ETC Executive Coffee: Disney on Immersive Media Storytelling

Disney executives met virtually with USC students on April 7 for the fourth installment in ETC@USC’s Spring 2021 Executive Coffee with… series. Mark Mine, director of the Technology Innovation Group at The Walt Disney Studios, along with his Disney colleague Daniel Baker, senior producer of technology innovation – interactive experiences, engaged a group of nine USC students in a one-hour discussion on “The Future of Immersive Media Storytelling.” They discussed the “aura” of effective immersive media, the balance between game elements and narrative elements, the use of light and shadow for user interface and user experience design, and the importance of navigation.

USC junior Eli Bork, who has worked on immersive experiences including “The Under Presents: Tempest,” said that there isn’t much point in making something in VR that could also be made without VR. There should be something about the experience that makes use of VR’s unique capabilities, and that is elevated by VR.

For “Tempest,” his group found that it is better to have the story respond to the audience member’s actions, rather than to try to guide what the audience member does. Giving the audience member agency is a strength of the medium.

Allison Westley, a biomedical engineering senior, added that good immersive media can give you a sense of the space around you, its “aura.” Westley and Bork both noted that audiences expect a take-away, like a digital souvenir or social token, from a virtual experience.

Freshman Anna Shaposhnik noted that an immersive experience can be similar to walking around an art gallery.

Sophomore Aylish Turner described the difficulty she has experienced in finding the balance between the game elements and narrative elements that push forward the story in her projects, as well as the balance between the storytelling and the technology UX.

Iovine and Young Academy junior Skylar Thomas is working with friends on a “zero UI” for VR; a collection of best practices for seamless and intuitive design. Meanwhile, Meha Magesh, a junior majoring in immersive game design, is experimenting with light and shadow as UI/UX. Her challenge is finding ways to help users learn how to navigate the space.

Garrett Flynn, a graduate student in media arts, games, and health, is looking into brain-human interfaces and gesture-recognition UIs. Disney’s Mark Mine (top image above, followed by Daniel Baker in the second image) pointed out the “lack of ambiguity” with a button press versus gesture tracking and voice recognition.

Mine offered a quote from ILMxLAB’s Vicki Dobbs Beck: “VR lets you see a different world, and AR lets you see the world differently.”

For more of the discussion, check out the 10-minute highlight video online.

The ETC@USC’s Executive Coffee with… Series

The Entertainment Technology Center at USC produced its second series of virtual “executive coffee discussions” during the Spring 2021 semester. These one-hour discussions provide an opportunity for students and ETC member company executives to connect and discuss topics of mutual interest during this period of remote learning and social distancing.

For each session an executive posed one question or topic, students from across USC submitted brief statements of interest, and the ETC invited between 6 and 12 students to participate in the Zoom meeting. Each session was recorded and a 7- to 10-minute highlight video was produced.

The sessions included: Verizon — “Expectations for Entertainment and UI/UX” (March 15), Verizon — “What Comes After Zoom and Entertainment Apps” (March 24), Warner Bros. — “AI and Ethics” (March 30), Disney — “The Future of Immersive Media Storytelling” (April 7), and Warner Bros. — “The Post-Pandemic Future of Virtual Production” (April 21).

The videos are available on the Executive Coffee with… page online.