In “Triangle,” a couple scurries into a motel room for what looks like an afternoon tryst. But as the door shuts and the duo’s bump-and-grind is reflected in the darkened TV screen, you start to notice the odd collection of objects on the dresser that are just begging to be explored. Sunglasses, the message light blinking on the phone, a drawer that opens to reveal a bible and a bottle of whiskey. Each of these is a clue in the story, which, as you interact with the objects, begins to unfold before your eyes.
As the director of the third film in the Touching Stories series, Tool of North America‘s Tom Routson was not completely sold on the concept of interactive videos–he didn’t want it to be an exercise in playing with the emerging technology of the iPad. “Technology sometimes advances and people are like, ‘We can do this now?! We can change a story?!’ But I’m not so sure that that’s a good thing,” he says. “My story, I give you choices, but it still goes where I want you to go.”
Instead, Routson focused completely on his plot, then found ways to enhance the experience for the viewer without resorting to bells and whistles just because the iPad had provided them. “To me it’s like I’m painting, but just because there’s red on the palette doesn’t mean that I have to use it,” he says. “I used what I thought would be good for the user.”
For Routson, the visual challenge became finding the balance between suggesting to the viewer what to do and showing them too much. “I didn’t want to prompt anyone,” he says. “I wanted them to sit there, watch something and intuitively shake it or do something until they got frustrated.” This frustration innately drives the suspense of the film, so the programmers didn’t want to make the choices too intrusive. “We didn’t want to have big buttons on the screen that say, ‘Click me,’ but at the same time we needed to have something that indicated that they should engage,” says Jonathan Hills, executive creative director at Domani Studios, Tool’s technology partner. One technique that worked was letting the tiniest gleam of light pass over the objects, drawing the viewer’s eye to their presence.
At the end, the viewer can scroll back or forward between the past and the future to reveal more clues about what went down in that motel room, confirming Routson’s statement that it’s still all about that payoff in the end. “Let’s say it had the most cool interactive thing, but in the end there was no story, or the story sucked, then why bother?” he says. “I firmly believe that it’s all about the story and this is just a way to augment the story, to have fun with the story, but it still has to be about character, plot and humanity–so that’s what I did.”
Additional reporting by Christine Clarke