Evan Boehm on narrative spaces

Between the moment I asked Evan Boehm for an interview after hearing that his interactive short film “The Carp and The Seagull” had won an award from Adobe and the time I got around to publishing this article, Evan already had another success to report: he was nominated for a Webby Award (the Oscars of the Internet!) and shortlisted for another three- in one category, he shared the list with such famous names as Pixar’s Brave and Prometheus. “The Carp and the Seagull” received most of the honours, but Evan’s installation for the hit reality tv show Project Runway also got recognition.

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Evan is a Motion Director and a graduate of Goldsmiths’ MA in Design: Critical Practice; his now famous short, an expansion of his thesis project on narrative spaces and creating a spatial representation of a story, is not just a tale but an experience, allowing the user to interact with it and see different elements of it from different viewing angles while looking at the same geometric space. If you haven’t seen it yet, it is time to do so and play with the 3D environment while learning the story of the encounter between a spirit and fisherman Masato. Then, read the chat we had:

Nadia: Most people probably see stories as a linear, two-dimensional thing…tell me more about your multidimensional approach to storytelling.

Evan: Growing up I had a keen interest in modernist writing ( Faulkner, Woolf, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, which, I guess, influenced it. Prior to taking on the MA I was a freelance animator and semi-storyteller. Over the course of the MA I was reading Borges, Derrida and trying to come to terms with the two dimensional aspect of the screen. How can I can express stories outside of that 16×9 screen? Are there aspects of a story that can only be seen from alternate, physical viewpoints? It is something that perplexes me and drives a lot of my art practice.

Nadia: Did you explore this concept in other projects apart from the Carp and Seagull short?

TheCarpandtheseagull_2

Evan: My thesis film Labyrinths was also an exploration of this concept. I think a lot on the materiality of the narrative entities I create. My interest tends to drift between space and the characters that inhabit it. In the music video for Darkstar’s Gold, it was all about the fabric that the main characters were created out of. http://www.peelyoureyes.com/project_gold/ For my Project Runway installation it was about creating a story within a space (New York’s Highline) and having passers-by inhabit that space. There, the goal was to make them take on dual roles of reader and participant.

Nadia: I know you also worked in computer games such as Call of Duty, and games are very appealing because they allow the player to inhabit a story and influence it. Does new technology is changing the way we see storytelling? Is a story more appealing if we can participate instead of receiving it passively?

Evan: I wouldn’t say a story is more appealing if we can interact with it. Being a passive participant in a story is highly entertaining. I think technology is shortening the barriers to seeing ourselves within the stories told. We are more likely to become Sonic, Mario, Link, etc in our minds through our one to one actions with these worlds.

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Nadia: You were on the MA Critical Practice at Goldsmiths, why did you choose the course and how do you think it helped your career? Why this particular course and not something directly connected to your animation background?

Evan: It made me think of my work in a wider context and to analyze it from a critical perspective. The rational behind my work has definitely sharpened because of the course. I wanted to think about my design work in a more purposeful manner. Working professionally already, I didn’t see a point in participating in a more technically minded course. Reading the course description now, the focus seems to have moved towards the world around us, but I was always more interested in the context and theoretical aspects. It also has a studio element, which was nice to balance the reading material.

Nadia: So overall would you say you are satisfied with what you got out of it?

Evan: I’d say yes, I was happy with the course. My only wish was that it was longer! I seemed to be hitting my stride just as the course finished.

Nadia: When we first wrote about you, you were about to be a speaker at the Resonate new media festival in Serbia…how did that go? What did you talk about?

Evan: It went very well. I was a bit worried as it was the opening slot on the Saturday (11am) but there were enough people not hangover to make it. I talked about Embedding Meaning in Interactive Characters (virtual and users). In storytelling we embed meaning in our authored choices. By setting my film/novel/animation on a rainy night, I am setting a mood. I am embedding meaning in the setting. With new technology we are being afforded new ways to embed meaning in stories. What does it say about a character or story by our choice of gesture? By what type of controller we use? By what type of 3D renderer we employ?

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Nadia: You’re originally from the US and you stayed in the UK after studying here…what do you think about the creative environment in Britain?

Evan: I think it’s great, but I have nothing to compare it to. I moved here for my BSc and before that I worked in coffee shops, corner stores, etc. I will say that Americans ‘hustle’ more. They are much more likely to talk money, enquire about a collaboration or just get involved.

Nadia: What are you up to next? (“future projects” is a mandatory question in any interview, it seems!)

Evan: I have another interactive film that looks like it has funding. Not 100%, but fingers crossed! I’m also pitching on projects through the company the represents me as a director, Nexus Interactive.

That’s it for now -it’s not impossible that in the meantime Evan’s work might have received even more awards and praise, but alas, there’s only so much we can cover in one article. You are welcome, however, to supplement your dose by looking at other projects from Evan on his website.

Nadia Barbu

Photos courtesy of Evan Boehm

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