Best in Category - Digital Design 2017

The Storytelling Machine

Dr Betty Sargeant / Justin Dwyer / Peter Walker and Andrew Ogburn /

The Storytelling Machine is a digital system that delivers a collective story made from crowd-sourced content. The story is told through text and images that are projected onto surfaces in an exhibition space.

Audiences draw characters, place them into our custom-made photo-booth and watch as their characters are instantly animated across video ‘worlds’. People also contribute short story texts in any language. The machine generates real-time graphics, randomly displaying audience contributions.

Ultimately this installation presents a disjointed contemporary narrative; an imprint of what it’s like to live in digitally connected automated cultures where people oscillate between geographic and virtual realities.

Co-produced under sponsorship from the Asia Culture Centre and the ACI (South Korea). Supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria (VicArts), City of Melbourne (Knowledge Melbourne), Copyright Agency Cultural Fund, City of Port Phillip Cultural Development Fund, and the RMIT Exertion Games Lab.

Design Excellence

The Storytelling Machine is an easy to use system. At the press of a button a person’s character comes to life.

Audiences engage in co-located social and physical interactions around this digital system. This extends our ideas on how to design for contemporary digital interfaces. Most contemporary digital designs are making us less active and are negatively influencing our social and emotional development. The Storytelling Machine offers a fun way to be involved with the latest computing innovations in a socially and physically engaging environment.

This system invites people to consider our current digital practices and at the same time offers an alternative way to engage with a new automated digital system.

Design Impact

Children, teens, seniors, those with special needs, people in regional areas and individuals have been delighted by this ground-breaking installation. Thousands of participants from diverse cultural and geographic backgrounds have contributed story data to The Storytelling Machine.

Through an extensive yearlong series of international exhibitions and workshops we have involved everyday people in learning about automated systems. Our free public sessions feature knowledge sharing, storytelling and social interaction. This strengthens connections between people.

We also strengthen connections between people and their environment. Our system embeds people’s characters into custom-made videos of iconic local and international locations. This creates a virtual experience that links people to their surrounding environment and connects them to culturally diverse geographic locations.

Design Transformation

We create digital systems that help people be more socially and physically engaged. Our social enterprise demystifies digital processes and invites diverse participation.

The Storytelling Machine is visible on social platforms but people cannot enter data remotely. People have to physically attend a workshop or exhibition to contribute. This provides a unique social experience. People can form a deep bond with this installation. Social connections are created between different participants as they see their personal character interact with others’ characters.

People contribute content without entering personally identifiable information. This design allows everyday people to be actively involved in this age of automation.

Design Innovation

The Storytelling Machine is a custom designed system that randomly selects the characters and texts that are projected onto the exhibition surfaces. It also randomly selects the animation states that are applied to each character. Our system features over 1000 possible animation states. When watching the machine’s collective story it may appear that each character is being individually animated. Audiences may feel as if they are engaging with an artificial intelligence, as this generative system is in control of curating and delivering the collective narrative.

We used cross-disciplinary participatory art and co-design methods to create a system that blends analogue and digital processes. The Storytelling Machine invites people to consider current digital practices and offers a bespoke, more socially and physically engaging way of interacting with an automated digital system.