7. The Shoebox interactive digital documentary pre-loader image.

The Shoebox begins with a pre-loader[3] [open endnotes in new window]thumbnail image of a soldier in WWI uniform (see image 7). This is a studio photograph of Heather’s father Donald McDonald taken sometime in 1915 at the Broadmeadows military training camp in Melbourne, Australia. Once loaded, an introductory 30-second video outlining the theme of the story plays. It begins with a pixelated background, a mosaic grid of muted earthy colours—green, grey, red, and brown over which the letters of the title “The Shoebox” appear animated as if written by hand (see image 8). Following the title is a montage of old photographs—a family group, young children, and sepia video re-enactments—as the words PLACE, FAMILY, and BELONGING dart across the pixelated, colored background (see image 9).

8. Introduction movie title sequence.
9. A montage of words, sepia still photographs and video re-enactments from Introduction Movie.

One sepia photograph shows Heather as a two-year-old sitting on the fender of a car; another is Heather in a sand pit taken approximately one year later. The other photographs in Introduction Movie are of Heather and her two sisters playing dress up in the yard or standing together for the photographer. All the photographs are taken in rural outdoor settings circa 1930s.

10. Montage of still images from The Shoebox of Heather and her sisters circa 1930s.

The sepia video re-enactments show from right to left, (in order of appearance) the exterior of a house where items of clothing are being thrown from one of the windows onto the path outside, a man tossing a coin, and a pan from right to left inside a bedroom—all circa 1930. The photographs, video clips, and words appear haphazardly on the screen. After a momentary glimpse they are gone. The last montage image leaves the single word ABSENCE slowly fading into the background in the middle of the frame (see image 11).

 11. Introduction Movie montage of still photographs and word “ABSENCE”.

Once ABSENCE is completely dissolved, the background pixels gradually come into focus to reveal a scanned image of the corner of the shoebox lid. Just visible on the top of the shoebox lid are the hand written letters DN & JAS McD.[4] Beginning as a tiny spec from the centre of this background image, a full-view image of the shoebox lid spins towards to viewer, followed by six full-frame still photographs of a woman’s hands sorting through the shoebox of documents (see images 12-13).

12-13. Woman’s hands opening and sorting the shoebox of documents

The audio track is a simple slice of looped piano music and a voice-over stating:

  • This is a story about family, about place, about a sense of belonging and a need to know.
  • It is about growing up as a girl in 1930s rural Australia, about breaking out on your own and traveling full circle to find answers to questions over sixty years old.
  • It is a story about a shoebox left in a shed for half a century and how it coincidently is given to the youngest child of a tragedy, answering some of the questions that she has pondered over and over for the majority of her life.

14. Last frame of Introduction Movie with control bar visible.

15. Screen layout at the start of interactive engagement with six panoramic image icons positioned above the cental viewing frame and the timeline graphic beneath.

This introduction video sequence finishes with a three-quarter view of the shoebox lid (see image 14). The wording on the shoebox lid reads:

Shoes for Men
Quality In Every Pair
Half Sizes.

This image remains static until the user clicks it, at which point the image changes to a wider shot of the same shoebox lid, the central viewing screen dimensions widen, and six small image icons emanate, as if from inside the shoebox image, and come to rest in a line above the central viewing frame. From left to right these image icons are—Bill’s Gully Hall, Wimmera Landscape, The Shed, Abdullah Park, Lounge Room, WWI Soldier. Positioned under the central viewing frame a line graphic of ten small rectangles appears labeled “Timeline" (see image 15).

16. Embedded media clip from the “Shed” panoramic scene playing in the central viewing frame.

Again the images and the computational space remain static until the user initiates an action. Two of the image icons above the central viewing frame are displayed in full colour and as the user/viewer rolls their cursor across either of these two icons a tween [5] effect is stimulated which makes the icon increase in size indicating it is an active link within the interactive space.

These two “active” icons are “Shed” and “Lounge Room.” The four other image icons are greyed out, indicating they are not active links, and I shall explain these later in this article. Clicking either the “Shed” or “Lounge Room” icon changes the central viewing frame image of the shoebox lid to a 360-degree panoramic scene of the image icon clicked. A text field appears in the left hand bottom corner under the central viewing frame indicating which panorama is currently in the central frame—‘Shed” or “Lounge Room.”  

At this point the user/viewer can move around the selected 360-degree panoramic space by either, dragging their mouse through the panoramic image, resting their cursor at either end of the central viewing frame, or using the directional arrows that have appeared in the centre under the central viewing frame. As the user/viewer moves around the 360-degree panoramic scene yellow boxes of various sizes appear around objects in the space—a television screen, a framed picture, a toolbox, cupboard drawers—to name a few. If the user/viewer ceases panning and the panoramic image remains static these yellow boxes, indicating hotspot links, randomly blink on and off suggesting they should/could be interactive (see image 17).

17. The “Shed” panoramic scene playing in the central viewing screen with two yellow hotspots visible.

When the user/viewer clicks a yellow hotspot square the central viewing frame darkens and the selected embedded clip of media plays in a central position over the background of the panorama. Thin sections of the darkened panorama remain visible on each side of the embedded media clip (see image 16). While the embedded media clip plays the user/viewer can use the control bar, positioned at the base of each clip (visible only when their cursor is inside the borders of the embedded media clip) to stop, pause, re-play, or toggle backward or forwards through the clip (see image 14).

18. Embedded media clip in central viewing frame with “Shed” panoramic scene darkened in background. Two embedded media clip thumbnail images visible in the “Timeline” indicating these two clips have been accessed.

When the user/viewer clicks the close button located at the top right hand corner of the embedded media clip the central viewing screen returns to the current panoramic scene and a thumbnail image of the embedded clip that has just played appears in the timeline (see image 18). Each embedded media clip has its unique place in the timeline. There are ten embedded media clips—five in each of the two active panoramas.

The user/viewer may now choose another embedded clip from the current panorama or select the other active panorama image icon from above the central viewing frame. Navigation and selection at this point is entirely at the user/viewer’s discretion. Only after the user/viewer has selected and closed three embedded media clips will the timeline fill with all ten thumbnail images and an active text link appears under the timeline “Click here to play full video" (see image 19).

19. “Lounge Room” panoramic scene in central viewing frame and Timeline filled with all ten embedded media clip thumbnail images.

At this point the user/viewer can continue exploring via their interactive choices to the embedded media clips within the active panoramas or they can sit back and watch the linear video by choosing “Click here to play full video.” This video titled The Shoebox Movie is an eight-minute documentary with voice-over narration inter-cut with extracts from Heather’s interviews. A longer version of the piano loop music track used in the Introduction Movie plays for the duration of this movie. Similarly the background is the pixelated image of the close-up shoebox corner from the Introduction Movie. As The Shoebox Movie plays black and white, and colour still images, and video segments appear and dissolve or animate across the central viewing screen to correspond with the content spoken in the voice track (see image 20).

At anytime during the playback of this linear video the user/viewer can pause, toggle backwards or forwards, stop, or exit from The Shoebox Movie. Once this movie has been closed the user/viewer can return to navigating through the active panoramas and embedded clips and/or replay The Shoebox Movie.

20. The Shoebox Movie (eight minute linear movie) plays a montage of still images in the central viewing frame.

Memory structure

The aim of the interactive architecture in The Shoebox is for the user/viewer to obtain the linear, sequential, temporal narrative of The Shoebox Movie through their non-linear, interactive actions of accessing the media clips embedded within each 360-degree panoramic scene. Thereby conflating linear and non-linear narrative forms within the same story space. It is also designed to mirror the memory process.

As the protagonist, Heather, uncovers her history, her memory is confirmed, challenged, or enhanced and the fragments of her story, the story of her life, build into a comprehensive narrative. As Heather returns to her childhood memories over and over,[6] these fragments, and other memory fragments triggered by information contained in the shoebox, plus the new pieces of information she has gained in her quest to know and understand more, come together to fill-in the story of her life and re-shape her sense of self.

Researchers such as Engel (1999:4), and Freed (1997:1) have found that memory is an amalgamation of activities that utilize a number of sites and cognitive processes in the brain, and these processes are much more complicated, more fragmented, and more subjective than we are inclined to presume. Memory is a reconstructive procedure or a method of putting together stored memory fragments from a number of sites in the brain rather than the reproduction of a linear sequence of events stored in one part of the brain. Autobiographical memory is a process of piecing together these small portions to construct a type of narrative by which the rememberer communicates experiences.

So autobiographical memory has been shown to be a highly reconstructive and subjective process, which is open to a number of modifications. With this in mind McNally claims the following:

“…Even when we garble the details about the past, we often get the essence right. Memory for the gist of many experiences is retained with essential fidelity, and this is especially true for events having personal, emotional significance. The paradox of memory lies in its 'fragile power.' (Schacter cited in McNally 2003:39). Although subject to distortion, memory usually serves us well. It provides the core of personal identity and the foundation of cognition."

Or to put it another way our autobiographical memory is often “surprisingly accurate” (Engel 1999:3; McNally 2003:39).

Whilst we tend to think of the process of memory as being similar to recording and playing back a scene in the same way a video camera operates it is in fact more akin to the processes of capture, storage and retrieval that a hypermedia platform such as The Shoebox employs (McNally 2003:28). In her article explaining her concept of “possibility space” in digital media works Katherine Hayles (2005:3) describes databases as dependent on their ability to “collect and organize data as well as transmit, search and retrieve it."

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