Portfolio

Narrative Technologist

Artist Statement

In this portfolio are eight stories in both linear and interactive media. 

Some of this work is commercial from my career as a video creative director. Some projects are artistic from my experiments as a narrative technologist. All of them bely my deep faith in humanity to move with suffering gracefully, to grow ourselves into the people we want to become, and to use stories to help us with that journey. 

My films apply psychology theory to increase the potency of linear stories and change their viewers’ perspectives. 

My XR work invites viewers to become active players in their own stories.

My interactive projects question our sense of self and help us expand it by learning new skills, harnessing our emotions, and adopting other perspectives. 

My goal is to combine all of these disciplines to design, prototype and test the storytelling conventions of interactive XR narratives so that we can harness their potential to craft stories that help us learn more quickly, heal more completely, and communicate more deeply. 

“I see glimmers of a medium that is capacious and broadly expressive, a medium capable of capturing both the hairbreadth movements of individual human consciousness and the colossal crosscurrents of global society… I find myself anticipating a new kind of storyteller, one who is half hacker, half bard.” (Murray, 1997).

Case Study 1: Painting Life (VR)

Step inside a painting to discover the artist behind it

PREMIERE    December 2018

WHAT   A VR story where you jump inside an artist’s painting to explore beyond the gallery walls and understand both a new dimension of art, and the human behind it.

WHY   This piece interrogated the idea that “cuts” could be spatial. The project was inspired by an intimate visit to the studio and home of an artist named Emma Webster. Seeing the art on her bedroom walls, playing with her cat, and sharing her hour-by-hour relationship to light and darkness as I fell asleep in her house offered me extra context on her paintings. An insight struck: art is so much more than the final product; the creative process behind each piece can be a connection- deepening part of the artwork too – if it’s shared. 

But not everyone could be so fortunate to experience a homestay with an artist. I struggled to imagine a film that would convey my epiphany because it needed to be felt, not told. Then I realized that in VR, a passive viewer could become an active explorer. So instead of filming a “hero’s journey” story of my personal trip, I created a digital world in which you, the player, could navigate her spaces independently to be the hero on your own journey into her art.

HOW  The tech stack and development process were heavily photogrammetry based:
- Scanned Emma’s spaces, artworks, and objects using thousands of photographs
- Created 3D digital models using Reality Capture software
- Cleaned and adjusted the models in VR using Adobe Medium and Blender
- Assembled models into a coherent navigable world in Unity
- Wrote a narrative arc that uses one of Emma’s sculptures to guide the viewer
- Added interactive sound and music using Wwise
- User-tested with hundreds of playtesters to ensure the piece was intuitively navigable

Photogrammetry of a sculpture’s digital twin 

Unity project of the VR build

CREATIVE TEAM   

Creative Director Wyatt Roy
Photogrammetry Wyatt Roy
Sound Design Luis Zanforlin
Software Lead Luis Zanforlin
Narrator Nora Boyd
Artist Emma Webster

RECOGNITION  

Case Study 2: Rehoboth (VR)

A snowglobe in which your grandparents will never die

WHEN   September 2021

WHAT   A LiDAR hologram-based virtual memory of the elderly that family members can step back into after they die.

WHY   In XR narratives, spaces become characters. Photogrammetry imbues those spaces with static detail, but LiDAR holograms bring them to life. The first time I combined 2.5-dimensional depth video with a photogrammetry model I was struck by how much it felt like I had stepped into a memory. Which made me ask, what do we most want to remember? One tragic, beautiful answer is: our loved ones after they die.

This project took Painting Life’s explorations into XR narrative conventions a step further: when you move through the house, you can pick up a board game and the family appears playing it together at a table. If you walk outside through the garden, you hear the sounds of the geese in the lake. You may end up in the woodshed where the grandfather is turning wooden bowls with his grandchildren. 

These holograms are videos that have been rendered into 3D meshes – they are glitchy and pixelated, imperfect like our own memories. In this liminal space, the photogrammetric walls melt into the floors and yet the sense of presence, of standing in a real space with real people, is undeniable. 

One playtester also reported learning how to carve a wooden spoon after playing through this experience, hinting at the education potential of such virtual memories.

HOW   The tech stack and development process for this was similar to Painting Life with the added complexity of hologram 2.5D depth video.

These are captured by:
- Azure Kinect RGBD cameras streaming data to a gaming laptop
- iPhone 12 running Record3D app to use the front-facing LiDAR sensor
- Depthkit Studio cleaning and cropping the depth data and exporting RGBD video
- Command-line tools to remove the background from RGBD videos
- Adobe Premiere for clip trimming and sound mixing
- Depthkit integration with Unity via a custom plugin

Depth LiDAR on left, RGB Color video on right

Integration of depth holograms into Unity

CREATIVE TEAM   

Creative Director Wyatt Roy
Photogrammetry Wyatt Roy
Hologram capture Wyatt Roy
Sound Design Wyatt Roy
Unity Scripting Luis Zanforlin


Case Study 3: Skybinder (VR)

Meditative VR game of connecting stars into origami animals

RELEASE   August 2021

WHAT   A meditative VR game about connecting constellations of dots into origami animals. Each dot has a number on it that tells the player how many other dots it must connect to, but not which dots. When you connect three dots into a triangle, it will fill in and create a face – but only if it is correct. 

WHY   When I co-founded Maku XR in 2021, an interactive development studio, most VR games on the market were stressful. They relied on violence, fear, or time pressure to elicit emotions – and sometimes all three. We asked, what would the opposite game look like, and how would it make you feel?

It would be thoughtful and calming, creative instead of destructive, and utterly free of time constraints. We focused on game feel, the quality of experiences that rewards behavior subconsciously through subtle feedback like sounds, movement, and haptics. And we chose a minimalist aesthetic that honored the fundamental building blocks of VR – vertices, lines, and faces – and would empower players to feel as if they were creating their own digital world.

HOW   Skybinder is built in Unity and runs on Quest headsets. My role’s technical component was art designing the 3D models for the puzzles. The process:

- Create low-poly 3D models in VR using Google Blocks, by splitting a cube into sub faces and deforming the mesh in 3D space

- Clean up the model’s mesh geometry in Blender

- Import the models into the Unity code base to turn them into dots

- Playtest to determine pacing, clarity, difficulty, and surprise

Early prototype of game mechanics 

Designing puzzles in VR 

CREATIVE TEAM   

Creative Directors Wyatt Roy and Luis Zanforlin

Art and puzzles Wyatt Roy

User testing Wyatt Roy

Sound Design Luis Zanforlin

Software Lead Luis Zanforlin 


RECOGNITION

6DoF Video Review   Article
VR Dimension Video Review   Article
Upload VR Article

Case Study 4: I Don't Do Easy (Film)

Psychology-informed short film empowering paralympic youth

PREMIERE   September 7, 2016

WHERE   Toronto, Canada

WHAT  Athletics Canada approached me at the filmmaking agency I co-founded, Maku Creative, to make a short film that would be televised to 7.2 million people during the 2016 Paralympics to inspire and recruit the next generation of Canadian para-athletes. We filmed vision-impaired, paraplegic, and amputee teens to deliver a “growth mindset” intervention.

WHY   People with “growth mindsets” (Mueller, C. M., & Dweck, C. S., 1998) interpret their failures as proof that they need to work harder. People with “fixed mindsets” attribute their failures to not being smart/fast/good enough, fixed qualities that can’t change. Research shows that people can be shifted to a growth mindset relatively easily, by being exposed to messaging that demonstrates how the growth mindset operates. 

HOW   Documentary-style minimally directed footage filmed on RED cinema cameras and intercut with archival footage to show growth.

ARTISTIC SIGNIFICANCE   This film represents a merging of two of my storytelling frameworks: psychology and filmmaking. I pursued a degree in social psychology to understand the mechanics of the inner stories humans use to understand themselves and their world. Then I started Maku to tell stories that would help people rewrite those stories for the better. 

This project was an experiment in applied social psychology – literally taking scientific literature and designing the storyboard around it, then using television to deliver a “growth mindset intervention” to millions of children. 

One critical difference between this project and the randomized controlled trials of my undergraduate psychology research was that there was no control group when this film was televised. But being able to apply scientific methods to determine effectiveness of an intervention is vital, which is why I want to return to an academic environment to further my research in XR storytelling.


CREATIVE TEAM

Creative Directors Wyatt Roy, Kris Cheng, Garrett Gunther
Cinematographers Wyatt Roy, Kris Cheng, Garrett Gunther
Producer Briene Lermitte
Editor Kris Cheng
Colorist Ayumi Ashley
Sound Design Jeremiah Moore
Client Athletics Canada

Case Study 5: Sols (Film)

Experimental film telling a whole life story as experienced by feet

PREMIERE   March 30, 2015

WHERE   San Francisco, California

WHAT  A startup called Sols sold 3D-printed shoe insoles. Their product was good, but their brand aesthetic was futuristic and cold in a way that failed to communicate the human lives impacted by their gear. And technology without humans is just matter.  

I wrote and creative directed a 100-second spot that shifted the focus from the product to the purpose, shot from the perspective of one woman’s feet over her life: childhood in San Francisco, losing her father as a teenager, and ultimately rediscovering her passion for drumming. 

WHY   I used the tight frame on feet to apply Transportation Theory (Green, M. C., & Brock, T. C., 2000), a psychological process where the viewer experiences mental and emotional immersion in a narrative. They temporarily lose awareness of their immediate surroundings and become psychologically transported into the story world, increasing persuasion and behavior change, and reducing skepticism.

HOW   Arri Alexa cinema camera on steadicam rig with 21-person production crew, shot across twelve locations over three days. 

ARTISTIC SIGNIFICANCE   This film pushed the boundaries of the cinematic frame by focusing myopically on feet while exploring a narrative arc. To evoke emotion without seeing faces and with minimal dialogue, we used sound design, music, and pacing to communicate story beats; like when the protagonist hustles out of her waitressing job and runs through the hallways of the hospital to see her dying father.

Stories allow us to project our own perspective into a hypothetical reality to model emotions and behavior (Murray, J. 1997). But this perspective switching only works if the story feels real. The majority of my films use a documentary-based approach when capturing and constructing the narrative because the subject’s natural authenticity allows viewers to immerse into the story and fuze with their perspective more easily. My “docu-narrative” process is consistent across mediums, forming the backbone of my XR pieces too.

CREATIVE TEAM   

Creative Directors Wyatt Roy, Kris Cheng, Garrett Gunther
Producer Briene Lermitte
Director Pete Lee
Production Company Scandinavia
Editors Wyatt Roy, Pete Lee
Sound Design Jeremiah Moore
Colorist Ayumi Ashley

Case Study 6: Sorry (Interactive)

Interactive website that teaches you how to give better apologies

LAUNCH   June 2020

WHAT   An interactive, completely private, locally-cached web app that teaches you the rules for writing a healing apology while helping you craft it.

WHY   It’s hard to say sorry, and even harder to do it right. An apology can be a gift for the person you've hurt, yet often we invalidate our own efforts to apologize by burdening the receiver with our emotions (“I feel terrible”), asking for anything in return (“Please forgive me”), or explaining our actions (“I didn’t know”) . 

I was inspired by Brené Brown and Harriet Lerner’s research (Brown, 2020) into the effects of apologizing, which showed that skillful apologies can be a valuable tool for building and repairing relationships. I found their insights helpful, but hard to remember. As a narrative technologist, I thought that an interactive digital tool would be a better platform than a linear medium, like Brene’s podcast, for delivering the training. 

We distilled the core components of a psychologically healing apology into a step-by-step process, then built a mobile and desktop web app in ReactJS that is free to use and easy to start. 

CREATIVE TEAM   

Creative Directors Wyatt Roy and Luis Zanforlin
Lead Developer Gordon Lanza

Case Study 7: Tonos (Interactive)

Mobile app that records your emotions as music

LAUNCH   January 2022

WHAT   Tonos is a music-based meditation app that helps you find the sound of your feelings in order to process them more effectively. A voice guides you through multiple steps to identify your emotional states, think through them, and translate them into music. 

WHY   Research on the psychology of mood repair shows that music is a powerful tool for emotion regulation (Moltrasio et al., 2021), and it works best when the subject listens to music that matches their emotional state. Tonos lets you compose your own music that perfectly resonates with your feelings, manipulating one musical property at a time — such as rhythm, harmony, instrumentation — while being voice-guided to understand where the emotion resides in your body, and what triggered it. In the end, the song you create is unique — there are over a thousand possible combinations of sound to match every possible cocktail of feelings. Then you can save and catalog your feelings to listen to later, as well as share them with your loved ones.


CREATIVE TEAM   

Creative Directors Wyatt Roy and Luis Zanforlin
Writer, Voice Talent Wyatt Roy
Lead Developer Luis Zanforlin
Sound Design Luis Zanforlin

Case Study 8: Play Me (Interactive)

Interactive story where a group decides one person’s actions

PREMIERE   March 30, 2015

WHAT   An experimental interactive story where I live streamed my point of view to an internet audience who decided my every action.

WHY   This project combined improvisational theatre, performance art, and computer gaming to test what would happen if a group of people were given radical control over my life and actions. My hypothesis was that they would they connect and empathize with me more, because they would share both my perspective and responsibility for my actions. However, each player experienced deindividuation within the group (Johnson, 1979) because decisions were collective. My hypothesis was disproved, and they treated both me and everyone around like NPCs, or non-player characters — to humorous effect.

HOW   The tech stack was built around Twitch, including a helmet-mounted rig with multiple iPhones live-streaming and receiving moderator voice commands. A Twitch Bot solicited audience suggestions for my actions and compiled votes, which the moderator used to direct me every 60 seconds.

CREATIVE TEAM

Creative Director Wyatt Roy
Actor-Player Wyatt Roy
Lead Developer Gordon Lanza
Moderator Gordon Lanza

Taxonomy of Narrative Design

Evolving document that classifies narratives based on perspective

WHAT   A research document that finds patterns in narrative forms of different mediums by classifying based on the perspective of the story’s viewer as they merge with the protagonist. The key test is how the viewer would recount their experience with the story.

HOW   When classifying a story, ask whether would the viewer say of the protagonist: “they went home” (third person), you fight the zombies” (second person), or “I built a city” (first person), or “Go here” (zero-eth person).

WHY   Different levels of visual fidelity and realism correspond to different types of stories. This system is a design tool when ideating on a new story, which lets the designer select the qualities that will make the story most effective and compelling.

Thank you.

REFERENCES  

Murray, J. H. (1997). Hamlet on the holodeck: the future of narrative in cyberspace. Cambridge, Massachusetts, The MIT Press

Mueller CM, Dweck CS. Praise for intelligence can undermine children's motivation and performance. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1998 Jul;75(1):33-52. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.75.1.33. PMID: 9686450.

Green MC, Brock TC. The role of transportation in the persuasiveness of public narratives. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2000 Nov;79(5):701-21. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.79.5.701. PMID: 11079236.

Brown B, Lerner H. On I’m Sorry: How to Apologize and Why It Matters. Unlocking Us. Podcast. 2020.

Johnson RD, Downing LL. Deindividuation and valence of cues: effects on prosocial and antisocial behavior. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1979 Sep;37(9):1532-8. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.37.9.1532. PMID: 501521.

Moltrasio J, Dominguez F, Detlefsen V, Rubinstein W. Música y emocionalidad: efectos de la música sobre el estado de ánimo y la memoria verbal [Music and emotionality: effects of music on mood and verbal memory]. Vertex. 2021 Dec;XXXII(154):14-20. Spanish.