Teamwork is All About Communication
World Online Orchestra (WOO) is an international co-production between ourselves (Helios Design Labs in Toronto), Denmark-based Copenhagen Phil and creative studio Markropol.
In essence WOO is an interactive symphony that you can join. By joining WOO you change how it looks and how it sounds. At some point, over time, and individual contributions to pool, Beethoven's 7th Symphony becomes something new, and WOO looks and sounds very different from what it began as.
I'm focusing on this project in particular to demonstrate that complex and epic endeavors like WOO can be pulled off with never actually meeting the other team players in person. A combination of Skype, Google, Google Docs, project management discipline all play their parts, but the true star here is the much-discussed and ballyhooed 'Agile Development' process. It works!
Here's the aphorism: Working code is the measure of progress.
Here's the aphorism in practice: Working code is a stable, tangible, common line of communication over thousands of miles, distant time zones, crappy Skype connections, and busy schedules.
So, teamwork is all about communication. If a picture is worth a thousand word, we've learned that a thousand words of code are worth an infinite amount of words. Especially if you're talking to Danish people.
It Takes a Team
Collaboration and ensemble practice has always been an essential part of making films and performances, and sometimes visual art, but the nature of collaboration and the roles continue to shift as technology impacts the way that we produce and tell stories. There is a growing capacity to democratize media making and media consumption, and make it more accountable and participatory.
The creative engine behind this kind of storytelling is not often a one-person-band or solo artist. One primary reason is scale; when you want to create work that collaborates with thousands, millions, or even billions of people to tell a story–that’s not something you easily can do (or want to do) alone. Another reason is oversaturation; when you are producing work in a landscape where immersion is a tactic to reach people who are inundated with media, you need a team that can produce media on multiple platforms and reach people everywhere they are.
After Hurricane Sandy devastated coastal communities across the Northeast, we felt an urgent need to create a project that would be both immersive and at scale, and foster a space for all of the people who have been impacted by the storm to build a collective narrative. With limited resources to pay a team initially, we built one, nonetheless, with dozens of volunteers bringing their expertise to bear to develop and produce various aspects of the project.
What we’ve learned is that a critical part of developing your team is recognizing what you are and what you are not. We see ourselves as multi-hyphenated artists–we are producers, directors, organizers, journalists, administrators, designers, and educators. Still, there are so many others that we want to and need to collaborate with to make our work happen, whether or not it is researchers, web developers, technologists, media and arts presenters, lawyers, teachers, community-based and social service organizations, academics, policy groups, other storytellers, and more. These other individuals and groups make our team whole and change not only the products we produce but also the entire process of creation.
By Rachel Falcone, Multimedia Producer, Educator and Cultural Organizer
Working Near and Far
Our core team on Avatar Secrets is writer/director, creative director, illustrator, animation director, developer, and cinematographer. There are more roles, but those are the ones that are in constant contact. Our core team is small, and we talk daily, day and night.
Team as family: I think it’s true of most productions, but especially one we’re you’re innovating and figuring things out as you go, you really become like a family; you know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and most importantly that you can rely on each other. There’s often more work to be done than there are people to do it, so everyone on the team really needs to think of the project as more than a job, it’s a shared vision that we’re all collaborating on.
Accountability: On an independent interactive project – everyone needs to know what is expected of them and what the rest of the team needs from them – we are all responsible to each other, and reliant on each other, and one person being out of synch can impact the full project, team and timeline.
Overlapping skills: Because we have a small team, it’s really important that everyone know what their specific role is, and their deliverables, but there also needs to be the freedom of not being confined to just one role; everyone does what needs to get done to tackle a creative challenge.
Cloud-based production: Our team is dispersed, and what that necessitated in terms of production methods and workflow proved to be essential to the project’s management. Having people spread out required us to base our production in the cloud, and because of that, we’re all working on the same material in real time. Media assets are saved to the cloud and integrated into After Effects, and those exports are saved to the cloud and pulled into edits and timelines. We have color-coded Google docs that do double duty as platforms for feedback and notes, as well as pipelines and progress. Without it, the sheer quantity of content would be totally overwhelming. We’ve always got a video chat connection running, so really, between Skype, Dropbox and Google Drive, we’re constantly connected even though we’re spread out.
Working near and far: This production has really taught me what can be done long distance versus what can be done face to face; What can be done over email, versus what requires a conversation… for efficiency, creativity, and problem solving. Early on in development, we were trying to nail down the beats in the main narrative, and we just needed to be together in the same room; we rolled paper over the ground and plotted everything out by hand, and I don’t think we could have done that digitally. Sometimes it’s easier to talk than type, and more efficient too, as emails can lead you in circles around a topic, but the converse is true, where the time shifts with a-temporal communication like email actually gives you time to think about a problem, and reflect on it.