Adobe Digital Dialogue

Depend on humans, partner with tech

In 2016 the World Bank came to cre­ative direc­tor Chris Panzetta and his team with a brief: tell the gate­keep­ers of glob­al fund­ing about the plight of war-torn com­mu­ni­ties in the Asia-Pacif­ic region.

The bankers need­ed to spark a very spe­cif­ic emo­tion: empa­thy.

As with every brief, Panzetta shared it with his team of 15 cre­atives at S1T2, a cre­ative agency based in Syd­ney. Their round-table dis­cus­sion began with a famil­iar process to define the issue, find the sto­ry, then deter­mine the best tech­nol­o­gy to tell that sto­ry.

Of all the tools at their dis­pos­al, they con­sid­ered care­ful­ly which had the great­est capac­i­ty to elic­it empa­thy.

“Each tech­nol­o­gy has an affor­dance, so you try to look at the affor­dance and link it to the prob­lem,” Panzetta says.

Vir­tu­al real­i­ty pro­vides for nat­u­ral­ly immer­sive expe­ri­ences in which con­tent can be the audi­ence is ful­ly sur­round­ed by the con­tent or explored by its users. These qual­i­ties made VR first choice for the World Bank project.

“With VR, its affor­dance is empa­thy,” Panzetta says. “If you need to cre­ate empa­thy, that’s a good place to start.”

Panzetta co-found­ed S1T2 – or Sto­ry 1st Tech­nol­o­gy 2nd – with uni­ver­si­ty friend Tash Tan. As the agency’s name sug­gests, sto­ry­telling is the top pri­or­i­ty, but explor­ing new tech­nolo­gies is also deeply embed­ded.

Panzetta is unashamed­ly proud of the World Bank project, which took the form of a 360-degree VR doc­u­men­tary series. Not only was the sub­ject mat­ter impor­tant and wor­thy, but the fin­ished prod­uct also cre­at­ed a pal­pa­ble sense of human vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, with expert exe­cu­tion.
“You can’t deny the results and abil­i­ty of this immer­sive sto­ry­telling and the con­nec­tion it has with an audi­ence mem­ber when it’s well designed,” Panzetta says.

Since then, S1T2 has worked with an array of emo­tions and all man­ner of tools, includ­ing open frame­works, aug­ment­ed real­i­ty, game engines, bio­met­rics, lasers and more.

As an Adobe Cre­ative Cloud for Teams user, remix­ing Adobe’s logo alone took a mas­ter pianist’s notes, a dancer in a dig­i­tal Smart­Suit, and an explo­sion of dynam­ic colour to move as one. See S1T2’s remix of the Adobe brand here.

Tucked away in Sydney’s Sur­ry Hills, S1T2 has attract­ed var­i­ous brands inter­est­ed in immer­sive sto­ry­telling, bring­ing big projects and long hours to the small team. But for Panzetta, the small busi­ness struc­ture is cru­cial to the agency’s sus­tain­abil­i­ty.

“The trick to this stu­dio is the cul­ture, and cul­ture is always per­me­at­ed by its mem­bers,” he says. “So when you have a small­er team, indi­vid­u­als feel more enti­tled to it and respon­si­ble for it, so there’s more own­er­ship. We find that when you’ve got more own­er­ship there’s more effort, and you have more skin in the game.”

Hang­ing on the office wall is a mur­al called “The evo­lu­tion of sto­ry­telling”. It’s a win­dow into the six stages of sto­ry­telling: spo­ken, writ­ten, print­ing press, motion, inter­ac­tiv­i­ty and the future. Panzetta is quick to point out that although the tech­nol­o­gy has changed, the sto­ry­lines have stayed the same, and this encap­su­lates the agency’s approach to tri­al­ing new tech­nol­o­gy.

“What peo­ple enjoy, their behav­iours, they stay the same,” he says. “All tech­nol­o­gy changes is how we serve that up. You can take con­fi­dence in things that don’t change very fast and that gives you the sta­bil­i­ty to look at these new tech­nolo­gies. Then you’re not as afraid.”

A “tech­nol­o­gy agnos­tic” approach may seem unre­al­is­tic to many agen­cies – why spend resources explor­ing new tools when you can exploit exist­ing skillsets? But Panzetta is strict about under­stand­ing what affor­dance a new tech­nol­o­gy can bring before invest­ing in its explo­ration, and this poten­tial should be on every agency’s mind in today’s dis­rup­tive envi­ron­ment.

“Tech­nol­o­gy changes faster than peo­ple,” Panzetta says. “You still have a lot of peo­ple in a lot of agen­cies who are used to how things used to be and they’re resist­ing change even though it shouldn’t be resist­ed. I do think every­one needs to have a much wider view of the pos­si­bil­i­ties, but I don’t think there’s any­thing wrong with spe­cial­i­sa­tion at all.”

At the far end of S1T2’s mur­al is a lantern-car­ry­ing fig­ure climb­ing the stairs of a 3D cas­tle. This is the “jour­ney­man”, an iden­ti­ty that fea­tures in all four stages, rep­re­sent­ing the “sto­ry­tellers” of that day. This is a reminder for Panzetta’s team – and the cre­ative indus­try – that humans don’t change, so keep explor­ing new tech­nol­o­gy with­out fear.

“What we’re real­ly inter­est­ed in is that last island and where we are now with immer­sive sto­ry­telling, with inter­ac­tive sto­ry­telling,” Panzetta says. “What do we find and what does this new island look like?”

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