Archive for the Category »W2: Digital Story «

“An Old Welshman”, by Victor Jones

I found this story on the BBC website. As part of their Telling Lives project, the BBC hosts workshops to teach people to make digital stories. Within the project archives, there is a World War II Memories section, which is where I found this story.

It is a war memoir detailing the experiences of a Welsh soldier during the British evacuation at Dunkirk. It is told from the point of view of the creator, who serves as the narrator. The story is told in chronological order and details that one specific event, with his story leading up to the evacuation and what happened to him later tacked onto the beginning and end.

The story starts with Mr. Jones describing the rushed way the British forces were mobilized and sent to France, and their quick retreat to Dunkirk. He describes the civilians along the way to the Channel, waiting at the beach before evacuation, seeing the bodies of his dead comrades, and the reception they received upon returning to England. He ends the story by stating that he returned to France on D-Day and by contemplating the loss of life there.

The story is put together very simply, just photos in a slide show with voiceover narration. The images are typical WWII snapshots – groups of soldiers in front of trucks, the narrator standing alone in fields or in front of buildings, an official British Army portrait. The only other resources used besides photographs and narration are highlighted sections from letters written by Mr. Jones.

The movie is not very polished, but that adds to its authenticity. The BBC website really focuses on the personal nature of the stories and how easy it is for average individuals to make a digital story of their own. I really felt that they wanted people to come and actually create stories themselves. Knowing that this veteran had carefully written his script and chosen the photos he wanted to put into his story so he could share his memories with other people really added to my experience in viewing it, and brought a lot of humanity to the story.

The most compelling thing about the story, however, was the script. There were several things he said which were extremely poignant. He described the civilians along the road as “the young, the old, babies in arms…tearfully begging us to pick them up and tearing at our hearts”. He described himself as, “No soldier, just a scared Welsh lad sent to France, hardly knowing how to fire a rifle”. After telling about civilians picking through the clothes of the dead in the surf he said, “Let no one say it wasn’t so – I saw it and I remember it”. When he arrived in England, he said “a cup of tea was handed to me by an angel”. This language really enhanced the imagery and served to highlight the human experience of war, and that is what really made this story stand out to me.

Cirque Du Soleil

I started by typing “digital story funny” into Google to see what would come up and this caught my interest in the middle of the first page. “9 Things Digital Storytelling Can Learn from Cirque Du Soleil” by Larissa on January 28, 2009. Looking generally at the website, ANidea seems to be a blog created by the employees of Agencynet, which seems to offer marketing, multimedia, and other technological services targeted towards an online environment (with a really cool interactive multimedia company website, by the way).

Back to the article, I scanned down the page to see if it included examples and figured that it would still work for this assignment… plus I get to see Cirque clips. :)  The article also included links to other digital stories, which included more interactive multimedia experiences as opposed to just watching YouTube clips.

The second Cirque clip, the Cry Wheel Act, got me to think about live performance versus recordings. How does the recording detract from the authenticity of the event or do you lose anything in making a recording as opposed to being live? While the acrobatic dance and music seems a bit more abstract than a person talking about their story, the way that the clips get framed create their own mini stories from the larger performance going on. This particular clip reveals a nice transition into the Wheel Act and something going on with a couple (man and a woman) plus a bunch of other male performers. They spin around in circles within their giant circles… first the woman alone, then the man alone, then more men join, and finally all four performers. A costumed donkey with two men inside of it stand off to the side. It seems like a journey scene, but I’m not entirely sure how they manage to keep a story going because the audience tends to be fascinated with the sheer artistry of the performers. Looking up the show information, Corteo is about a festive parade imagined by a clown…

Are these clips representative of digital storytelling because they’ve been digitized or do they not really fit an acceptable definition? I think there’s some sort of story being told in this act… but my inability to interpret it doesn’t seem to negate its status as a story because the web probably had plenty of bad examples of digital storytelling leaving confused viewers behind. I would argue that the dance/acrobatics would fit in a nontraditional definition of storytelling, which brings up the question of accessibility. For example, how do vision or hearing disabled individuals reap any benefits from this flowering of digital storytelling?

On a side note, it also reminds me of how movie trailers want to create interest in a story, but not give away the whole thing and still remain coherent enough to stand by itself.

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The Mountain

I found this story while exploring the Center for Digital Storytelling’s website.  While several different stories proved excellent examples of digital storytelling, I found myself coming back to “The Mountain” by Amy Johns.  This digital story was very simple in that it consisted of still images paired with music and narration by the author, but something about this simplicity was very powerful.

“The Mountain” recounts the author’s experience growing up on a mountaintop in Pennsylvania where generations of her family had lived.  Johns recounts tales of playing in a springhouse that her great, great-grandfather had built, and running wild with her brother through forests their grandfather told them had been the playground of giants.  Yet the mountain that Johns so fondly remembers soon vanished.  The author’s grandparents sold the mining rights to the mountain in order to fund the building of their retirement home, because they believed the coal beneath the property was too deep and too dirty to be valuable to the coal companies.  They were sadly mistaken, and the mountaintop Johns loved was removed in order to access the coal seam below.  She goes on to recount the differences within the family regarding the stripping of the land, and her current struggle to prevent this destruction from continuing, while lamenting the fact that her niece will never be able to experience the mountain the way that she had in her youth.

The impact this mining venture had on Johns is related to the audience through her own photographs that document the mountain’s demise.  While these pictures may not be the work of a professional photographer, the way they are used to build a narrative arc are powerful because they allow the viewer to experience the changing landscape firsthand.  This digital story reminded me that no amount of editing or visual effects is able to substitute for a good story, and I found myself encouraged because it showed me that my own technological inexperience does not prevent me from telling a powerful story in this digital medium.

Jenny Lapple (DST: The Day Nobody Died)

The Day Nobody Died 

 After searching through dozens of digital stories, it was this particular title that caught my attention and a stream of questions that kept it. Was this a near-death experience? Who experienced it? Where did it happen? What were the circumstances? Before I even hit play, I was already emotionally invested in this story.  

In seconds my questions were answered…”things didn’t go as planned…I was out of position and had to act fast…a blinding flash and a loud bang…” At this point the narrator does something very interesting in that he switches from this technical description to a physical one: “…it felt like electricity was running through my body…everything seemed to fade into the distance…” One moment I was watching the situation from above and the next I was feeling it from within. Meanwhile, images of gun shots, a lightning bolt, and the photograph of the proud officer and narrator, Michael Thompson, fade in and out of sight for a compelling visual portrayal of the story. 

 Then, the descriptive details become even more poignant and the viewer is drawn deeper into the experience, as though it were happening at this very moment. “…something about my blood mixing with filth disturbed me…” he said, and “…the nauseating smell of burnt gun powder and the tearing sensation throughout…” made me shudder as I listened. The visual accompaniment to the narrative was that of a recognition ceremony honoring the officer. Remarkably, even though I knew from this footage he would survive this experience, the horror of the descriptive details coupled with my imagination kept me locked in the situation fearing the worst. 

His partner is then heard making a frantic call to the station screaming “…cop down, cop down!” The commotion mixed with the eerie composure of the narrator’s voice was unsettling and jarring. I felt torn and restless and perhaps exactly as he had wanted. What happens next is similar to a montage sequence in a Tarantino film: flickering flashes of his life, a dry news report recounting the incident, and the narrator’s unwavering voice pulling him through his last moments of life. 

 The narrator pulls through in the end and images of angels, serene clouds, and shining light restore the peace once again. The collaboration of visual imagery and symbolism, live footage, and a slightly detached vocal narrative all held together by a slightly agitated rock song circling around the words “nobody died” create an unforgettable portrait of one man’s encounter with a near-death experience.  

 This digital story is available at

The Tale of an Engineer’s Portrait

The Tale of an Engineers Portrait

“The Tale of an Engineer’s Portrait” is about the vocation of British railway engineer Phil Crawshaw. Funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering in York, U.K. it not only describes one man’s career, but also chronicles a history of the British railway system in general. Not only do we learn about this particular engineer’s career, but the complexity of locomotive repair, a particular railway incident in Crawshaw’s career, as well as the evolution of the English railway system over the last forty years.

Technically the short is a good example of digital storytelling because it is executed simply. The video comprises very few effects. There is no music within the video, but this fact emphasizes the simplicity of the story and focuses the viewer on the narrator’s tone of voice. He describes his career with precision and care, conveying a similar attitude toward his vocation. The video begins with a pencil drawing of the speaker given to him by coworkers. This picture is the main theme of the story that bookends the video. While at the beginning the viewer sees it as a simple pencil portrait, by the end, the viewer sees the portrait in a different light– in context of the narrator’s career. This is an effective way to use one otherwise unremarkable picture to convey a powerful emotional theme.

Artistically the pictures are amateur, but convey the narrator’s passion toward his career. The video is effective in executing a topic that could have been boring, but for its narrative arc. In this way, it’s a great example of the dramatic suggestions referenced in the Storytelling Cookbook. Overall, the video demonstrates how pictures can be used simply and effectively.

One drawback to the video is it lacks clear signposts to guide the viewer. At points, the narrative becomes a jumbled litany of the narrator’s jobs, but overall, the pictures make Crawshaw’s career a persuasive and educational commentary on the British railway system. This digital short is an effective example of how one person’s story can educate with simplicity on broader topics.

Tale of an Engineer\’s Portrait

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Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) Digital Story

     Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) Digital Story

           In  searching the internet for examples of digital stories I found this from Minnesota Historical Society. Since I am a member, I was drawn to this example and examined it carefully. I was not disappointed. Several things become apparent. It was not put together by a non-technical person at MNHS as many of their articles are, but was contracted out. It was an extravagant effort that was carefully researched and cartooned. The compelling factor is the amount of historical detail that is captured under hot buttons found  throughout the story. It is a good example of a digital story. The story introduction is excellent. It combines sound, voice and visual, but then the story changes to four examples presented as cartoons with text. At this point it becomes boring. This may be a work in progress, but MNHS does not tell the viewer that. There are several changes that could increase interest. First, use voice rather than cartoon text to tell the story. The hot buttons provide a wealth of knowledge but are hardly noticeable. Highlight the hot buttons since they provide full text of the historical letter that the cartoon is based upon and other information. Read the text and move automatically through the cartoons. Next, add some historical photographs show the people quoted and to represent a trade such as milling. Include dates when describing the trade. Only four trades are offered, but there are many others in Minnesota such as mining. It is important to provide a digital format that allows the story of ordinary people to be told in a way that maintains viewer interest. This digital story falls short in this regard. We see cartoons that are connected to an original story, but the story is lost in this format.

            The compelling thing about this digital story is its hot buttons with detailed information and its potential. The hot buttons provide amplifying information and definitions which are very useful to the viewer. As seen above, a viewer can envision all sorts of improvements that would make this digital story much better. MNHS should offer this as a baseline and invite members to improve the story. I checked the MNHS web site and can find no other examples of digital stories. I’ll emailed MNHS asking why they produced the digital story in this manner and if they have any other digital stories planned.


Digital Story: Nablus

I picked a story from entitled “Nablus, A City of Life and Death.”  It was created by Mohammed Sawalha in conjunction with a number of Palestinian conflict resolution associations.  It is being used with youth programs to try and bring together both Israeli and Palestinian children.  It is a narrative about Palestinian occupation that is told by telling the story of a child’s death and what that has meant to his friends and community.  The child himself is not the subject so much as what his death inspires others to do.

Technically it is very good.  His voiceover is very clear and the background music is not too loud or intrusive.  The music is Middle Eastern music so sets the tone for the region it is about.  The cuts are not choppy and flow nicely.  He uses two special effects when telling about the death of the child and walls splitting, when he talks about the end of the occupation.  He uses a wealth of pictures of culture, the city, family, destruction and where military and civilian confines meet.  A few of the pictures he uses twice and I did not realize it until my second viewing, but it does not make the story seem redundant and helps enhance to story in some instances. 

Artistically, there is a great juxtaposition of the muted colors of the buildings and cities and the military versus the vibrant colors of the cultural clothing, the flag and the book bags of the children, which is an important symbol.  Another symbol we see more than once are doves.

It is a compelling peace as it makes us question the senseless death of the child.  No child should have to die walking home from school.  It is compelling the way the students honor the child’s memory. 

We do not get much political background information from the piece except that the Palestinians are occupied and they do not want to be.  He only mentions the Israelis by name once and that is when he describes how the boy died.  I think the story works as a tool to show unjust occupation as the child is killed.  It works as a motivational tool as the people use his death as inspiration to continue to defy the occupation and carry on their lives.  It is interesting as a peace tool as there are many confrontational images.  I think this works more as a motivational tool to want to end the occupation but the images I did not find quite powerful enough to want to end the occupation in peaceful means.  The one image of the blindfolded man comes close but not quite.  Or perhaps this is just my desensitized American media position.  Then again, no child should have to throw rocks at military tanks.  Not quite sold on that point.


The Works of James Surls

I visited the University of Houston’s web site which has a large collection of digital stories. Digital stories are defined broadly on this site as “the practice of using computer-based tools to tell stories.” I browsed the collection which was organized by topic and title. A single visual image accompanies each listing and I chose the story “The Works of James Surls” largely due to the icon of a fanciful wooden sculpture which was posted with this listing.

This story gave a summary view of Texas-based sculptor James Surls’ artistic output over a 20 year period of time. The artwork was visually captivating and the narrator provided background about the artist’s life and methodology. The voice-over was supported by ambient “New-Agey” music played by a synthesized harp and synthesized strings and the visual images consisted of pictures of the artist’s sketches and sculptures that were panned “Ken Burns” style. Although the narrator was occasionally bogged down by unnecessarily verbose “art-speak” (for example “a melange capable of reconciling utopian counterculturalism and the rigor of post-minimalist sculptural approach”), I did get a good sense of how Surls’ style is impacted by his background as a Texan.

A few missed opportunities were apparent to me in viewing this digital story. The narrator observed that Surl’s work is influenced by the same classic forms explored by Michelangelo and Rodin. This would have been a great moment to contrast some of the spiral forms used in Surls’ work with images of Michelangelo’s “Pietà” or Rodin’s “The Thinker.” Instead, the observation was left unsupported with visual images. The same could be said for the connection between Surls’ work and the breadth of the Texas landscape. A connection was remarked upon by the narrator but was not supported by specific visual images connecting an art object and a landscape photo.

Finally, the “P” sounds spoken by the narrator had a tendency to pop out on the voice-over. This was a minor annoyance at first, but since it happened several times, it became a distraction.

Learning to Drive

After doing a simple Google search for digital stories, I found myself on a website called  The website defines digital storytelling as “the art of turning a personal narrative into a multimedia experience.  It can combine music, video and/or still images with your creative voice.”  The website has a collection of videos that were created in workshops, of which the participants were primarily senior citizen.  I decided to select a digital story from this particular website because I feel that it clearly demonstrates the way in which average people are able to use this medium to tell their own stories.  The participants in the workshops, who did not grow up with the same technologies that I have, also demonstrate the ease with which digital stories are can be created today.

The digital story that I chose to analyze is titled “Learning to Drive,” and was created by Anne Levine in a Spring 2007 Digital Storytelling Workshop for Seniors.  Judging from the stories that we viewed last week in class, “Learning to Drive” seems like it was made with a very traditional take on digital storytelling.  The creator, Anne Levine, narrates the entire story accompanied only by a musical composition that helps to hold the piece together.  After listening to several other stories in my search this week, I feel that most digital stories need some sort of musical accompaniment in order to keep the viewer engaged in the piece.  Pauses in the narration and the use of still pictures often require more stimulation to keep the audience fully interested.

“Learning to Drive” is a relatively short story, with a running time of 2 minutes and 46 seconds.  After listening to several of these narrative digital stories, I am beginning to think that short, concise personal stories make some of the best.  This particular story makes use of only still pictures, and therefore the short length of the story keeps me engaged with the pictures and does not give me enough time to get bored.  Although Levine only uses still pictures, it is not simply a slide show.  The creator has used zoom features to keep the still photographs entertaining for her audience; I would, however, have probably liked this story more if she had utilized other techniques to break up the stillness of the photos.

Overall, I liked this story because of its concise nature and the simplicity of the story.  Learning how to drive is a topic that most people can relate to, and this story utilizes the art of storytelling to present any experience many people have had.  Although “Learning to Drive” could be enhanced by some other simple techniques, the audio and visuals are not overdone and allow the story and pictures to speak for themselves.

Unknown Existance

Unknown Existence by Cooper Wickum

Cooper Wickum narrates the story of a man named Dale Wickum about a trip he took on the railway system in the central part of the United States in 1970 to research the life of hobos.

It seems as if Cooper had the photographs and some written evidence and pieced what little he had together to formulate his script.  He repeats himself and that leads me to believe that he has little information to go on.  He tells us that the hobos are loners and many of them alcoholics.  They form bonds quickly and are all engaged in survival.

Apparently, Dale Wickum spent three months traveling on railroad cars with a camera and some black and white film to document the life of hobos.  Dale met many men during his trip along the railway system.  There were some quotations from Dale in the film and one feels removed from the story because the plot has little or no evidence of detailed events that happened during Dales trips.  The writing has straight forward facts with a few of Dales quotes about the hobos sprinkled into the film.

Technically the film was good.  However, I would have liked to see more photos in the film.  The music in the background had a suspenseful and dramatic tone to it and felt it helped the film greatly.  The music was perhaps the best sensation about the whole film.

Perhaps Cooper was privy to a journal left behind by Dale? One asks the question about Cooper’s relationship to Dale.  Perhaps Dale is his father or uncle but it is not revealed during the story.  The story would of been better if Cooper were to of told us more about actual events that Dale encountered along the way.  It was if we were looking through two lenses and left to ask many questions.  This story would have been much richer if there were more photographs and intimate details about Dale’s true experience on the trains.