After completing work on the first version of ABC iView and with ABC TV Multiplatform’s successful bid to fund a department to maintain the product and brand ongoing, I began to lead a production that would become the AFI award-winning digital documentary, Gallipoli: The First Day. Full credits for the production can be viewed here.
Initially, the project developed out of merging two distinct ideas. On one hand, how can digital explore documentary storytelling in new ways? On the other, interest in exploring the Gallipoli Landings in order to convey the harshness of the landscape, something one of my colleagues Meena Tharmarajah was struck by having recently visited the historic battlefront.
When you’re creating a digital factual narrative, comprehending what can be done with the constraints of budget, talent and time are critical. For instance, I wanted to dramatise the diaries, which are so poignant, but remain quite nascent in their archival written form. It was very fortunate that Hugo Weaving was interested to work on the project and bring his talents to bear. Working with Hugo to record pages of diaries in a broad and subtle diversity of accents from across the country was a real highlight of the production.
I made the decision to create dioramas early on in pre-production, and spent nearly half of the cash budget on having 3d assets and models created to specification. Knowing that animating these would be out of the question, I decided to use the camera and spot animation as the dynamic elements. This gives a sense of museum diorama to the sequences that resonates with what you would see at the Australian War Memorial, for instance.
Additionally, there was the tension of having to create a ‘bloodless war,’ as the interactive would need to be used by children more or less of all ages. Rather than showing the horrors experienced in the theatre of war we were describing, I chose to use sound instead, evoking the action that you don’t see. Not only did this fit well with the restraints of the animation and design style, it allowed for some feeling of intensity that would otherwise have been less successfully communicated, if at all. This works particularly well in the fifth diorama, The Kaba Tepe Guns. I attribute this technique to the lessons of great radio dramatisations, such as Charles Chiltern’s Journey Into Space!
One of the key technology breakthroughs that allowed the project to go ahead was Adobe Flash’s integration of Z space, allowing us to develop a spatial representation of the Gallipoli Peninsula. After testing the new capabilities and balancing that with processing considerations, we settled on a balance of not having more than between 4 and 5 thousand polygons in camera (visual memory) at any one time. This is an extremely low count for conveying complex information, so there were (as is often the case in online production) a considerable degree of smoke and mirror techniques employed. For instance, a great deal of the detail you see in the finished environment is bakedin, a term that describes a sort of graphic hard coding, a technique that doesn’t require the computer to apply any processing.
The shadows cast upon the landscape never change through the day because they are part of the detail in the photographic texture applied to the polygonal form of the landscape. The sky itself has no volume, but like a cardboard theatre is a flat texture wrapped 360 degrees around the Z space of the map. If you look closely at certain times of the day, you can see the seam!
Once Gallipoli: The First Day had been published, the Department of Veteran Affairs funded us to distribute a DVD version of the site to all schools nationwide, and it is used as a curriculum resource today. And it was also featured in the media and design press for being a landmark piece of digital storytelling. It won the inaugural AFI fro Screen Innovation and an AIMIA award in the category of Best Cultural.
Here’s a write-up by Digital Media World from 2009. Below is a feature on the interactive and graphic design, from Desktop Magazine.