February 15, 2019 by Cindy Davis

Storytelling Through Immersive Video
Los Angeles Public Library’s new Digital Commons

Where is the future of digital storytelling and immersive video?

A public library may actually hold the keys to communicating in the digital world.

The Los Angeles Public Library’s new Digital Commons boasts a 28-foot-wide high-definition, direct view LED screen in a first-floor atrium, greeting visitors with a compelling loop of videos and messaging.

We’re not talking about boring PowerPoint slides. More than 1,500 minutes of high-quality video showcases the library, its history, L.A., and features curated content including jaw-dropping video art.

A decision was made early in the process to use the immersive video display as a venue for storytelling, says Neale Stokes, Digital Content Librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library.

“We had about six months, a very short time to figure out what we're going to do with this space,” says Stokes during a presentation on the installation. “The driving ethos for our video wall is a space for storytelling about our institution, our community, and our world. The content is intended to delight, inform and educate our patrons.

“We wanted to highlight the architecture of the building, its beauty and also people in the library,” Stokes explains. “We got good at shooting time lapses. We took a lot of time to learn how to use ND (neutral density) filters, long exposures to create these kind of motion-blurred dreamy shots. It ended up being a cool way to show the library.

“We had a volunteer drone operator come in, and we got some really cool shots of the exterior of the building.”

Other content celebrates the library’s collections, such as the more spectacular objects in its rare books collection. Overhead shots with cameras on a ladder capturing librarians paging through the books made the shots dramatic.

“We also spent a lot of time scouring digital libraries and archives, looking for historical films that had ties to the library or to the local history,” adds Stokes.

Perhaps the most arresting video is a CG animation of an interstellar nebula, produced by a group called Beauty of Science. “It's visually spectacular. It's got this kind of slow, monumental feel to it and it looks beautiful on the video wall,” says Stokes. The video uses repetitive images to form waves. “I've seen people mesmerized by the nebula animation. They’ll watch it from start to finish, and when it fades out, they walk away.”

Holding patrons’ attention is a challenge for the content creators, especially when using the video wall for messaging about exhibits and other library information. Stokes sees visitors walk away after two lines of text on a welcome screen, for example.

“One of the things we've learned is what makes good content for the wall. The first is that content has to be visual. People are drawn to things that have movement in them.”

Videos have to be high-quality in their production value, and appropriate to the scale of the screen and its environment.

One of the greatest lessons for Stokes and his team was to eschew the quick-cut techniques of short social media-length videos. “We found that because of the scale of this, and because it's a more atmospheric environmental venue, you have to make the video slow to make it work,” Stokes says.

“There's also this thing I would call monumental. This is kind of an intangible quality, but it's something you do start to get a sense of when you're working with a screen this size.”

The library looks to establish the space as a destination to see original art, video art, and film. “Something on the horizon is the construction of our Central Library Digital Media Lab,” says Stokes, possibly with an artist in residency program.

A big change Stokes made was to bring in global experience design firm StandardVision to help develop content. “One of the things that attracted us to this company was that they were founded by filmmakers and artists.”

“We have a lot of ideas out there. We've got game night. We might use it as a giant display for multiplayer games, and for the special events, [like a] Mars rover landing,” says Stokes.

About Cindy Davis

Cindy Davis has been immersed in technology since dismantling her transistor radio while in grade school. For more than 20 years, she has developed and delivered content for the industry's top print and online publications as well as at live events and trade shows. Davis enjoys exploring the ethos of experiential spaces as well as diving deep into the complex topics that shape the AV/IT industry. In 2012, the TechDecisions brand of content sites she developed for EH Publishing was named one of “10 Great Business Media Websites” by B2B Media Business magazine. A lifelong New Englander, Davis makes time for coastal hikes with her husband, Gary, and their Vizsla rescue, Dixie, sailing on one of Gloucester’s great schooners, and sampling local IPAs.