After The Storm: Interactive Documentary through Destruction, Grief, & Hope

After The Storm: Interactive Documentary through Destruction, Grief, & Hope

Written, directed, and photographed by filmmaker Andrew Beck Grace, After The Storm is a glimpse into the future of digital storytelling. In a short interactive documentary, an intimate narrative guides us through Grace’s experience with the 2011 tornado that destroyed the town of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The project uses animation, sound design, video, archival footage, graphics, and photos to bring the narrative to life. The interactiveness allows the user to uncover the tragedy, search through photographs of the events, and experience the destruction that caused so many people pain. All of these different components add richness to the story and help us make sense of what happens after the storm.

The documentary was extremely creative and artistic; it did not have an underlying agenda to unmask some social justice issue or inequality (which is important). However, the focus was on telling a personal story, evoking a sense of human empathy, and relying on the viewer to appreciate the art of listening.

After the Storm is divided into chapters and each chapter possesses different components. The narrative seamlessly ties each chapter together but the individual digital components adds depth and a sense of reality to the story. Some chapters have video, while others have photographs. There is more interactivity in some chapters than others and there are chapters with no interactivity at all, leaving the user to sit still, listen and feel the emotion and devastation that the narrator felt.

When creating this kind of project, it’s important to think about how long each chapter would be, how much interactivity it would have, what photos or visuals would work best, the emotion you want to evoke. You have to think about the purpose and reason of doing certain things, for each chapter, to tell the story in the best way. Clearly, the producers did just that for this project – telling a story in the most factual, artful way possible.

Grace collaborated with Helios Design Labs to create and design the interactive digital elements. Bringing art and technology together, we see animated scenes and are able to interact with the piece itself. The field of digital design and coding are not as separated from journalism as they once were. The programs HTML5 and Javascript were the tools used to create and design the interactive story. Helios built the project with lead coders and designers creating scenes based on the narrative script and story structure.

“If like me, you’re vulnerable to nostalgia, you will go to google maps, to street view and you’ll click the tab that allows you to see things before the storm. You will look at the view from the end of the street and remember the trees.” Grace spoke these words as he clicked on the arrow in Google Maps, reminiscing on what once was. This chapter, in particular, has no interactivity – it’s just a video replicating Grace clicking around the page and remembering what his town looked like before the tornado. I think this was a very impactful decision. The user was left to just listen as they are guided through the town. They experience the magnitude of what happened and feel the grief that the narrator felt. There were no buttons to click on, or words to read — the user had no distractions and hopefully, their full attention was left to just listening. The Google Street View played like a movie – the user just sits, listens, and feels.

After the Storm is the perfect example of an immersive, interactive digital experience that is both innovative and groundbreaking. We see computer science, art and journalism being united and becoming the future of storytelling.