September 22, 2010
C3 Thinking, Transmedia Worldbuilding and The Deep World of Avatar

Many media studies scholars and creative professionals depend on the C3 blog (as well as Prof. Jenkins' blog, the CMS Program website and the blogs of our fellow CMS research projects) for the ideas which they can then apply to the intellectual, creative or market problem they are trying to get to the "next level". As I think everyone who has been on the team of this research project would agree, Prof. Jenkins' "framing and naming" of otherwise complex concepts into remarkably accessible written language and his always inspiring and engaging speaking style are at the core of his pedagogical style and intellectual modeling of how we do what we do here at C3 and CMS.

It is this C3 early warning system and pattern recognition of emergent cultural patterns, logics and phenomenology (in our case surrounding the circulation and distribution of old and new media) on which the success of the C3 research project is built.

Of course, because we frame it or name it, that does not mean we own it. In his opening remarks at last year's FOE4, Prof. Jenkins was quick to make this very point, specifically regarding the discourse on Transmedia:

"Transmedia seems to be a word that means lots of different things to lots of different we may refer to "cross-platform entertainment" or... "Deep Media" which is Frank Rose's term. As far as I am concerned, I don't care what you call it. What we're involved in is a shift in the way entertainment operates in our culture, but a shift that's been long term and I'll explain that it has a deeper history and I think the focus on newness maybe misleads us. But I am interested in the phenomenon and each of these words talks about different aspects of the phenomenon in different ways. They get at it in different ways. Maybe we should have a discussion about what those differences are. But I am not invested in a vocabulary war about what we christen this thing. I think it's much more interesting that we talk about it and try to figure out what is going on."

We know there is a remarkably passionate and loyal C3 blog community who is very appreciative of the way "C3 Thinking" inspires them, assists them and moves forward their media industries scholarship and creative projects to a whole new level. Call it what you want - brainstorming, ideation, praxis, pre-production, concept phase, theory and practice, research, outlining, strategic design, storyboarding, index card/post-it note hell, development or pre-visualization - "C3 Thinking" intervenes on and contributes to all of these early-stage project design processes (books, films, games, television programming, etc).

This blog entry is an effort to embrace Prof. Jenkins' most recent framing and naming endeavor - now known as the Seven Core Principles of Transmedia Storytelling. I thought it would be helpful to our readership to organize occasional blog entries in a very specific fashion around each of these core principles (Spreadability vs. Drillability; Continuity vs. Multiplicity; Immersion vs. Extractability; Worldbuilding; Seriality; Subjectivity; and Performance). I will also try to strike a balance in presenting the information for those who are internalizing core concepts surrounding transmedia for the first time and seasoned transmedia veterans.

I begin here with Worldbuilding (back story, story development, production design or concept development - again, call it what you will): it is easy when writing a script, designing a film or conceiving of a game to flinch on a true commitment to the design of and deployment of a deeply textured world filled with detail that does not directly service the core narrative or primary narrative objectives. Time and budget are usually the biggest elements working against building a deep world.

The reality is great worldbuilding must precede the storytelling. An early commitment to detail will communicate information beyond the purely functional elements required for the primary narrative - allowing entries points for transmediated narrative extensions of the primary media text and for the other core principles of transmedia to take further root.

With this primacy of a commitment to worldbuilding in mind, the following worldbuilding discussion is in the form of a video case study. First, two Charlie Rose interviews with James Cameron: Dec. 17, 2009 and Feb 10, 2010 where he discusses in detail the challenges of worldbuilding and a CBS 60 Minutes video segment (embedded below) about James Cameron and the production of Avatar - which depicts what was done with the unlimited creative, time, fiscal and human resources to build the deep, textured, detailed world of the primary cinematic text that is the 3D Film Avatar.

After this video piece, find two streaming videos of a conversation between Prof. Jenkins and Tron creator Steve Lisberger from back in February 2010. We include these 2 videos (of a total of 21) in this case study because the first video sets up a discussion of worldbuilding. The next video follows up with a discussion of the basic functions of transmedia extensions, what they might add to the upcoming Disney release Tron Legacy and ends with why Avatar is less successful at deploying transmedia than, say, District 9.

The hope here is that this overall discussion of the mode of production of Hollywood motion pictures at the level of the 'big tent pole' production will inform narrative best practices and economies of scale for other transmedia project in various other creative industries.

Most importantly, there are some interesting missed opportunities contextualized in this discussion which should be seized upon by transmedia theorists and producers both for further theoretical exploration and creative deployment.

For further brainstorming, see:

Prof. Jenkins' FOE4 Keynote entitled "The Revenge of the Origami Unicorn: Seven Principles of Transmedia Storytelling", along with Henry's essay explaining each principle.

All 21 Videos, produced by Mike Bonifer, of Prof. Jenkins conversation with Tron creator Steve Lisberger:

Talking TronsMedia with Steven Lisberger

More Talk of TRONSmedia