Interview with Ana Serrano , News

Interview with Ana Serrano

Ana Serrano is the Chief Digital Officer at the Canadian Film Centre and Founder of CFC Media Lab, the world-renowned institute for interactive storytelling. We spoke with Ana who spoke at our 360 Vision event about her experiences with VR and what trends she’s noticed over the last year.


It has been a year since you came to Sydney to speak at our inaugural 360 Vision initiative. What changes and trends have you seen in the last 12 months?

The biggest change is the “softening” of the industry. Some people call it the “valley of disillusionment” when the hype has died down somewhat and the economic projections get adjusted from approximately US$130 billion in 2014 to US$75 billion in 2017.  But really the way to think about it is a readjustment of expectations to a more realistic scale (and time and space) when creators can have some time to actually experiment and try stuff out. But what it also means is that for VR companies it’s critical that they remain sustainable as the mainstream consumer market catches up later than expected. That may mean pivoting towards more B2B services.


What attracted you to VR?

I’ve basically been in the immersive and interactive storytelling space for my entire career. To me VR is just the next platform in a continuum of platforms, from interactive TV to mobile, for example, which are at their core – digital and networked.  So I’m not in the honeymoon stage with VR. I’ve been married to this notion that digital, networked storytelling and/or entertainment experiences are and/or will eventually be a thing, that the advent of VR is kinda like akin to my life-long partner developing a new style. It’s nice and all, but it’s the 20 years of hard work in the interactive and immersive storytelling space that matters.


You have talked a lot about preserving the public commons in VR, for example, speaking about how advertising has almost entirely infiltrated our online environment. At this early stage in VR advancement, what steps can its pioneers take in that direction?

I think being very careful what platforms you choose to develop on and for.  Building transparent and explicit relationships with your users and for that matter the subjects, if any, you may be documenting. Choosing not to track data. So much can be done now.


How will this affect the VR world for the future?

Well, the latest news is that Mark Zuckerberg wants to create brain interface into his VR and AR platforms. If that’s not what I called the “sub-zero moment of truth” business model I spoke about in this TedXToronto talk I did, I don’t know what is.


What will allow for social sharing in VR application that will make us feel attachment?

I’m glad you used the word “attachment.” I’ve been using that myself lately. Attachment to me is a neutral word because it can reflect many types of connections - from attachment through projection; attachment through sympathy; attachment even as a cerebral connection vs. a visceral one.

So for attachment, I think the questions we need to to ask are the following:

  1. What kind of relationship are you hoping to have with your viewers, audience, users?
  2. How do we think about what this connection we’re trying to make before we begin our work? 
  3. Are there kinds of attachment we don’t want your audiences to have to your work? (Obsession?)
  4. How do we craft attachment as layers of connection? For example do we think about the "accessible hook" that can lead into "considered connection.”

What advice do you have for Australian practitioners have with their projects?

Make sure you don’t fall into making “projects” if you want to survive as a VR-only company on the next 3-5 years. You may need to think about being part of larger collectives as a way to weather this phase, or think about creating services and/or products that other people will pay for.


Can you share with us a couple of your favourite VR finds of the last year?

I think given what I said above, asymmetric (in 2 or more platforms with different gameplays in each) multiplayer VR games are going to be the big trend in the next couple of years. My favourite is Panoptic:

I’m also super partial to our own project Small Wonders: the VR Experience. How would you like to go inside a 15th Century prayer bead?

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