Video & Filmmaking

Beyond the Single Video Screen: Mirada’s Immersive Storytelling for IBM

December 18, 2015

By Conor Risch


The key to telling a story through an immersive experience is thinking about what the audience is looking at, according to Mirada’s Andrew Merkin. The firm produced IBM’s recent THINK installation. “If I set off a sound in a different part of the room, I’m going to draw the attention of the audience to that sound. Is that something I want?” he asks. 

In public, we’re surrounded by them—they’re hung on store and gallery walls; they’re mounted to the tops of taxis; they’re in people’s hands. They’re common, in other words, unremarkable. For some artists, they’re even limiting. Many storytellers are thinking beyond the single screen, creating immersive commercial and art installations that demand the attention of viewers. To learn more about the creative and technical considerations that go into developing multi-screen installations, PDN recently spoke with Mirada, a Los Angeles-based production studio, and with artist Richard Barnes, who created multi-channel videos for a project about undocumented migrants.


“If you think back through the history of media, it’s only been in the last ten years that the screen has moved in front of your face, and only in the last hundred years of human history that people have looked at a screen,” notes Andrew Merkin, Head of Special Projects & Transmedia at Mirada, a Los Angeles-based production studio. “It’s an artificial experience. You’re consolidating the entire world down to a 16:9 frame.”

By creating installations that rely on multiple, coordinated screens to engage viewers, storytellers are able to “breach that fourth wall of the media experience,” Merkin says. Part of the reason this works has to do with the way the human eye interacts with a screen. Generally, when we look at a screen, 25 to 30 percent of it is in focus, he explains, and everything else is in our peripheral vision. By using multiple screens to expand the storytelling canvas, even less of the overall “screen” is in focus and the experience is “that much more immersive because anywhere you look, the story is being told to you,” Merkin says.

“The key to storytelling for [an] immersive experience is that you’re no longer acting as a director being able to frame something. So much of it is thinking about the audience, thinking: ‘Where are they looking? Only 5 percent of what I’m doing right now is the focal point of what the audience is looking at, so if I make them turn their head, why am I making them turn their head? If I set off a sound in a different part of the room, I’m going to draw the attention of the audience to that sound. Is that something that I want to have happen?’ It becomes solely focused on the audience or the user themselves.”

IBM enlisted Mirada to create a “Client Interaction Center” for its Watson cognitive computing system. The multiscreen experience gives each client a custom story that details how Watson would help them in their business. “It’s the first step in a long conversation and negotiation that IBM would be launching into, to see if Watson’s a good fit for these companies,” Mirada says.

The Watson CIC, a permanent installation in the Watson headquarters in New York City, uses a combination of standardized elements and custom elements to deliver a different narrative to each individual viewer based on their business.

“The goal is to not realize what is standardized and what is customized just for you,” Merkin explains. “It’s designed to be a seamless experience. We launched with two different modules, one for medical and one for financial consulting [professionals].” The idea was for Mirada to set up the system so the IBM creative team could then adapt it to create experiences for individuals in other professions.

IBM approached Mirada with a 16-week production schedule. “It was a very intense sprint to get these initial stories up,” Merkin recalls. Limited creative assets existed, so Mirada had to shoot footage, film interviews and create the majority of the content from scratch. The studio’s model, Merkin explains, is to draw on a pool of editors, directors of photography, interactive designers and other talent in order to quickly build a production staff for each project they take on. “At any time we can uncomfortably get up to about 300 people in the building, but we have a database of 12,000 people with various backgrounds that we can call, and build out the team according to the needs of [the job],” Merkin says.

When editing content for a multiscreen installation, “there is definitely a learning curve with understanding how the edit” will function for each installation. For another installation Mirada produced for IBM that existed temporarily at Lincoln Center in New York, Mirada built a mock-up of the ten-screen installation in their studio. “Being able to see a sample of their edit in the space gave [the editors] an understanding. Once editors get a sense of how the footage they edit will appear in an installation, however, “the speed with which they’re able to edit it is almost one-to-one with traditional film,” Merkin says.

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