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The Metaverse – Created for People by People


What should creatives consider when creating stories in this brave new world, asks Sean Pruen, live action director and creative director at UNIT9

The Metaverse – Created for People by People
XBOX, Series X Launch directed by Sean Pruen. Live streamed from a rooftop in London, this dynamic six-hour show allowed the audience online to interact in real-time with projected content and holographic imagery. 

What We Know 

At the time of writing, the metaverse does not exist. It’s a promoted prediction of where our beloved internet is heading and the only thing that’s out there right now is the hype (and quite a bit of concern, but let’s not worry about that right now). 

The metaverse is described as being a virtual and open 3D landscape bursting with creativity beyond current imagination. Apparently, with ‘just a pair of glasses’ the Metaverse will be both fully immersive (think VR) and also augmented, overlaid on our familiar physical world (AR). 

The video that was posted by Meta, aka Facebook, last year, promises that the metaverse will be made by people for people; an open landscape of connection devoid of big corporations (ahem), with creativity running through its fibre-optic veins. Mr Zuckerberg’s metaverse rhetoric is, of course, focused on connecting people but, interestingly, he puts lots of emphasis on the idea of a ‘creative economy’. Put simply, the metaverse will flourish due to people’s creativity, not the tech giants’ wallets.

Creativity comes in many forms, but more often than not it involves conveying narratives to an audience. For people working in the creative industry, this is what we do. However, the metaverse is a very new space for narratives to be told. So what should creatives consider when creating stories in this brave new world? The following looks at a few factors to consider. 

Aston Martin, 2022 F1 Launch directed by Sean Pruen. The first ever use of Hypervsn holographic displays in a live show. 

Going Live 

Right now, the metaverse is nothing more than predictions and theories. However, the creative possibility of such a theoretical world has me interested. As a creative director, my work covers many disciplines, including film, animation, experiential and live. For all of these, I see some pretty exciting potential for new creative executions in the Metaverse. 

When a new technology comes along, I look to it for its creative value. What can be done with this thing to facilitate a narrative or idea? How could it be used to surprise and delight an audience with something they’ve never seen before? One factor to note here is that technology is never the idea, it is just a tool along the way. We must always start with great ideas! 

In the video content I direct, I strive to bring audiences graphically rich visuals that drive dynamic narratives. From projection-mapped laser light shows to real-time holographic live streams, I love to present audiences with unreal imagery placed within a tactile and tangible setting. For me, doing something visually spectacular in camera is far more interesting than compositing it in post with CGI and I think audiences respect it a little more.

Having said that, it is the augmented version of the metaverse that has my attention. Not for perfectly composited animations, rather the fact that this digital layer could potentially react to the physical world in real time. An experience viewed by multiple people from different vantage points in a dramatic location via 5G has the potential to be spectacular. A live element to content combined with collective viewing is new ground – and the creative possibilities are endless. 

Nike, Air Max Day directed by Sean Pruen. Presented upon the entire façade of the Centre Pompidou, Paris. The building which Air Max was inspired by. 

Linear Narratives vs Experiences 

Generally, narrative-led content comes in a linear form, with a beginning, middle and end. Non-linear narratives make up a small percentage of what’s out there. Immersive theatre and open-world video games are the obvious examples, both of which have gained much popularity in recent years. 

Compared to a film narrative where the director is controlling the story, a non-linear narrative experience gently guides the audience and allows them to make choices along the way. This approach gives people the chance to explore on their own terms, which in turn lets them take ownership of their experience. They define how they receive the narrative; the director simply shows them where to look, not what to see. 

If the metaverse is to be what it says it might be, creators need to move away from traditional linear narratives and explore the possibilities of non-linear ones. Think experiences, not films. We need to define new notions of storytelling and place.

Bose, Mercedes AMG Formula 1 Garage Sound Experience directed by Sean Pruen. Individual sounds and dialog were triggered based on the attendees position in the installation. 

Everyday Protagonists 

When photography emerged in the first half of the 19th century, the world was suddenly able to capture a moment of reality. However, quicker than you could say ‘camera obscura’, portrait photos became staged and contrived affairs. People would dress up, wear make-up and capture their images in an otherworldly fashion, often devoid of any real-world backdrop. People were able to present themselves like never before, with manipulated levels of perfection, and hold that image in their hands. 

Motion pictures were the next big thing in the image-making game. Filmmakers began using the medium to show dreamt-up worlds in a hyperreality. Editing could alter time, sets and practical effects provided illusions and actors appeared like gods and goddesses on silver screens. Audiences became and still are hungry for this escapism into alternative worlds. 

Fast forward to the internet age and the line between the real and presented online self is as blurry as those first daguerreotype photos. Our connected devices are bursting with idealistic visions of life on Earth through the advertising and social media we consume. The metaverse doesn’t feel like it’s going to be any different; the same old human traits will be present. People will continue to want to express themselves, look good and escape reality. 

However, a fundamental difference from photography, film and the current internet is that the metaverse is to be truly 3D. A world that potentially is fed into view at all times. You are in it, living a crafted persona and wandering about that alt reality. I guess it might even become your reality (terrifying). But, on a lighter note, we must think as creators to place people in stories as themselves, offering new engagement opportunities and bringing them joy by making experiences that put them front and centre in the story. 

Stella Artois, Stars directed by Sean Pruen. Immersive light installation made up of hundreds of kinetic lights that allowed people to freely explore with simple and rewarding interactions. 

I Guess It’s Coming 

I have always had a thing about the year 2029. I simply always thought it sounded cool, and when I was young it seemed way off in the distant future. It’s the date when AI becomes self aware in ‘The Terminator’ and when people’s biological brains are jacked into virtual networks in ‘Ghost in the Shell’. It’s still a few years off, but I believe that this sci-fi vision of the metaverse will be part of our lives by then. 

Maybe whole film crews will shoot together in the metaverse from remote locations, with all the traditional roles still playing their part as ‘virtual’ DOPs, sparks, stylists etc. Perhaps cameras will be invented that have the metaverse burnt into what they record. Maybe traditional filmmaking will be dead. I doubt it, though – they said photography would be the death of painting but there’s still plenty of mileage in the palette. Who knows? No one, I guess. 

What I think is fairly certain is that the metaverse will change our current understanding of the internet and how we consume narrative content within it. There will be plenty of uneasy manifestations for society to deal with along the way, but also many awesome things. If, as Zuckerberg claims, it is creativity that is to fuel its rise, then I believe much of the metaverse could be a wondrous place. 

Sean Pruen is a creative director and live action director for innovation studio UNIT9. The group has recently set up the Metaverse Advisory Department (M.A.D) to help clients understand the potential of the Metaverse. 

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UNIT9 London, Tue, 01 Mar 2022 11:41:08 GMT