Bringing Interactivity to Museums: An Interview with MDM Faculty Larry Bafia, Part 2

Larry Bafia has had an incredible career—from the claymation days of Will Vinton Studios, to being the Commerical Animation Director at PDI/Dreamworks, to now being a full-time faculty member at the Centre for Digital Media. I sat down to talk to Larry about his involvement with MDM students in an interactive exhibit with the Vancouver Maritime Museum this summer and, with his background in traditional media, what it was like to work on the project.

This is Part 2 of our interview with MDM faculty Larry Bafia. If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.

You worked with MDM students on a really interesting interactive exhibit project with the Vancouver Maritime Museum this summer. Can you tell us about the project?

It was summer 2014 and I was having wine with my neighbour, Robert Allan, who is a Marine Architect on the Vancouver Maritime Museum’s board. He was saying that the museum has been seeking more return visitors. That they have great historical artifacts but they’re not being shown in a 21st century way. He was familiar with the CDM and was wondering if it would be a viable industry project.

We were immediately excited about the idea. We’ve been interested in how we can bring interactivity into museums and how the MDM program and museums can work together.

So then the director of the museum, Ken Burton, came to the CDM to talk to the students. They said that they were working on a Arctic exhibition with artifacts—including St. Roch, an RCMP ship that sailed through the Arctic—and had started working with U.K.-based exhibition design firm Haley Sharpe.

The museum had ideas for two different projects. One, take a touchscreen display and tell a story about the St. Roch. Two, show what it would be like to steer a ship like that. Originally, the museum wanted to put touchscreens where the 5 windows in the wheelhouse would be to show what it was like to look forward in the wheelhouse while driving the ship, but it was a heritage structure so they weren’t able to install them.

Since the MDM team assigned to the project was bigger than the typical MDM project team [there were 9 students instead of the usual 3-5 students] they chose to take the risk of taking on two projects and solving both problems.

First, the student team decided to show what it was like to go through the Ballot Straight in the Arctic at the wheel helm of the St. Roch. So they created an interactive display to show the ice, the environment and the animals that a person would have seen while driving the ship.

Girl at the Interactive Wheelhouse exhibit at the Vancouver Maritime Musuem
The interactive display at the wheel helm of the St. Roch, courtesy of the Vancouver Martime Museum.

Second, the students wanted to show the parts of the boat that the public can’t access—areas with dangerous beams for ice for example—so they created a 3D model of the parts of the boat that most people can’t see.

Both interactive displays are completely accessible to everyone. Someone in a wheelchair can drive the ship, for example.

The projects are still up in the museum and have had tons of interest from the media and public. The project team continues to enter their video for different conferences and competitions. The video appeared at SIGGRAPH 2015 and was nominated for a Unity Award.

What was it like for you to work on this project?

For me, it was a personal proof of concept. I helped the team with the visual storytelling and creating the experience.

Before the MDM, most of my projects were just on the flat screen but exhibit-based works, like many digital media projects, use all kinds of different mediums.

What’s interesting is that digital media—interactive exhibits or apps for example—use the same processes as traditional media. You need to address the problem and figure out what story to tell. It’s the same process for developing the motivation for a character in a movie.

The transition from traditional storytelling to digital storytelling isn’t that different. In Projects I, for example, the students learn that you don’t just build something linearly. I use examples from how we used to develop commercials and the non-linear process for that.

It's the same with teaching the students agile concepts. I use traditional examples and show that they’re non-linear.

If you could have your students leave with one skill or piece of knowledge what would that be?

The best products are made when you believe in yourself, your team and the idea—because then you’ll keep going until it’s a success.

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If you missed it, here's Part 1: From Claymation to Digital Media: An Interview with MDM Faculty Larry Bafia.

Larry’s Portfolio.
Connect with Larry on LinkedIn.