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The current buzz around Transmedia is justified to its capital T, to listen to some of the original and fascinating ways theatre, film and even toys are being developed. The award winning Unlimited Theatre Co. and Makieworld were two of the best which showcased at the Children's Media Conference in Sheffield, UK, last week.
Unlimited is responsible for the hugely successful children’s production, Mission to Mars. The core story concerns the adventures of a pair of astronauts who set out on the first manned mission to Mars in 2035 but what makes it different, according Creative Director Jon Spooner, is the company’s trademark focus on the “liveness” of the experience and its “cross platform curiosity”. As well as being an engrossing yarn, the show imparts key science info and is the centre of a number of brilliantly executed satellite projects.
Most of these involve collaboration with real scientists, notably schools agency Radiowaves. Under their aegis, the company have mounted “performances” in a number of primary schools with The Astronautical Challenge, an adventure where the children can immerse themselves in space over a five week period, receiving packages and message from the astronauts and ultimately mounting a rescue mission. Unsurprising, kids LOVE IT.
And it doesn’t stop there. As well as employing the now ubiquitous social media websites, the company also engage their audiences in conversation via “Space Camp” – a game where children and parents train to be astronauts, which takes place at theatres, festivals such as “Greenman”, and London’s Science Museum. The kids get involved by asking the scientists any manner of questions from “how far is Mars?” to the jaw dropping “what is quantum physics?”
And Unlimited’s progress certainly looks limitless. Already holders of the National Charity Award, last week, they won the prestigious Sir Authur Clarke Award for Achievement in Space Education and Outreach. They have the ear of David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, and are currently developing what Spooner describes as:
“A massive multiplayer online game – where you sign up, lead missions, team up and follow stories. It’s Hogwarts for geeks”.
At the other end of the children’s transmedia spectrum is London based Makieworld, founded by fount of all knowledge on toys: Alice Taylor. Alice’s description of her work at Makielabs brought forth gasps of amazement from the CMC audience because what they do is not just make toys but customisable, 3D-printed, locally made (i.e. not in China), and internet-enabled toys. According to Alice:
“These are ground-breaking, future-smashing toys that a user can customise to their liking, and have delivered from their digital avatar to their doorstep. It’s disruptive. We’re calling it 3D-Printed Fun: it’s an infinite loop between digital play and physical play. We have a 3D prototype doll (action figures and toys to come), an awesome team and some big ideas.”
The 3D manufacturing is taken care of by what is essentially a printer, there are several of these on the market including Makerbot, winner of last year’s Consumer Electronics Show and one by Z Corp. The price which used to forbidding is gradually coming down. The material used is usually the same plastic as that utilised by Lego but anything can used: gold, ceramics, the only impact is on the price.
What emerged from this panel and others at this year CMC is overwhelming evidence that today’s kids don’t want to be a captive audience. The phenomenal success of multiplatform products such as Moshi Monsters only goes to back up US company Latitude’s research that kids want participation with the computer and TV, they want to create and be involved. They are game players, watching the least TV and their imagination, of what’s possible in the future, has no boundaries: one of Latitude’s studies found that nearly 40% of kids imagined tech that bridged gap between virtual and physical experience: touching/feeling things on the screen.