Five rural cinemas across Europe are rethinking their role for the 21st century as they increasingly face competition from streaming services and large screen megaplexes. In response, local cinemas are exploring the direction of becoming a culture and innovation hub. This includes new forms of visual media, interactive installations and the organisation of festivals and cultural programs. The Connected Cinemas asked the Civic Interaction Design research group from the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences to create a playful digital media installations at events that target a younger audience.
With the challenge to attract a younger audience, we performed research about the possibilities and decided to focus specifically on millennials. This, because although this audience uses streaming services, they still value the cinematic experience and grow up with cinemas as the only option to watch new films. We questioned what they love about the cinema and came across answers like the smell of popcorn, the soft seats, the good audiovisual quality and the immersive experience.
Design to Escape Reality
We brainstormed about how we could take millennials on a cinematic journey so that they can escape reality. We used techniques like brainstorming, brainwriting, and forced connections. Eventually, we came up with three concepts:
Melody Cubes are positioned at seats in the cinema. These allow players to create a melody collaboratively before and after the movie.
Booths, located inside the cinema but outside the black box, that asks visitors to come and share their cinema-related confessions.
Two screens, attached to each other, with cameras on both sides, allow viewers to watch to the other side of the screen, but with a filter that looks like an illustration.
Expanding the Experience
From the stakeholders' feedback and the research group, together with our preference, we focussed on the Melody Cubes that we developed further into CineCubes. We didn't want to replace the excising cinematic experience but instead expanding it further with our concept. CineCubes are spread throughout the seats and are connected with the centralised stereo. Each cube controls a channel of a melody that corresponds to the movie, and by jiggling the cube, the player plays their track. For the song to play ultimately, collaboration is required.
Creating the Prototype
Each CineCube is equipped with an Arduino, accelerometer, battery, and a light. This information is sent over a UDP network to a central computer in the cinema.
Each CineCube unmutes a channel from a melody when it's being juggled. This feature runs on a digital audio workstation (DAW) on the cinema's central computer.
After we concluded that the 8cm-size fits good in the target audience's hands and provides the ability to include all the necessary technology, we hand-made the cubes. We choose the material wood to enhance the cosy feel millenials seem to value considering our user research. The cube is finished with sound waves to hint about its functionality, and the light on top does not only reveal the technology inside the artefact. Still, it can also act as a system indicator to show, for example, that the connection is poor.
If the position on the seat, the light and the sound waves on the cubes are not triggering enough, one can look at the screen and see our trigger animation.
With CineCubes, it is not our intention to break the highly appreciated movie-watching experience. Instead, we try to bring the people in the black box together by creating a shared atmosphere of discovery and enthusiasm before the film starts. The digital media installation is highly suitable for festivals and cultural programs but can also be used for premiers or theme nights.
For only six weeks of work, we were given a broad brief to answer. Therefore, We decided to focus more on making a playful media installation and the engagement of a younger audience and less on local cinemas' cultural influence. I'm glad about the extensive research that we conducted to make this decision and the investigation of needs and cinema appreciations under millenials, which helped us until the end. Our prototype answered our goal, but testing was made difficult by restrictions during the time of manufacturing. I see this as an essential step in the design process, and, unfortunately, this wasn't possible.