On April 28th and 29th, about 25 people gathered at the Mozilla Offices in Toronto for what we assumed would be a frantic, fly by the seat of our pants weekend of hacking. What we experienced instead was a calm, focused, and highly productive meeting between new collaborators at Mozilla’s incredibly comfortable Toronto office – all hosted by North America’s largest documentary film festival. Huh. I guess that’s what happens when the formula starts working well!

Below are the results of the Hot Hacks weekend. Each team succeeded in creating a prototype of a web documentary experience – though keep in mind that these works are in progress and not meant for mass consumption. They are the “minimum viable product” of an experience that will take many many more hours to perfect before presenting to the public.

Following Wise Men

Team: Mike Robbins, Alison Rose,Matthew Schranz

What is it?
A visualization of audio from the Cassini spacecraft, intercut with footage and an interview from an upcoming feature documentary following a group of astronomers. Users are able to explore the sky above them using Google Sky.

What did you enjoy most?
Subordinating technology to the narrative.

What did you learn?
That sometimes technology can be the narrative.

What’s next for the project
Tinkering and tailoring and soldiering on.

Watch the prototype at:
http://client.heliozilla.com/aer/demo_06.html
Viewing instructions: Requires Firefox 4+ running on a relatively modern computer.

Fork on Github

Living Los Sures

Team: Christopher Allen, James Burns, Christopher DeCairos

What is it?
A series of experiments surrounding the 1984 film “Los Sures”, integrating the Zeega authoring environment and popcorn.js

What did you like most about the experience?
The best thing about Hot Hacks was emerging from the two intense days with an actual online prototype. What James, Chris and I made together will be an indispensable tool for shaping the project’s content and learning what works well on the web. It’s something to show people that gives a real taste of the larger vision.

What did you learn?
That the ideas and hopes we’ve had for the integration of Zeega and Popcorn in Living Los Sures is, in fact, possible, and that it seems pretty likely to allow for: 1) a great process allowing us to editing and shape this work with our broad group of artist fellows 2) a super compelling online narrative experience.

What’s next for the project?
We will make some improvements to the demo, refine it through tests with viewers, and then begin developing additional ideas. I’m planning to spend some time learning basics of Popcorn.js, so I can make small changes without a developer. We are finishing this round of short documentary projects for a mid-July preview screening in the neighborhood and looking towards a soft-launch of the first stage of the project early next year.

Viewing notes:
Due to media only available in MP4 format, this demo is optimized for Google Chrome

Watch the prototype at:
http://cadecairos.github.com/los-sures/

Project on Gitub
Ratiotor on Github

The Message

Team: Katie McKenna, Kate Hudson, David Seifried, Matthew Schranz

What is it?
An HTML5 Popcorn-powered debate using development footage from and inspired by The Message: the (r)evolutionary power of climate change.

What did you like best?
The huge satisfaction of working collaboratively and building quickly

What did you learn?
Parallax & Popcorn can create a great user experience for video on the web — with a little polish.

What’s next for the project?
Polishing our prototype and testing it in real-world scenarios.

Viewing Instructions
Works best in Chrome

Watch the prototype at:
http://dseif.github.com/theMessage

Fork on Github

Immigrant Nation

Team: Theo Rigby, Kate Mclean, Bailey Smith, Scott Downe, Nick Ray, Matthew Schranz

What is it?
Users can log in from their Facebook account with a statement about their views on immigration, then place their own immigration story on a data-rich timeline titled ‘The Wave’, which charts the waves of immigrant populations through history, enabling users to locate themselves in the larger trajectory of immigration in the US.

What did you like best?
I really enjoyed the fluid collaboration between our team, as well as many other developers at the event. If we needed help on a specific thing, we pulled in another ‘floater’ who was available, and if Scott (our head developer) needed to draw on another person’s expertise, help was never far away. The end result of Hot Hacks for Immigrant Nation truly depended on contributions from many people, and could not have happened without a very open and collaborative environment.

What did you learn?
I realized that the development of interactive/online platforms, and coding in general, is a series of thousands of small victories–all of which solve a problem in a creative way. Without the solution to any one of those problems, the project can’t go forward.

What’s next for the project?
We are excited to take what we developed, and what we learned from Hot Hacks to continue pushing Immigrant Nation towards realization. We are working hard to get funding for the development of what we began to prototype at Hot Hacks, and will continue to build partnerships with strategic organizations for the project. The first short film of Immigrant Nation, The Caretaker, will screen at a special presentation at the Cannes Film Festival in May, and the second film of the project is currently in pre-production.

Viewing Instructions:
–Use Chrome.
–Allow pop-ups for this site.
–If FB login doesn’t take you into the site, refresh.
–Say that you are from Mexico or Japan when you tell your story–those two waves are fleshed out as others are not.
–Refresh or use the back button to navigate

Watch the prototype at:
http://scottdowne.github.com/hothacks/

Fork on Github

Turcot

Team: Daniel Cross, Marco Luna, Jon Buckley, Matthew Schranz, Ricardo Vazquez

What is it?
Integrating google maps and correlating this with data about income disparity within a documentary about the reconstruction of Montreal’s Turcot Interchange.

What did you like best?
What I liked best was the chance to meet a creative programer, someone who helped us to visualize the other possibilities in the Turcot project. Previously, my experience was in more linear storytelling so the interaction with people from another field was interesting.

What did you learn?
I learned to see interactivity and history telling in a different way – I would say maybe in a more complex way which opened many new possibilities for me as filmmaker. Ideas keep coming and now I am visualizing the possibility of having an interactive component on my next film.

What is next?
The next step for the Turcot project will be to expand the exploration of maps and data that can be obtained from the web to help us tell the history. Once we know what we can do over the Internet, our research has different priorities.

Viewing Instructions
Just see this as the first step on a linear documentary film that is discovering the new possibilities of non-fiction storytelling

Watch the prototype at:
http://mjschranz.github.com/turcot/

Fork on Github

The Last Hijack

Team: Tommy Palotta, Bobby Richter, Jorrit DeVries, Ricardo Vazquez

What is it
An interactive motion comic built in HTML5 that forces a user to choose between several courses of action – based on footage from the upcoming documentary The Last Hijack

What did you like best?
I liked that we could come together face to face with people I have known, but not had time to really meet. The added bonus was all the people I didn’t know and got to meet and work with.

What did you learn?
I learned that storytelling is wide open and anything is possible. The notion of fast prototyping and iteration requires laser focus and concentration.

What’s next?
We are still filming the interviews and experimenting with animation. This prototype was a great first step to think through the entire process.

Viewing instructions
Construction ahead: work in progress. Chrome and patience required

Watch the prototype at:
http://secretrobotron.github.com/pirates/

Fork on Github

A huge thanks to all the participants, as well as those who helped to make it happen – Mari Moreshead, Sarah Lancaster, Elizabeth Radshaw, Therese Owusu and Ben Moskowitz.

– Brett Gaylor, Director, Mozilla Popcorn

Photos courtesy of Hot Docs/David Spowart