An interview with Dean Johnson (@activrightbrain) – #BFIVoyager

djTell us about yourself

I have spent nearly 30 years pushing the boundaries of publishing, design and technology in digital and physical environments. I wouldn’t have done this if I wasn’t having fun and adding value. I love cars, music, movies, books, spaceships, time-travel and art so I’m lucky to share this passion with the Brandwidth team, our partners and our clients.

 Tell us about the Star Wars Scene Maker app

Imagine the ability to place yourself in George Lucas’ or JJ Abrams’ shoes, take the directorial reins and recreate iconic scenes from all six Star Wars movies… and beyond. The ‘beyond’ refers to the forthcoming films and the ability to completely rewrite the scripts to suit your own storytelling abilities.

Each scene provides a 3D immersive environment, from the Death Star trench run, Cloud City duel, Battle of Endor and Theed Generator to the latest Geonosis Asteroid Field. The fun really begins when you add your own audio to create short bursts of alternative script, in the original voices using the in-built synthesiser. Why wouldn’t you empower Darth Vader to tell an Ewok “I am your father”?

Finally, top and tail your movie with scrolling titles and glue the whole package together with the original musical score.

App Store link

 Talk us through the creative process

The original brief was a very different animal. We began with something resembling an interactive reference experience, diving into the various creative processes behind the Star Wars movies. This changed shape completely over several months to become the app it is today.

We approached this project in the same way we do with any new brief, large or small client, established brand or unknown title – we dreamed big and delivered an experience any true Star Wars fan would be thrilled to dive into. We couldn’t deliver everything from our original feature set but it’s all achievable and we’re excited about future possibilities for the Scene Maker platform.

Working with established visual guidelines for interactive Star Wars properties, we were able to successfully move the creative language on several stages. We wanted budding Directors to not only immerse themselves in the creative process when assembling a new scene but feel as if the tools on offer were from a galaxy far, far away.

We loved this one from the initial conceptual thinking and arm-waving through the design sketches (yes, with pen and paper), to the final polished artwork and interactive experience.

 How much involvement did you have with Lucas Films (/Disney)?

Disney had been a client for a while before this project came on the horizon but we had a much bigger team to work with for Scene Maker. From Producers and Project Managers to designers and 3D artists, both within the Disney Publishing team and Lucasfilm. Everyone across all three companies was a huge Star Wars fan, uber nerds, living and breathing the project and wanting to produce something to do justice to the films, especially with the weight of expectation in the run up to the next film ‘The Force Awakens’.

 What were the main challenges to making the app

Initially time was our greatest enemy as the project was being driven towards a global launch on May the 4th (Star Wars Day). This deadline soon proved to be unrealistic as the scope changed and we thought our late June release would be helped by a top news story – Harrison Ford manfully put his best foot forward to offer his services, promptly broke it and the rest is history.

Another challenge was translating the experience from iPad to iPhone. The reduced real-estate presented a tough UI mission but we rose to the challenge and now have more of the 1,000,000+ downloads on smaller screens than tablets.

What has the feedback been like from Star Wars fans?

We arranged focus groups at an early stage with the key audience (8-12yr olds). We were worried that the complexity and depth of the app would put the audience off. Quite the opposite – they loved it and immediately took the app to heart. The most rewarding feedback was the pride in their work, a genuine willingness to explore the boundaries of each scene and share the results.

Beyond the focus groups and following the global launch, feedback has been overwhelmingly positive although the freemium model has opened the door to consumers wanting everything for nothing. We’ll never escape that view I’m afraid.

Are you a fan?

Although the first movie hit the big screen in 1977 (I was 6 at the time), my interest in the Star Wars franchise began in early 1978 with the purchase of my first action figure. I’ve been hooked ever since, even through the dark Jar Jar Binks era!

 Is that part of a wider appreciation of science fiction?

I love the concepts of time travel and alternate realities so sci-fi adequately covers these bases. I also appreciate the ability to push design and technological barriers so anything that sets out a vision for the future gets my vote! The fact that my job involves envisioning, shaping and creating ‘the future’ adds a layer of science fact to science fiction.

 Any particular books or films you love (other than Star Wars).

I’ll read or watch anything on the subject of time travel, with or without artistic or cinematic merit. I’ve loved reading The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North, Time and Again by Jack Finney, Stephen King’s 11.22.63, John Birmingham’s Axis of Time series and Robert Llewellyn’s ‘News From…’ trilogy, which I’ve been happily funding on Unbound for the past couple of years.

Films? I love Back to The Future (all three) and I’m a sucker for a well-crafted Marvel movie. The two Hellboy outings have been a visual treat and JJ Abrams has waved his directorial wand over the Star Trek franchise and grabbed my attention again. There are more. I could go on and on and on.

 Book v film?

Books work perfectly for me when the story isn’t set too far in the future. I’m more than capable of immersing myself in a fantasy environment but I love to see the spectacular vision on the big (or small) screen. Metropolis, The 5th Element, Dune and of course Star Wars all truly come alive on screen, where stunning CGI effects meet models, make up, costumes and sets.

Greatest Sci-Fi book character?

Judge Dredd. Graphic novels count, right?

Greatest Sci-Fi film moment?

“Luke, I am your father”

Favourite technology from science fiction that you wish had happened?

Star Trek ‘Transporter’. Beam me up Scotty!

Have you ever met anyone who had been abducted by aliens?

I’ve met plenty of people who have aroused suspicion. I’m sure they walk among us.

What’s your space captain name? Captain (name of your first pet) (Favourite star constellation)

It would have to be Apptain America (@ApptainAmerica) surely? I’ve already got that one covered.

 Your 3 dream dinner dates from the world of Sci-Fi (alive or dead)

Hellboy, Kryten and the woman from Total Recall with three breasts.

Are you on social media?

‘On’ doesn’t quite describe it. Maybe ‘in’ is more appropriate as my main Twitter ID is @activrightbrain, but I’m also @ApptainAmerica @LaptopDean @TabletDean and @SmartphoneDean. There are nine others, but I can’t tell you about that lot. Add Vine, Instagram and numerous YouTube channels to this and I’m close to full assimilation.

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