January 21, 2015

Sloan Science Seminar: World Building - The Art & Science of Storytelling

SCA Hosts Exhibition of World Building Technology

Alex McDowell speaking in the Ray Stark Family Theatre

One of the most compelling developments in modern filmmaking is how evolving technologies influence how artists express themselves. The USC School of Cinematic Arts (SCA) has long been on the forefront of debating the importance of technological developments to creators and, on January 16th, the School hosted a panel discussion on one of cinema’s current cutting-edge applications of technologies: World Building. The panel covered world building as a function of pre-production in films, world building in the modern city and how transmedia is being increasingly controlled by fans.

The first speaker of the evening was Alex McDowell, the William Cameron Menzies Professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and the Founder and Creative Director, 5D/GlobalStudio. McDowell spoke about his time as a production designer, building worlds for feature films including Minority Report and Superman Begins.

McDowell stressed that world building technology needs to grow out of the storytelling needs of the entertainment industry to be truly effective. He also talked about the use of world building technologies to “test out” ideas in theory before implementing them in large-scale social programs, essentially using an imagined world to test repercussions that could occur in the real world. “It’s time that we consider how storytelling has an effect on science,” said McDowell. “We are looking at how storytelling sparks the imagination and then that imagination becomes reality.”

Henry Jenkins, the Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts and Education at USC spoke on the future of transmedia and how fans are helping to create and grow worlds in which stories are told.

Moderator Scott Fisher, Jenkins, McDowell and Pendleton-Julian

Jenkins said the worlds are a critical part of the project. "More and more when we encouter a piece of media, we are encountering something which is bigger than the individual story,” said Jenkins. “We’re getting stories that are told across multiple media channels. This is nothing new. Sequels. Prequels. Movies that grow into TV shows. Game worlds on TV. Comic book universes. These are all spaces where the world is bigger than the story.”

 Ann Pendleton-Julian, Professor, Knowlton School of Architecture at Ohio State University spoke about world building’s contributions to the art and science of architecture.

“I’ve designed houses. Universities. Now, I like to work on the scale of the city. That’s where the 21st Century is playing out in the world of architecture,” said Pendleton-Julian. Shanghai has literally been ‘world built’ like Minority Report. The idea that one can go beyond building stuff and build worlds where you can test out ideas is a fascinating way to use technology.”

Following presentations from each panelist, the group answered questions from the audience.