Osk Studio on creating interactive websites for The Revenant, Ex Machina, Under the Skin and more

Los Angeles creative team Osk Studio have made some compelling websites for film releases of late, from a VR experience to promote Alejandro Iñárritu’s The Revenant to a digital encounter with an AI being for Alex Garland’s Ex Machina. Founders Isabelle Albuquerque and Jon Beasley talk us through some of their recent projects

Osk Studio was founded in 2002 after Beasley (a film-maker, designer and art director) and Albuquerque (a multi-disciplinary artist) worked together on a film about alien abduction. The pair’s next collaboration was a musical named after science fiction writer Brian Aldiss. They also formed electronic music project Hecuba, releasing two albums and going on tour with Bat for Lashes in 2009.

As creative directors at Osk, Beasley and Albuquerque work with a small group of regular collaborators. The team fluctuates in size depending on the number and scale of projects it is working on, says Albuquerque, but includes creatives from a range of disciplines – from art to software development, architecture, philosophy, performance and computer science. “[Having people from a wide variety of backgrounds] is very important to us,” she adds.

The studio works mainly on arts and culture projects, from posters for Khalil Joseph’s Arcade Fire film The Reflektor Tapes to title sequences for short films and a video installation with award-winning choreographer Ryan Heffington. It has also been creating some immersive websites for cinema releases of late.

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200miles.com tracks the journey of frontiersman Hugh Glass

Earlier this month, it launched 200 miles, a website for The Revenant which aimed to capture director Alejandro Iñárritu’s visceral, immersive style of film-making by putting users in the shoes of frontiersman Hugh Glass. (If you haven’t seen it yet, the film follows Glass’s gruelling journey across the American Midwest after he is attacked by a bear and left for dead by his companions during a fur trapping expedition in the 1800s).

The site picks up on the aftermath of the bear attack and users can click on a map to access key points in Glass’s journey. A 360° viewing experience simulates the effect of tracking Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), and viewers can use their mouse to spin around and view lakes, rivers and snow-topped forests. Extreme close-ups mirror cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s work on the film.

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The 200 Miles website offers a 360 viewing experience and charts key points in The Revenant
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The site also features animated text, which moves around the screen with each new clip

“We wanted to create an interactive portrait of Hugh Glass through his physical and metaphysical journey – and to bring you into an almost tactile relationship with him, his inner visions and the environment he had to survive,” say Beasley and Albuquerque.

“We achieved the immersion by using long, real-time scenes from the film and integrating them into a spherical 3-dimensional environment with a virtual camera, so that your point of view as you navigate feels like you are positioned within the space,” they explain. “We took cues from Lubezki’s groundbreaking wide-angle cinematography and extended this approach into an interactive, first-person environment – essentially allowing the viewer to become the camera in the wilderness of Hugh Glass’ environment and mind.”

The site was a complex one to build, says Albuquerque, with the team having to work out how to combine multiple layers of streaming video, visual effects and animated text – “all embedded within a fluid, 3D space that is navigatable in the x, y and z dimensions.” The biggest challenge, however, was combining those elements to create a seamless experience that users could engage with.

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Official website for Ex Machina, by Osk
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Official website for Ex Machina, by Osk, with dynamic text

The site follows Osk’s work on an experience for another of this year’s Oscar contenders, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina. Ava Sessions uses facial and emotional recognition software to create portraits of users and analyse their emotions: users are greeted by Ava (the AI being who stars in the film) and asked to type in their name, ask a few questions and pose for their webcam. Ava then takes a photograph and draws a portrait of the user which can be shared on social media or used to create a poster. Over 70,000 portraits were created within four weeks of the site’s launch.

Ava Sessions, an interactive website to promote Ex Machina, tracks users facial expressions and emotions
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The Ex Machina site then uses custom drawing software to create a unique portrait of the user

“In Ex Machina … Ava is asked to create drawings as a test to determine whether she can have dreams, express desire, and exhibit authentic creativity,” explain Albuquerque and Beasley. “We created an early version of Ava living in the browser: she uses the webcam to see you, facial recognition software to recognise you, and emotional recognition software to read your emotions as you sit for your portrait.

“We created custom drawing software that expresses Ava’s choices as she interprets and creates your portrait. Every stroke of each drawing is the result of Ava’s unique choices and produces a subjective one-of-a-kind drawing that cannot be duplicated,” they add.

Websites for Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin and David Fincher’s adaptation of Gone Girl, meanwhile, allowed people to share their deepest secrets. touched-some1.com, one of three sites created for Under the Skin, asks ‘When was the last time you touched someone?’ and displays a rolling feed of responses. A ‘River of Secrets‘ site for Gone Girl asks ‘What do you hide from the one you love?’ and allows users to anonymously share a secret over the phone, in their browser or by recording an audio clip. On both sites, responses range from sarcastic and funny to poignant and heartfelt.

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touched-some1.com, a site for Jonathan Glazer film Under the Skin
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User responses on touched-some1.com

“Both films deal with intimacy, the desire for connection, and secret identities,” explain Albuquerque and Beasley. “We wanted to create cathartic environments where anonymous revelations of secrets or intimate details would unburden you, align you with others, and create a larger collective portrait of our need to be together.”

Osk’s websites for films do exactly what web experiences should – they create a sense of intrigue and capture the mood of the film, without giving too much away. They are also simple and seamless to use. Albuquerque and Beasley say their aim when building websites for films is to make users feel connected to – or a part of – the story they are promoting.

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River of Secrets, an interactive site to promote Gone Girl, allows users to upload their darkest secrets
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Text view of anonymous secrets on riverofsecrets.com (an audio option is also available, with voices creating ripples in the water)

“A long time ago we wanted to make films in the browser. Not only is this possible now, but what that means became much more interesting. Digital is by nature interactive, fluid, and can be non-linear, real-time, unfixed, and can have its outcome influenced. It also lives in our screens in our most intimate spaces. We see this emerging digital language as a way to extend the ideas, themes and emotions that are central to a film into experiences that involve you directly – experiences that you touch and that hopefully touch you back,” they say.

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LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 25:  The 'UTOPIA 2016' flag designed by Jeremy Deller and Fraser Muggeridge studio is raised above Somerset House on January 25, 2016 in London, England. The flag heralds the launch of ëUTOPIA 2016: A Year of Imagination and Possibilityí at Somerset House. In  celebration of the 500th anniversary of Thomas Moreís Utopia, Somerset House will be staging four seasons of events, exhibitions and new commissions exploring the idea of Utopia throughout 2016.(Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images for Somerset House)

Somerset House raises its Utopian flag

Earlier today, Somerset House in London launched its year-long Utopia season by hoisting a special flag created by artist Jeremy Deller and designer Fraser Muggeridge. In celebration of the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s 1516 text, the ‘smiley face’ design is part of a wider identity which includes a reworked version of More’s Utopian alphabet.


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