I cut my teeth on motion design at turn of the 21st century, when the desktop computer revolution was in full swing. A handful of studios were redefining what we now vaguely refer to as “motion graphics” and revolutionizing the means of production in the process. One such studio was co-founded by someone who would carve a rather unique path through the industry.
With a Masters in Architecture from Columbia University under her belt, Vivian Rosenthal co-founded Tronic Studios with Jesse Seppi in 2001. Together, they worked at the intersection of art, design and architecture, creating works that were featured many times on this site and across the web.
Vivian then founded GoldRun, an augmented reality platform that allows people to pursue virtual objects in the real world. Her latest endeavor, GoldRunner, is built on the synthesis of everything she’s done up to this point.
In the following interview, we dig into GoldRunner, transmedia storytelling and the entrepreneurial path that Vivian followed out of of service work and into product development.
Before we get going, check out the GoldRunner trailer.
Interview with Vivian Rosenthal, Executive Producer of GoldRunner
The Goldrunner trailer is pretty intriguing. And mysterious. Give us the elevator pitch: what is this project all about?
GoldRunner is a reality TV show that integrates mobile gaming and augmented reality into a quest where players race against each other in a futuristic scavenger hunt to discover who is the ultimate hero, and who will win the ultimate prize. The Bourne Identity meets Mission Impossible, but in real time, in the real world, with real people.
Where did the idea for Goldrunner come from?
I was thinking about how incredibly siloed the multi-billion dollar entertainment industry is. There are films, reality and scripted TV shows, console games, social games, mobile games and for the most part, there is not a lot of crossover between them.
Yes, sometimes a film is then made into a game, but often it’s an afterthought, and only happens if the film does well or if it’s a successful franchise that the studios can easily bet on.
I voiced my frustration to my agent when I was in LA, and he reminded me, gently, that I had at one point been a live action and CG commercial director and that I should stop being frustrated with the current entertainment landscape and just do something about it.
And that’s what I did. On the plane heading home, I wrote up the GoldRunner treatment and then in the dead of winter directed the trailer. I called a few friends who are all extremely talented, and we managed to shoot the whole thing in two days, wearing many layers of clothes.
The name of the series is Goldrunner; you are also the creator of Goldrun Augmented Reality app. Can you explain the connection between the two?
In some ways, they’re one and the same, although they’re being utilized in very different ways.
I believe that the language of the future is a visually based language. This is why I created GoldRun and also GoldRunner. GoldRunner allows viewers and players to participate in a real time narrative where their actions determine how the game and TV show unfolds. The two manifestations of the property overlap and intersect, influencing the viewer or player by creating a heightened experience that transcends watching the weekly show and influences their daily lives through the mobile game.
GoldRun is a photo based mobile engagement platform I founded that uses GPS-based Augmented Reality to allow brands to virtually place products inside user generated photos. It’s been called the Instagram for brands.
Since I had developed and owned the IP, I realized I could use it outside of advertising if I rethought how it was to be used and what the experience was. Suddenly, it all became very clear that there was an opportunity to create a transmedia project… and GoldRunner was born.
Humans tend to create things they like, and I loved the idea of not just playing a game, but the game being the reality. My reality was a game I realized, just the way everyone’s life is really a game, and they can choose to play it however they see fit. Life is one fast moving and dramatic game, the ultimate unfolding and unknowable narrative. I didn’t want to just watch a TV show or a film, I wanted to live it. And I knew that others shared this interest in being part of something bigger than themselves that they had agency in.
Transmedia projects seem incredibly difficult to manage. What have been some of the biggest challenges with Goldrunner? How have you addressed them?
Transmedia is a genre that is unfolding and evolving every day, which is both exciting and challenging because technology is charging ahead so quickly that sometimes the need for storytelling or narrative becomes secondary.
My goal with GoldRunner is both to incorporate the latest technology but not have it overpower the story or the gameplay. GoldRunner could be labeled as an ARG (Alternate Reality Game). This genre of gaming has been on the fringes but ARGs are beginning to enter into the popular landscape.
One thing that was quite a surprise to our team was the recent launch of Google’s Ingress project, which has a number of similarities to GoldRunner, in that it’s an ARG and an augmented reality mobile game.
There are of course many aspects that are also quite different about the two transmedia properties, but we put the GoldRunner trailer up on Vimeo six months ago, so we all started wondering if Google had seen it and been influenced by it. If they did, we’ll take that as a compliment and if they claim they didn’t see it, then I guess I’d have to say that both GoldRunner and Ingress capture the zeitgeist.
Will Goldrunner “work” as a passive experience, too? Or do viewer/users need to participate in its transmedia aspects to understand the narrative?
GoldRunner works both as a passive and participatory experience. You choose. You do not need to play to follow the narrative and watch the TV show. But to play is to win, to watch is to be entertained. People want to be entertained in many different ways. Some want to be the voyeur and some want to have agency, to shape the narrative, to be the narrative. GoldRunner offers both of these opportunities.
So is this a “second screen” experience, one that allows viewers to use their devices to extend the narrative?
For the most part, second screen viewing is still very much a passive experience. Checking into TV shows, texting, and watching content is becoming ubiquitous, but it’s still about sitting on the couch.
GoldRunner ushers in a new experience that expands the definition of a second screen to your city, not your living room, and to running, not watching. GoldRunner offers fans the choice to discover and create and play rather than simply consuming and viewing.
The road behind
A lot of us know you from your time at Tronic. How did your experience there help you with this project?
Life is a series of experiences that build upon each other. Studying architecture and then working in design, film and animation very much shaped how I saw the world. To me, it was always an ephemeral shape-shifting entity, not a static landscape.
I have always wanted to live in the future, to be a cyborg, to defy gravity. It’s hard to know when this desire first surfaced or why, but I was young, about twelve years old. Every science fiction trope captured my imagination, from the digital doppelgangers of Blade Runner to the virtual interfaces of Minority Report.
When I co-founded Tronic, it was 2001 and most of these virtual experiences had to be faked… in other words, they needed to be created in post-production. On one hand, it was extremely exciting to dream up these ideas and create them digitally, but on the other hand, it felt a bit static, because they were perfectly crafted and then suddenly dated, they didn’t react to the world around us.
With Tronic, GoldRun and now GoldRunner, you’ve created an interesting entrepreneurial arc for yourself. Do you think of yourself as an entrepreneur? If so, what does that mean to you? If not, why?
Yes, I do think of myself as an entrepreneur. Essentially to me it feels that through obsession, creation is born. That’s my definition of what it means to be an entrepreneur. You need to be so overwhelmingly obsessed with something to the point where you actually can extract that thing from your mind and bring it into the world and make an idea a reality.
An important aspect of your career (in my opinion) is the shift from service work (i.e. running a production company/studio like Tronic) to developing intellectual property and marketing products. Was that a conscious shift? If so, can you talk a little about that decision process?
Yes, it was very much a conscious shift. I had spent eight years developing IP and marketing products for others and I realized I was giving away my ideas. Yes, I was being paid for them and I learned a huge amount for working for incredible brands, but I didn’t actually create anything that I owned. The idea of creating and owning IP and allowing it to grow became increasingly intoxicating.
A lot of folks out there have been doing motion graphics and post-production for some time. They’re getting tired of pushing pixels and dealing with difficult clients. Do you feel that you’ve found a way “out” of the system? Do you recommend your path to others?
I certainly recommend this path to those who don’t need a client to feel inspired. Some people love to have a client and deadline and restraints and there’s nothing wrong with that, in fact it’s often a good challenge.
But for those of you reading this that feel that you have an idea burning in your mind, then I would say to create it. If it fails then it fails, but you’ll continue to have new ideas that you can test if the first one doesn’t work.
The path ahead
Do you think Goldrunner (and other transmedia series) could work in the traditional broadcast model? More generally, is there a way to shoehorn new media experiences into old media somehow?
Yes, absolutely. The GoldRunner property could live in many places, from a TV network to a YouTube channel to Netflix to Hulu to XBOX Live. That’s the beauty of the digital age we’re living in — there are multiple distribution channels. Certainly, the chosen distribution platform will shape the series and the experience, but certainly having GoldRunner live on TV is viable. The mobile game would be an extension of the TV content.
To orchestrate the transmedia touch points for Goldrunner, did you need to develop new technology? If so, are you planning on making that technology a licensable framework?
Most of the core technology has been developed for GoldRun, but some new features certainly are being developed for GoldRunner. Currently, I don’t plan on licensing the technology, but maybe I’ll feel differently down the line.
When and where does Goldrunner launch? Will it start with a pilot or has the whole series been put into production already?
It will launch towards the end of 2013. It will begin as a pilot. We are talking to a few big production companies and film studios to find the right partner. If you’re reading this and work at one and this resonates with you… come find me.
How do we get involved? Can we “play” the show?
I would ask that everyone who reads this interview download the app and take a photo of the OMNI to enter into the journey. You can download the free app on iOS and Android. Five women and five men will be selected to be on the show. Simply enter your email address through the www.goldrunner2013.com website to enter to be a contestant.
The OMNI is the iconic symbol that connects all the GoldRunners. OMNI stands for OMNIscience, the capacity to know everything. The more you play, the more you know and the more levels of the OMNI you unlock and access and the closer you are to completing the Quest.