Character Design in the Digital Age


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Here is my presentation from the Immersive Writing Lab ( I was asked to talk about creating characters. I talked a little bit about what influences my stuff and a couple of my projects. Hope you like it.

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Character Design in the Digital Age

  1. 1. Character Design in the Digital Age<br />Marcus BrownHead of Social Media at<br />Booming in Munich<br />
  2. 2. Part One.Things that have always influenced me<br />Please note: This presentation was originally given at the Immersive Writing Lab in London. It looked a little different.I have added some things. I have also removed some bits.There may be some spelling mistakes.<br />
  3. 3. Mr. Benn<br />I loved Mr. Benn as a kid. Back then, it made perfect sense to me that a grown man would regularly go to a costume shop. It made sense that a shop keeper would appear „as if by magic“ and it made sense that Mr. Benn could walk through the green door and enter a fantastic adventure.<br />It still makes sense to me that grownups can be whatever they want to be, whenever they want to be it. It’s a shame we don’t do it more often.<br />
  4. 4. WWE<br />I’m a huge fan of the WWE. I love the way they embrace telling stories and how they develop their characters. I love the spectacle of it. <br />WWE also taught me that characters can disappear. That characters can have “seasons”. That characters can die and come back again. The Undertaker has been doing this brilliantly for years.<br />If you want to understand how great storytelling works then you had better watch some WWE. <br />
  5. 5. Millennium was the first television show that made me want more from a story. It made me want to dig a little deeper into some of the themes that it was discussing.<br />I spent hours digging through conspiracy theory sites, newsgroups and forums because of this show and an episode in Season 2 called “The Mikado” has been very important to the work I have been making ever since.<br />Millennium<br />
  6. 6. Part Two.Lessons learned from my digital characters<br />
  7. 7. Sacrum<br />I’ve never thought of my work as being “transmedia”. Some people have said that it is. What you call transmedia started off, for me at least, as pissing about on the Internet.<br />Sacrum, my first character, started of as a joke. He began life as a series of Emails and a few blog comments. <br />
  8. 8. Sacrum started to live.<br />He then grew. Started doing his quirky little PowerPoint charts, which started popping up all over the place. He turned up at conferences and he was invited for job interviews.<br />He was living. Then I cut my hair and killed him.<br />
  9. 9. Digital charactershave to …<br />live and breathe<br />One of the many lessons I have learned over the course of the past couple of years is that characters have to live and breathe because they’re just robots if they don‘t. Robots tend to be a bit dull and real people don’t really like dull things. <br />By the way, this is Charles. He was a bit dull and everybody hated him. So I killed him off too (I‘ll bring him back though).<br />
  10. 10. Digital charactershave to …<br />do what real people do, where real people do them<br />If you look at what you, your family and your friends do online, then you see all of the things that a digital character needs to do. It also shows you where they need to be doing those things.<br />
  11. 11. Digital characterslive in …<br />streams<br />The Internet is a huge empathy machine connecting millions of streams to each other. Digital characters live in these streams. They inhabit them. They don’t disrupt them. <br />
  12. 12. Part Three.Designing a digital character<br />
  13. 13. Jack The Twitter<br />Jack is a monster and a psychotic digital stalker. He likes Prokofiev, liver and hunting down location based tweets. He is haunted and tormented by the ghost of his wicked mother. He has a rod of punishment and he probably wants to use it to punish you.<br />
  14. 14. Jack The Twitter<br />
  15. 15. CharacterComponents<br />Streams<br />Platforms<br />Aggregators<br />Creating a digital character is all about inhabiting spaces, understanding the spaces, how those spaces work and the kind of stories that can happen in them spaces.<br />Passports<br />
  16. 16.
  17. 17. The tapestry of digital character<br />You can separate and distribute any part of the characters mood, any part of their story, any of their actions and any of their interests into multiple platforms. The character becomes richer, deeper and more, well, human. They start to liveand you’re giving your audience more.<br />
  18. 18. Character doing things<br />The most important thing about a digital character is that they have to do things. We can’t have them sitting around all day doing nothing. <br />Jack The Twitter was “observing” people in London. People like Jon. People checking into places. People who were telling the whole world where they were and what they were doing. <br />
  19. 19. Character doing things<br />So Jack would describe his encounters with people and document them on his own google map. Each entry would link back to the original tweet.<br />
  20. 20. Character doing things<br />Then Jack would inform the world and his victim of the encounter. <br />
  21. 21. Streamtelling<br />Jack doesn’t have a beginning, a middle and an end, he has a middle, middle, and a middle. He’s feeding off of digital streams and the people contributing to them. Jack never stops. His tale is an endless stream of encounters. I call this streamtelling.<br />
  22. 22. Character doing things<br />Jack found out that there was a “TweetUp” going on in London. He knew who was going to be there. He knew when those people were going to be there. He knew that they would tweet about being there.<br />
  23. 23. Character doing things<br />So he sent all of those people a little personal video message. <br />
  24. 24. Performance<br />Digital characters have to perform. In order for Jack to really engage with his “victims” I needed him to be visible and to be real. It was also really important to show that he really was just a digital character and that the people he was engaging with were becoming part of his story. <br />
  25. 25. Character doing things<br />Sometimes really special things happen. Jack’s encounter with Anjali was a very special thing indeed. It started out normally enough.<br />
  26. 26. Character doing things<br />Jack described the encounter, placed it on his map and informed everybody what had happened. Then something happened.<br />
  27. 27. Character doing things<br />Anjali replied and introduced a new set of characters to this part of Jack’s tale. I really wanted to use this so Jack went hunting.<br />
  28. 28. Metamedia<br />Forget Social Media. Forget Transmedia. Because I was writing all of this in Munich, I was having to use all of the meta data available on google maps to find my way and describe London as Jack was seeing it. Our physical world is surrounded by invisible meta data just waiting to be used. <br />I used it to talk to Anjali and her colleagues at Made By Many.<br />
  29. 29. Character doing things<br />So I used google street view to have a look at where her office was located and found this building, which is directly opposite Made By Many. Then Jack introduced himself to Anjali and her colleagues. <br />
  30. 30. Character doing things<br />They, in turn, introduced themselves to Jack. <br />
  31. 31. Digital Improvisation<br />The interaction with Anjali and her colleagues was rich and funny and introduced something which I think all digital characters need to be capable of. They need to be able to improvise and create new bits of the tale as and when the situation arises. It makes the experience for the audience real. <br />
  32. 32. Part Four.1 thoughtand 1 rant.<br />
  33. 33. If you create digital characters be prepared to perform<br />
  34. 34. Get out of the storytelling jail<br />
  35. 35. That’s it.<br />Thank you.<br />I’m Marcus. I did this. I’m the Head of Social Media at a company called Booming. I live in Munich. I have created about 14 digital characters. You can find me on twitter @marcusjhbrown. <br />