Sony Wonder Brings Action to Education
Turner, Jean, American Cinematographer
Multitude of formats brought together to introduce technology to kids.
Aboard the current wave that carries us into the future, there is an insistence that entertainment should be more than frivolous, offering some degree of educational merit. Thus, we have coined the term "edutainment," and many new formats are seeking to expand our minds while thrilling us with rides, movies, computer games, hands-on this and virtual reality that.
This trend continued recently in New York City, when the AT&T building was acquired by Sony Corporation. As a condition of the lease with the city, Sony was enjoined to provide a space to the public for educational purposes. Sony Wonder, as it is called, opened this summer with an eye to the 8- to 18-year-old crowd, and a new concept became reality. The theme is a laboratory where audiences participate in hands-on sound mixing, video camera work, robotics, and research - learning to use modern tools by doing.
As an introduction to the various labs, a pre-show was designed by Edwin Schlossberg (ESI, Inc.), produced by Dream Quest of Simi Valley, California and directed, written and generally created by a diverse crew whose expertise combined Super 35mm live-action cinematography, computer graphics, traditionally animated creations, transfer to high-definition laserdisc, and all the innovations that come to mind in the new world of edutainment. But perhaps the most exciting use of technology is the addition of two interactive segments: at predetermined points in the film, every member of the audience participates in moving the plot along.
According to producer Art Repola, "The movie we made was an 8.5-minute pre-show to get visitors interested and excited, warm them up about technology and open the doors to the hands-on activities. It's playing in a 72-seat theater in New York City at Sony Wonder, and no place else on the planet."
Actors Paul Zaloom and Eliza Schneider, from the television show Beakmaris World, are featured in the live action, along with the comedian Sinbad. Animated characters in the show were created by Jon Fahrat of Dream Quest, and voices include those of Rae Dawn Chong and Tony Danza. "Thus, we have everything: computer graphics, live action, and the interactive parts of the movie," says Repola. "Hoyt Yeatman, Dream Quest's creative founder and director, was instrumental in helping ESI develop the interactivity. The film had to be made so that it hooked up to the interactivity. We developed it creatively, and we supplied the elements to fit the pieces of the puzzle together.
"[Edwin Schlossberg's] vision on interactivity is that in most cases, if the audience affects the outcome, you have winners and you have losers," Royola explains. "He wanted a cooperative educational experience instead. When the kids walk in, they don't even know they're going to see a movie. There's a giant video game on the screen, with 72 sprites numbered 1 to 72, and each seat has its own joystick. Somebody in seat 26 can move the little joystick around and see that the corresponding sprite is affected. Once they get the hang of that, the movie starts.
"There are two instances in the movie where they all have to work together as a team. In one case, they get blasted off course, out of the building, into space, and they're going to be lost forever unless they can ricochet off a satellite and get back to earth. They all have to use their joysticks to work together to accomplish the goal. There's a second instance of interactivity when Beakman burns out a circuit board on the computer, and they have to work together to solve a maze-like puzzle to correct the circuit."
Yeatman, who directed along with Jay Dubin, had much to do with the concept and also was part of the writing team (which also included Repola, Zaloom and Dubin). He says what made this project fun was that it was not a typical specialvenue ride film. "You could tell a little bit more of a story, and it was eight minutes long, which gave us a little more time to do that. …