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Putting the 'Digital You' Into Storytelling

  |  December 2, 2008   |  Comments

A startup enables people to create a life-like 3-D avatar that can be added into photos, videos, and more.

At the heart of great advertising is great storytelling. A great story helps us understand our world better -- the environment we live in and the people we interact with. A great storyteller has the power to transform us, make us think differently, or even make us change our behavior.

In many ways, the digital age has accelerated the conection between people and storytelling. Mobile devices have made it possible for stories to be made and engaged with during every moment in our lives. Cheap accessible tools like digital cameras and camcorders, and online publishing tools, and video portals like YouTube have put the power of creation and distribution into the hands of the masses, rather than into the hands of a few.

Just this past month, Big Stage Entertainment revealed a new impressive technology that could take storytelling to another level.

I got the chance to interview CEO Phil Ressler about its first week out of beta, and what "The Digital You" of the future might look like.

Christine Beardsell: Briefly describe Big Stage and what makes you different from other avatar creation technologies.

Phil Ressler: Big Stage Entertainment is the home of The Digital You. We have the only consumer-grade experience for creating a photorealistic, 3D, animated clone or natural avatar -- what we call an @ctor -- from one to three simple photos, with no special gear or knowledge.

CB: You just concluded beta stage and launched the site this week. What was the user response to your technology?

PR: Based on feedback, it's fair to say that beta users were unfailingly impressed, engaged, intrigued, and amused. We are at a beginning, not an end.

While personalization of video appears to be the killer app in the immediate sense, our avenues for projection of self throughout the digital realm are just beginning to be paved. We hope that more and more people will see their "Digital You" as an appropriate means to represent themselves in social networks, communities, topical forums, in professional virtual conferencing, and as players in games.

CB: How do you feel this technology will impact storytelling?

PR: We believe that as we develop easy, user-generated content tools that original storytelling will be taken up by an influential portion of our members. This might start with mashups of personalized existing content, including music and narration, and then evolve into original compositions in which others with Big Stage @ctors are invited to replace the people in original UGC [user-generated content] video, photos, or animatics with themselves, or friends and family.

Also, as we build out games integrations, we expect to enrich the use of machinima as a personalized storytelling vehicle. The virtual worlds available in MMOG [massively multiplayer online game] and other entertainment venues are a rich visual "stage" for narratives starring you and your friends. No video cameras are required for these scenarios.

CB: What excites you the most about the Big Stage technology?

PR: A single point for projection of self throughout your digital life -- that's what's exciting. The Internet began as a participative medium, beginning with words as the vehicle of expression for projection of self. Then primitive computer graphics were added. Photos, sound files, video, animatics, UGC publishing tools, etc. But you -- literally a version of you easily recognizable by anyone who knows you -- could not roam the digital realm and be recognized with the same simplicity as you are in real life. Now you can.

Your @ctor being you in digital form will have to be refined to reflect your changing tastes. Next year, your hairstyle might have to be updated. Your shirt, blouse, or glasses will follow your real life changes in style. Your inventory of fantasy selves will expand and perhaps contract according to your evolving view of who you want to be along with who you are.

CB: How do you see brands and advertisers working with you?

PR: Brands have a different challenge. They must drive relationships, and this requires emotion and storytelling, which TV has excelled at, and the Web has been poorly equipped to provide. Your relationships to yourself and your friends and family are deeply personal and involving. Personalized creative content for brand messaging will travel further and carry more influence. Big Stage-enabled brand messaging will be used in a recurring but judicious fashion to offer clever new schemes for consumers to put themselves at the center of a promotional experience.

We even see a point in the future when Big Stage @ctors can be inserted into live television programming over IPTV. One thing to remember is that when someone makes their first Big Stage @ctor via a brand promotion, they've also created a free Big Stage account. Their @ctor persists indefinitely and will be usable in an expanding range of digital environments and programming. No Big Stage-enabled promotion is merely a "one-off" activity in our community.

CB: Showcase a couple of examples of how brands can play in your space.

PR: There will be a wide variety of brand promotion tactics for leveraging Big Stage @ctors. It will start with giving people the ability to put themselves in creative content as the star, replacing the designated lead actor. Or it might allow people to put themselves in scenes and scenarios alongside a star, or an admired figure from public life. With male-oriented advertising, sports figures are obvious candidates for juxtaposed consumer participation. But it can be more personal still, particularly in fashion, apparel, makeup, hair, accessories, and the like, giving people a virtual changing room to try on clothes, or model a new look.

CB: What are some of your future plans?

PR: For one, we'll incorporate vocal communication into our @ctors with a series of innovations throughout 2009. Some of these features will be startling and that's all I will say now.

Further, the future plan is to make your @ctor more and more like you. Our continuing agenda is as simple as that. It will not only look like you, but will have your expressions, behaviors, and social cues.


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Christine Beardsell

As vice president, group creative director of Digitas's brand content group, The Third Act, Christine works across all brand teams to lead the creative innovation of motion media content. She has a unique and varied set of skills that weaves media, tech, and channel smarts to inform deep interactive experiences for clients such as American Express, Samsung, and IHG. At the advent of the digital revolution, she established Digitas' Final Cut Pro media lab and has since scaled it across offices.

Christine has a BFA from The Cooper Union School of Art in New York City, where she focused her studies on motion media, interactive design, and photography. Her work in the industry has contributed to top honors including silver and bronze Cyber Lions, a Caples Award, an OMMA Award, New York Festivals Awards, ECHO Awards, and The One Show Awards.

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