish a vibrant new narrative-driven reality.  

As we look toward the future, let’s touch on the key elements of StoryLIVING: DESIGN, DISCOVERY, CONNECTION, and UNFOLDING NARRATIVE. At ILMxLAB, we are fortunate to create within Star Wars – one of the richest and deepest fictional universes ever brought to life.  We are interested in developing for all shades of reality and, indeed, there is a spectrum of opportunities: from locations to home; from fully virtual worlds to enhanced versions of our own world. It’s a question of the right story for the right platform – playing to a device or platform’s respective strengths.  In approaching the overarching vision, we often think of it as a mosaic where each tile can exist on its own but taken together, the tiles reveal a much bigger, richer, and more complex design.

Mustafar was a complex and rich world to bring to life in Vader Immortal, our award-winning VR series.

The journey of discovery begins with the world itself. It must be rich with detail, both sound and visuals. It should intrigue and inspire the desire to explore. The world will not be static, it will change, perhaps in response to real world events such as time of day, season or weather. More significantly, it will evolve based on the choices and actions of its visitors. By leaning into the power of ‘presence’ – of being there – we can transport people beyond the boundaries of our reality.

Next, we look for emotional impact by establishing meaningful connections to believable characters.  The interactions must be compelling and your relationship should deepen over time. Imagine a future with true character companions.  Your companion not only recognizes your friends but their character companions as well. 

With a rich world and compelling characters, stories will unfold whether they be curated, divergent (i.e. branching stories) or emergent. To engage a broad audience, we must design for different platforms and provide alternate points of access that together establish a mosaic of story experiences. The balance between story and interactivity must be carefully considered.  Within the mosaic, there should be opportunities to ‘lean back’ as well as adventures that urge you to ‘plunge in.’ Location-based entertainment allows us to deliver scope and scale and invoke all of the senses since we control 100% of the environment. In contrast, when designing for the home, we can achieve greater narrative depth through extended engagement. 

Ant-Man and The Wasp, as seen in Avengers: Damage Control.

The kind of rich, high quality StoryLIVING experiences I have described will require the evolution of a number of core technologies. We eagerly await the introduction of AR glasses with a field-of-view large enough to deliver a compelling sense of immersion. Markerless, skeletal tracking and highly accurate world mapping supported by a robust transmission network and massive compute will also be foundational. And to produce the amount of content necessary to provide sufficient depth will require new procedural world building tools and relatively sophisticated AI to drive characters and their interactions.

To fulfill our vision for StoryLIVING, we must continue pushing the state-of-the-art.  We must take risks and have courage as we forge a path of sustained innovation. Henry Ford once stated, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” And, indeed we seek to transport people in ways never before imagined. Ultimately, we aspire to create magic moments and lasting memories. In our vision for the future, StoryLIVING will enable experiences that are dynamic, social, personal and, hopefully, even transformational.

Vicki Dobbs Beck has more than 30 years of broad-based management experience in the entertainment industry. Currently, Vicki is the Executive in Charge of ILMxLAB at Lucasfilm where we create connected experiences that transform places, spaces and our daily lives via new technologies like virtual and augmented reality.

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