PodOp was a media technology company that provides tools to help filmmakers develop and execute interactive narratives. I was fortunate to work with them on two occasions: first from February 2016 until October 2019, then from July 2021 until July 2023. Below are some of the projects I worked on while at PodOp that I am at liberty to talk about.
I think the first three paragraph's of HBO's press release describe Mosaic well
What is the future of storytelling? Oscar®- and Emmy®-winning filmmaker Steven Soderbergh’s answer is MOSAIC, now available as a free iOS™, tvOS™ and ANDROID™ app. Presented by PodOp, a media technology company changing the way stories are crafted and experienced, and developed for HBO by Soderbergh and Casey Silver, in conjunction with writer Ed Solomon, the MOSAIC app is an interactive experience that could be the next step in storytelling.
The launch of the MOSAIC app comes at a time when consumers are looking for new forms of mobile-first entertainment, with eMarketer reporting this year that consumers now spend up to 20% of their media time on mobile apps, and that almost 85% of their smartphone time is spent in-app instead of on a traditional mobile web browser. MOSAIC aims to give this growing audience a mobile experience unlike any they’ve had before.
To accomplish this, Soderbergh and his partners at PodOp, a media technology company that, unlike other ventures of this type, is driven by narrative rather than technology, explored what happens when filmmakers ask engineers to serve the story, rather than the other way around. Three years in the making, this first full-length production, developed in association with HBO, leverages new technology that enables viewers to choose from which point of view to follow the story and, in effect, to build their own experience from the material created and curated by Soderbergh and Solomon.
(from HBO Press release)
While the three of us that composed the engineering team at Podop tackled at one point or another, everything in the tech stack (from the streaming back-end to the different front-end clients), I specifically focused on the following:
-Intro animation on iOS and tvOS platforms, specifically the map and vector-based animation.
- Map transitions, which allowed the viewer to navigate seamlessly three levels of navigation.
- Choice moment UI and logic
- Video streaming and playback, especially Fairplay Decryption integration
- I also worked on some video compositing prototypes for the choice moment, where the
interactive elements used a 3D model that animated in sync with video footage. However,
this was shelved due to technical limitations with SceneKit and Fairplay
Plot is a script tool meant for the pre-production stages of the PodOp product suite. It’s main users are screenwriters, writing assistants, and script readers. These users can visualize connections between storylines and edit, read, and reorganize scripts.
While Plot supports writing within the app, it is generally expected to be a supporting tool that compliments existing screenwriting software. Plot makes it easy to import existing work and then export the changed product into the writer’s desired format.
While we all worked on every aspect of Plot, I became the subject-matter expert of the chapter visualizations and the import flow from script to visualization, specifically when it came to importing Final Draft files. Internally, we represented the data using a graph-based architecture, which helped in our initial layout of the visualization as we implemented a breadth-first approach to placing the different chapters on the map.
Plot was written as a macOS app using AppKit in Swift.
Below, you can see how it functions. Note: the map visualization is completely customizable by the user. They can create new links, remove them, move them around the map, and any changes to the link connectivity between the chapters is also reflected in the script text.
Sequence is PodOp's post-processing tool. It'swhat we use to create and publish a branching narrative movie, once we have all of the assets in place.
Sequence was written as a macOS app using AppKit in Swift.
Specifically, updated the existing video link visualization functionalities that Sequence had to use the new library we built for Plot. However, that also meant tackling specific challenges in the data connectivity. I also tackled new video playback functionalities: both for rendering choice moments and also later on 360 video.
Below is a short demo of Sequence.