Vision, emotion and connection: bringing data to life through storytelling

30 Oct 2018 • Brand

Samia Hoque

There is no medium as powerful as story. From Shakespeare and Martin Luther King to Richard Branson, great authors, speakers and leaders use stories to connect with people.

In film, screenwriters, directors, production and visual effects teams are dedicated to the creation of stories and worlds that connect with and captivate audiences. And, in business storytelling is used as a tool to help connect audiences with facts, data, ideas and vision.

At Territory, we work with film directors to support story, vision and world by visualising technology interfaces that explain story beats, support action and performance. Complex data often features as part of our graphic visualisations and interface design, and in the contemporary and near world films that we work on, it often references factual data.

From military ops thrillers like Zero Dark Thirty, American Assassin, Mile 22 and Hunter Killer, to the science ‘fact’ behind The Martian, the NASA inspired story of the first manned mission to Mars, we work with technical consultants and the production team to make data accessible so that the audience can understand complex plot points.

Our work on the The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott, is a case in point. Working in close collaboration with Dave Lavery from NASA, our team worked hard to understand the data streams and technical systems and protocols that support NASA and JPL ‘s (Jet Propulsion Lab) work, missions and plans for a manned mission to Mars. In the words of Production Designer Arthur Max, “technology was the lens through which this story was told” and while the plot was science fiction, the story was grounded in science fact.

The Martian technology screens in NASA Mission Control. Image courtesy Twentieth Century Fox.

In collaboration with NASA, our work involved research to create a cohesive visual language that signalled near future evolution of NASA’s own systems and interface design, and distilled complex data into clearly visualised screens to tell the story of how NASA and astronaut Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) communicate and ultimately attempt a rescue mission to bring him home.  Ultimately, our technology interfaces, many of which featured on large screens and supported story and performance, successfully balanced factual authenticity with human drama.

Today, we apply narrative insights that we’ve learned from film to commercial briefs, and help organisations and businesses visualise information to more effectively communicate and connect with stakeholders, consumers and audiences. Whether working with statistics, data, facts or ideas, our aim is to visualise those elements as part of a compelling narrative.

Perhaps the most challenging stories to visualise are ones that focus on numbers and statistics. For example, how do we tell the story of the greatest health intervention in the world with drama and sensitivity? This was the challenge handed to us by Beyond Words Studio, a design firm that specialises in data narratives.

With the vision to communicate the success of the Neglected Tropical Disease Programme,  BWS team had devised Cascadea strong narrative with staggering numbers at the heart of its creative concept. We were asked to bring this story to life through an emotive motion graphic treatment that visualised the dramatic success and inspired stakeholders and donors to see the programme through to completion.

Working closely with BWS and the soundtrack composer, we crafted and animated the various elements of this story with beauty and sensitivity. The resulting projection formed a dynamic backdrop to the keynote speech at the NTD Summit, held in Geneva in 2017. Visually compelling, it tells an emotional story of mortality, of lives saved, of hope for the future, of astounding progress and the challenge ahead.

Another approach to telling a numerical story is through dynamic coding and interaction. Life At Work is the result of a creative journey that explores the symbiotic relationship between our designers and the studio’s render farm.

On a computer screen, the render management software shows server tasks as numbers on a spreadsheet, but we wanted to express this human-digital relationship through a dynamic installation. Using the metaphor of ‘render eggs’ generated by ‘mother nodes’ to visualise the dynamics of the studio’s creative production process, we collaborated with creative technologist Will Gallia, to create an organic, tactile and living status board of the day’s work. Anyone passing can intervene to reset the visual by using hand gestures to clean out any ‘failed’ or ‘suspended’ tasks.

Welcoming visitors to our Open Studio during Clerkenwell Design Week 2018, the installation helped to explain our creative process through a simple, playful and beautifully realised metaphor.

In addition to numbers and statistics, complex technical information can be made clear through emotive narratives. Technology brands often struggle to explain the benefits of their products and networks to consumers or businesses, and this is where storytelling can help.

When Intel wanted to share the benefits of their technology, we created a series of films that demonstrated their investment in the Internet of Things and big data capabilities across retail, manufacturing and logistics sectors.

Working closely with Intel’s internal creative team, we combined creative vision with technology narratives in a series of engaging 1 minute films that demonstrate how Intel’s advanced scanning and sensor technology facilitates and empowers businesses. Futuristic and imaginative, these films convey the connected power of Intel’s technology and bring the inherent potential of IoT and big data to life.

From the IoT technology of today to the potential of AI in the megacities of 2050, we draw on all of our film, live action and event experience to create unique stories that inform and entertain.

When Here Technologies wanted to showcase the potential of their connected products at CES2018, we envisaged the autonomous world of 2050 for a large scale installation.

In collaboration with creative agency B-Reel, we brought our cinematic experience to the brief. Our concept was to visualise a futuristic urban landscape, that demonstrated how Here Technologies autonomous vehicles and drones, and smart technology systems and networks can improve the quality of urban living.

Understanding HERE’s mission, products and services, enabled us to blend live action and CG to tell the story of how intelligent systems and networks can optimise efficiency across transportation, utilities, energy and health to improve the quality of life for people and communities.

Inspired by Dubai’s cityscape, we built a technological and architectural world that that matches the ambition and vision of that city. Mixing subtle visual cues and data overlays, we suggest constant streams of information flowing through data networks, while the overlays share information and statistics about everything from energy consumption and benefits to health.

Projected in 8K on a 7.6m x 4.3m screen, the 3 minute ultra-high definition installation film let visitors glimpse a connected future made possible by their product suite.

Year Million – National Geographic

Looking beyond 2050 to Year Million required design that combined scientific speculation with the vision of a science-fiction narrative.

A six part documentary drama series from National Geographic, Year Million explored what it will be like to be human one million years into the future. In collaboration with Radical Media we created VFX and motion graphic content that illustrated complex ideas as explained by scientists and futurists.

Our graphic visualisations helped convey incredibly complex and abstract ideas so that an audience could visually grasp theoretical and futuristic technology that in many cases haven’t yet been invented or even visualized before.  A unique challenge, we combined our science fiction expertise with scientific theory to envisage these concepts and theories.

Ultimately, statistics, data, facts and ideas have rich stories to tell. Having used motion graphics to help tell many data and information stories for films, we apply our narrative expertise, high production values and world building vision to visualise data with humanity, creating stories that people can understand, engage with and relate to.



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