Featured Speaker Interview: Anton & Irene

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Featured Speaker Interview: Anton & Irene

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"Thirty years ago, eight women embarked on a radical experiment in urban living: they built a communal house in central Amsterdam in which practically everything — from kitchen utensils to childcare — was shared."

One Shared House – an interactive documentary by Anton Repponen and Irene Pereyra – is a two-year long journey returning to Irene's childhood home to learn about the story of this unusual place.  Throughout the film, viewers are asked to participate in an online experience to discover what they're willing to share in their own lives.

Your recent release – One Shared House – is an interactive documentary. Can you tell us why you felt it was important to add an element of interaction to the film?

We have been very interested in using digital to push storytelling forward, and we wanted to try to see if we could make video and animations engaging in a medium that tends to get a bad rep when it comes to “long-form content”. The film is about 10 minutes long and requires your full attention, which is not something you see very often. The other great thing about doing things interactively, is that you can ask people to participate. The input the viewers are giving at the end of the film, is an integral part of the story.

As designers we normally create work for others to communicate something, which gets labeled “client work” and every once in awhile you get to work on something that is purely for your own enjoyment and self-expression which is labeled “personal work”. That’s why rather than calling it “personal work”, we prefer to call it “self-initiated work”.

Since this project was fully self-funded, and self-initiated, it took almost 2 years to complete in between our regular client work. We did it — not just for the sake of self-expression — but because projects like these allow us to experiment with disciplines and techniques for which there typically is no space in client based projects, and through this experimentation we get out of our rut and out of our comfort zone and become stronger designers because of it.

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As the results were coming in, it was incredibly fascinating to see how we all have different levels of comfort when it comes to sharing things in our own, immediate living environment, and an overwhelming amount of the beta participants emailed us incredibly thoughtful emails throughout the week. People from all over the world were sharing their own experiences or thoughts around communal living, which were all very personal and incredibly touching to read.

What do you hope to do with the data you collect from the film?

This is going to sound a little crazy, perhaps, but we didn’t think about that at all. We saw this project like a personal research project, or a thesis. We wanted to tell this story, and we were curious about the data that would come in afterwards. We released the project in beta a week before its release, and invited people through our social media to participate prior to launch. We got an overwhelming amount of participants, and so many incredibly thoughtful emails from the beta participants afterwards. People from all over the world were sharing their own experiences or thoughts around communal living, which were all very personal and incredibly touching to read.

The results that came in were quite interesting. Seems that most people would be willing to share internet and a garden, and most people would rather share a kitchen than a toilet or a bathroom. In my experience sharing a toilet and bathroom was never a problem, but the area that was always the most contested was the kitchen. Kitchens get dirty quite quickly and since people have different levels of what they would consider “clean”, most of the arguments in our house were about that. Perhaps the people who answered the documentary remember what it was like to grow up in a big family where the bathroom was always the war zone, or maybe they just don’t cook that much!

All in all, it will be nice to close the book on this topic now, and move on to our next self-initiated project, which is something completely different and in the product design realm: an analog wristwatch.

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"Once we finally put all the pieces together with animations, music, voice-over, videos, hot-spots and sound effects, we realized producing an actual interactive movie is not the same as just slapping a video with a timeline in the browser. It’s much, much more complicated."

With everything you learned in the process of making an interactive documentary, is it a medium you’ll continue to experiment with?

We went into this project quite naively. We thought we could finish it in a couple of months, but since we were working on it in between client projects, it ended up taking over two years from start to finish. We also never created something that had so many different components requiring so many different disciplines and people –– from sound to video to illustration to 3D to motion design to copy writing.

As this was the first time we had made an interactive documentary, the most difficult part of the project was figuring out the balance between wanting viewers to interact with the content, and wanting viewers to have more of a “lean back” experience. After much trial and error we finally settled on accommodating two different user behaviours: passive (making sure the experience still made sense if viewers didn’t interact with anything at all), and active (making sure viewers would not lose their sense of place if they did interact). For this we looked at early game design like “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego” to make sure we successfully designed for both use cases, while keeping the interactive elements as simple as possible.

"Once we heard everything come together and watched the entire piece with the final sound in place it gave us chills."

Another big obstacle was getting the sound just right. We didn't realize we had to manually tweak all the levels every time we exported the sound from Logic Pro to mp3 to finally the browser, and every browser handles running two audio tracks simultaneously differently so the voice-over was getting drowned out by the soundtrack in some browsers, but not in others. Total pain in the ass. Once that was optimized, we had to figure out how to subtly enhance the interactions through sound. What would happen to the sound if viewers paused the film? Or when it would load? How do we want it to sound when viewers hover or click on interactive elements? This was an incredibly tedious and precise process that took much longer than expected, but at least we learned many many valuable lessons for next time.

Lastly, we didn't make a website, we basically made a film. And making a film is incredibly time-consuming and expensive. We'd love to make one for a client, or get some funds to make a new one, but as we even just briefly dipped our toes into the film-fundraising world we know that we would never have the time to devote ourselves to getting funding. We'd need to get a proper producer for that. But if all these things would line up sometime in the future, we'd love to make another one.

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You’ve worked together for a long time, and share everything from a studio to hotel rooms. Is there anything you refuse to share with each other?

Now that we've almost been working together for 10 years we are deliberately putting some more boundaries around our personal lives and our work. For the first 7 years of working together Anton was the person I saw the most, spoke to the most, knew the best, and the person I shared the most life-experiences with.

Our first studio when going independent two years ago was just with the two of us, and that really didn't work. We both started feeling incredibly claustrophobic and annoyed with each other and it was starting to affect our joy of going into the studio –– and in term our work –– so we decided to move into a bigger studio with other creatives. Not quite unlike the house in which I grew up. We share a kitchen, bathrooms, conference rooms, and common areas with the others in the studio. In this way, Anton and I can continue to work together without being on top of each other and without getting on each other's nerves. It also allows us to have more of a personal life outside of the studio by keeping work at the studio and our personal lives separate. So "One Shared Studio" is the next phase in our working relationship :-)

 


Learn more about One Shared House and how to maintain a work / life balance from experts Anton & Irene at

FITC Amsterdam // Design. Technology. Cool Shit.
Amsterdam • Feb 20-21, 2017

FITC Toronto // The Future of Innovation, Technology & Creativity
Hilton Toronto • April 23-25

Or on their website antonandirene.com