Thinking Outside the Box: Google Virtual Cube Plays Video on All Sides

Image: Video-playing cube from Google
The latest project from the Sydney wing of Google Creative Lab is this video-playing cube.Nick Bannehr / Wired

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From interactive music videos to YouTube symphonies, the artists and designers at Google Creative Lab are known for pushing the capabilities of the web. Their latest project pushes boundaries in a very literal sense. It’s a crazy, non-linear video player: Instead of putting clips in a rectangular frame, it stretches a single narrative across all six faces of an interactive cube.

The project debuted last week at the creative festival Semi-Permanent, in Sydney. There, a massive virtual version of the cube was projected on a wall, with scenes from an experimental short film playing out simultaneously on all six sides. By twisting and turning a handheld cork cube, viewers could decide for themselves when and how to move from side to side and scene to scene. In a sense, they become the editors of the three-dimensional story.

The latest project from the Sydney wing of Google Creative Lab is this video-playing cube.Nick Bannehr / Wired

The task of creating that story fell on Steve Ayson and Damien Shatford, the directors that Semi-Permanent and Google tapped for the job. In terms of filmmaking, it was a challenge as unique as the canvas itself. “The main challenge is that you’re not just telling one story. You’re telling six stories,” Ayson says. Ultimately, they settled on a loosely connected series of sequences based on the seven main story types–comedy, tragedy, rags-to-riches and so on–with characters moving seamlessly between the different scenes of the cube’s faces.

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The idea for the project was born last year at the Google Creative Lab in Sydney. From the start, the team saw it as an experiment in both technology and storytelling. “At Google, what’s exciting to us about the cube is that it’s really exploring different ways of approaching film,” says Jonathan Richards, a creative lead at the studio. “We’ve been quite accustomed to film being a little rectangle on the web which you could play and experience the director’s vision. But what would it be like if you handed the editing experience over to the audience and said, ‘You’re going to create the path through this film. You’re going to decide the narrative structure.’”

The ultimate aim is to make the cube available as a sort of sandbox for creators. In coming months, Google plans to release an embeddable version of the player, in addition to a smartphone app which would let viewers prod the cube as scenes played out. Tom Uglow, a creative director at Google’s Sydney studio, hopes that the experimental canvas might be of interest not just to artists but perhaps to people like educators and journalists, too.

“There are so many places you can go,” he says. “We show it to creative people, and they all want to take it to their own place.”

— Kyle Vanhemert, Wired

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