The power of cinematic experience is one that has walked hand in hand with popular culture for decades. The way cinematic techniques can trigger emotion and feeling, stimulate interest, transport audiences, and truly connect us with key topics and convey powerful stories.
Our latest Industry Insights Lab is all about this powerful storytelling, and specifically through the medium of spheres. We spoke with the award-winning film maker, Kate Raisz, a creative professional whose 30+ years of experience making documentaries is just the beginning. Her passion for storytelling is inherent in the work she produces, and as a key Partner to Pufferfish, her refreshing point of view was one we simply had to explore!
Join us as we discuss ‘spherical cinema’ as Kate describes it, and her unique perspective on using cinematic techniques on a spherical medium:
It’s about more than Data
“I like to think of what we do as ‘spherical cinema’. It’s more than just presenting the data. While the data tells a passionate story in itself, it isn’t always a thing of beauty - That’s not its job. Data is the touchstone, the beginning, but not the one and only asset we should be working with. So, while the data is where we start, we build from there with tried and tested cinematic techniques to deepen engagement. We give the data context, emotion, and we trigger feeling and reaction through our use of Drama, Humour, Surprise, Imagery - and more.”
Cinematic Technique 1: Drama
“Drama in spherical cinema is vastly similar to that on the big screen. Drama draws us in, it makes us feel something, it gets us hooked on the story, and makes us long for the resolution. In the context of science, of data stories and of education, this is very much the same. A great example of how to use drama in a spherical medium is a project I worked on where we were discussing the diversity of oceans. To show the dynamic nature of them, and the complexity of these ocean basins, we began by sucking out all of the water to show the features of the ocean floor. Talk about dramatic!
With all the water on the Earth removed, we could see enormous valleys, peaks, plains and we could see just how diverse our planet is. To make that same point without the drama wouldn’t have the same strength. So the drama deepens the understanding of the science for audiences.”
Cinematic Technique 2: Humour
“Humour is such an important part of human experience - joy, laughter and true, honest connection. It’s no different for storytelling on the sphere. An example of how we can use humour to deepen engagement and really stimulate reaction in audiences, was a project I did about ocean currents.
Rather than just show an animation, we decided to use rubber duckies to get the audience hooked. Who doesn’t love a rubber ducky?
We watched the rubber duckies move with the surface currents, we watched them glide across the ocean, and audiences could engage with science in such a relaxed, fun and enjoyable way. We all know rubber duckies, so why not use them to trigger response and engage them in a scene that data alone might have lost the mark. Humour can make things more accessible, it lowers barriers, and it gives context without being intimidating.”
Cinematic Technique 3: Surprise
“Surprise is another key technique in cinema. And no, we’re not talking about scaring or shocking, but genuine surprise can trigger great interest and also great response. Another project I worked on, we used this technique to engage people with strong scientific data – this time surrounding the poles. We started with the standard view, and then rotated so that the poles were where we would usually see the equator. Not only did this shift the way the audience had seen the world, but it also allowed us to see the geographic entirety of the Arctic and Antarctic like never before.
Seeing the poles in their entirety meant we could see the entire relationship each pole has with its surroundings. It allowed us to see that the Arctic is mainly water, and the Antarctic is mainly land mass.
This use of surprise meant we could engage audiences through the medium of the unseen, the unknown, and suddenly the data had such powerful context.”
Cinematic Technique 4: Imagery
“Imagery is of course key, and potentially the most important of all when it comes to spherical cinema and exploring science through storytelling. As noted above, data isn’t always a thing of beauty, it needs to be interpreted and transformed to truly transport and engage an audience. So, this is where you can overlay data with imagery that is custom-made for the spherical format; play with surfaces, play with colour, and truly stimulate all the senses.
For example, I worked on a project with the Hong Kong Maritime Museum where we were exploring the maritime history of Hong Kong. We told the story of their history on a sphere, and transformed the sphere into things like lanterns and tea cups to further showcase the beauty and cultural richness of Hong Kong. This imagery was brightly coloured and eye-catching, and a great way to deepen engagement with the topic. Imagery can introduce new connection points for an audience.”
Always think about your Audience
“With any kind of storytelling, you have to always have your audience in mind. We always need to think about catching their attention, but it shouldn’t end there. It should be about drawing emotion, about helping them learn and grow from what they see, and to always consider that amongst your work. Whether it be through the music chosen, the messaging used, the themes explored, the list can go on. But spherical cinema is a great way of thinking about the journey for your audience and how to make it both delightful and illuminating.”
As Kate so eloquently explores, spherical cinema is a powerful storytelling tool. A chance to connect, a chance to create meaningful moments, to deepen engagement, education and transform the way data is used to communicate stories.
In the words of Martin Scorsese, “Now more than ever we need to talk to each other, to listen to each other and understand how we see the world, and cinema is the best medium for doing this.” And after the year we've had, this statement feels more relevant than ever!
Learn more about Kate Raisz and her incredible work here, and see her full bio below:
Kate Raisz is an award-winning media producer, director, and writer with thirty years of experience making films, websites, and interactive experiences for museums and broadcast television. Her expertise lies in translating complex ideas from science, natural history and culture into compelling and dramatic media pieces for the general public.