BLA BLA: a film for computer

Vincent Morisset’s studio AATOAA hope to re-imagine ‘once upon a time’ for the digital age. As part of their new adventures in storytelling they’ve released BLA BLA, a charming interactive film for the National Film Board of Canada

Vincent Morisset’s studio AATOAA hope to re-imagine ‘once upon a time’ for the digital age. As part of their new adventures in storytelling they’ve released BLA BLA, a charming interactive film for the National Film Board of Canada

Morisset’s Montréal outfit created the online animation piece for the legendary NFB which, since 1939, has sought to promote Canadian filmmaking. The NFB is particularly associated with experimental animation, a link that was started in 1941 when animator and director Norman McLaren joined the organisation. According to the board’s own charter, one of its ongoing concerns is to “support innovative and experimental projects in new and interactive media.”

BLA BLA, at blabla.nfb.ca, is one such venture. It is, its website explains, “an interactive tale that explores the fundamental principles of human communication. The viewer makes the story possible: without him or her, the characters remain inert, waiting for the next interaction. The spectator clicks, plays and searches through the simple, uncluttered scenes, truly driving the experience.”

Each of the website’s six chapters apparently reflect a different aspect of ‘communication’. The first section, Words, is an interactive musical number where users can play with tones by clicking on the various splodges. Sponge follows and introduces the charming large-headed character who will eat up all the coloured pills you feed him (it’s strangely addictive for both parties).

The remaining sections, Beginnings, Talk Talk, Together and Lights Out, see the character falling through the sky, and becoming part of a choreographed troupe. In each, users play an active role in deciding how the animation progresses.

The characters were designed by Caroline Robert (a CR One to Watch in our special issue from earlier this year) using traditional craft techniques such as stop-motion puppetry and drawings, as well as a range of high-tech trickery, from ActionScript animation to real-time 3D mapping.

For Morisset, however, these tools are the least important part of the work. “I wanted BLA BLA to feel hand-made, imperfect, fragile,” he writes on the website, “so we forget about the technology. I wanted to create moods and generate emotions through an interactive piece. It’s quite hard to do dramatic crescendos on a website. I thought it would be an interesting challenge.”

The characters’ speech, as well as all the music featured in the project, was fragmented into small clips and distributed throughout the programming. An approach of ‘controlled randomness’ was taken by composer Philippe Lambert, who worked with software developer Édouard Lanctôt-Benoit on the project.

Exploring the “grammar of a new medium” i.e. having the user as a participant in the storytelling, was one of Morisset’s concerns. “The relation between the user and the film is part of the message,” he says. “We wrote and created it based on universal stuff: the social nature of humans, our fear of the unknown, the desire for appropriation and freedom, and paradoxically the love of being taken by the hand.”

Once visitors have played with BLA BLA a further treat lies in store if they click Related Films at the bottom of the website. Here, AATOAA has uploaded six classic NFB animations by Ryan Larkin (1972), Jeu (2006), René Jodoin (1966), Michèle Cournoyer (1992), Brandon Blommaert (2009), and the aforementioned Norman McLaren (1941).

Morisset is perhaps best known for his work with the band Arcade Fire: namely the website/interactive music video for their song Neon Bible and the documentary, Miroir Noir. More recently, AATOAA’s Synchronised Artwork app for the band’s album, The Suburbs (available with the download version from arcadefire.com) was featured in this year’s CR Annual. You can view the project in the 2011 Annual, here, or read a more detailed report from when we blogged about it last year, here. Unfortunately, in our Annual, we spelled Morisset’s studio name incorrectly (apologies again to AATOAA), but in better news we were able to award Arcade Fire with our inaugural Client of the Year title.

CR subscribers can also read Eliza’s profile piece on Morisset, Web-Friendly, from our January 2010 issue, here.

BLA BLA is at blabla.nfb.ca.

Produced by NFB. Designed and developed by AATOAA. Direction, animation and compositing: Vincent Morisset. Production: Hugues Sweeney. Programming and technology: Édouard Lanctôt-Benoit. Visual design and animation: Caroline Robert. Sound, music and voice: Philippe Lambert. Puppet armature design:
Jean-François Lévesque. Rotoscopy:
Vincent Lambert. Photography:
Minelly Kamemura. Additional prototype programming: Mathieu Campagna. Prototype 3D modelling and animation: Joshua Sherrett
and Jonathan Fleming-Bock.


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