A spectacular view: 'Out My Window' presents similarities and differences across the globe

A spectacular view: ‘Out My Window’ presents similarities and differences across the globe

The slow flutter of a red window covering; radio static that turns to guitar strumming and high-pitched horn honks; bold, white typeface that propels you forward and reads:

“You see them all over the world. Concrete residential highrise buildings are the most commonly built form of the last century. On the outside, they all look the same. But inside these towers of concrete and glass, people create community, art and meaning.”

This introduction to ‘Out My Window: Interactive Views from the Global Highrise’ establishes the piece’s intentional patchwork, or mosaic, approach to both content and design. The project, a 360 degree documentary directed by Katerina Cizek for the National Film Board of Canada, features characters from 13 locations around the globe. Each destination presents the unique history and challenges of its characters as the user navigates their way through. 

Though the title of the piece suggests a shared view of the world outside, the most important emphasis is on the human qualities that the characters within the interiors share.

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Upon entering this world of concrete, white text again signals to the user:

‘One highrise. Every window, a different city.’

A slab of gray slides up from the bottom of the screen. Thirteen windows, in black and white, appear; as the user moves their cursor over them, each comes to life with color and a quick clinking sound.

In addition to this highrise view, the user can navigate between the different locations via a world map, which is accessed by moving the cursor toward the top of the screen, and via a collection of character portraits that appears at the bottom of the screen, which appears when the user moves the cursor toward the bottom of the screen; should the user want to return to the highrise view, they must move the cursor to the left side of the screen and click.

After the user selects which window they would like to enter, they then maneuver through the 360 degree interior Cizek has constructed. Moving left or right, the user can engage with embedded video pieces; a sketched outline, with an accompanying headline and audio cue, prompts the user to click and the video plays.

Video pieces feature little or no narration and rely heavily on the voice of each character to evoke emotion and relay information. This technique brings the user closer into the narrative and connects them more deeply to each character. Text, spelling out important words and phrases, often appears atop video as it plays out; this adds both emphasis and structure to a fairly freely meandering journey through the piece.

The audio cues for characters or locations featured within each window scene combine with audio tracks to more fully immerse the user in the experience. The clinking of spoons, clanking of pots and pans, and children’s laughter are sounds consistent throughout the piece, regardless of where the user is located. This effective use of audio allows Cizek to weave one of many threads of commonality throughout the narrative.

Once the user has entered a particular scene or environment, a small navigation for within the scene – which indicates the location – appears in the lower lefthand corner of the screen; the small text and series of circles for each featured item almost goes unnoticed as the user navigates. A more central, prominent navigation tool may have been more helpful to the user,  instead of a reliance on the movement of the cursor to stumble upon the video pieces spread throughout.

Music, along with other forms of art including photography and poetry, is a common theme in ‘Out My Window.’ The use of 360 degree video, in which characters interact directly with the camera and often move throughout their interior space while singing or playing their instruments, provides an experience simultaneously intimate and cinematic for the user.

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While the introductory video loads – before the flapping red curtain appears – white text flashes briefly on the screen: “The towers in the world, the world in the towers.” The words are on display for just long enough to read them, and then they’re gone. Those few seconds are all the user needs to begin to digest the interactive’s mission of immersion and meaning.