Science of Fiction festival creates imaginary city

School of Cinematic Arts professor Alex McDowell and the 5D Institute hosted the seventh annual Science of Fiction Festival this weekend at SCA.

The conference focused on creating the fictional city of Rilao, a town that captures characteristics of both Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro. Festivities included an interactive musical performance, a conference that allowed people from different occupations and places around the world to collaborate in creating artifacts for the city and a multimedia exhibit built by students from McDowell’s world-building class.

McDowell began this project during the spring semester last year in his class IML 599, called Imagining Worlds -— Narrative Design Across Disciplines. His students researched different aspects of Rio and Los Angeles, from health to transportation to media culture. The students in his fall course curated the exhibit on display in the Interactive Media building.

The exhibit is a look at life in Rilao through the use of graphic design, technology, performing arts and storytelling. The history of Rilao is told via an Oculus. Kinect sensors cue sound effects as people walk by and 3-D graphics show what housing would look like in this city.

“All the projects in the exhibition are meant to be artifacts,” said Lauren Fenton, a sixth-year Ph.D. candidate in the media arts and practice program. “The entire exhibition is meant to be like the fictional universe of Rilao.”

The class is diverse, with some students from the Viterbi School of Engineering and others from the Roski School of Fine Arts. The students range from undergraduates to Ph.D. candidates.

“The first semester, the project was to build the world, develop the world and write individual projects in the world,” McDowell said. “This semester, the project was to design an exhibit as if it were a narrative. How can you tell a complicated, multilayered narrative story about Rilao through the medium of an exhibition?”

The Sound of Fiction concert took place Friday night and starred Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols, Slim Jim Phantom from Stray Cats and other musical guests, according to McDowell. Guests could determine the sound and lights of the concert via sound and image mapping in which the performers capture and modify audience sounds as part of the music, according to the School of Cinematic Arts.

Attendees on Saturday also saw a performance where students acted as researchers reporting their findings in studies of the fictitious region.

“We had a suite of cultural anthropologists come back from the island of Rilao, and they explained to us what they’ve been finding there and different details about the culture and its history,” said Tara McPherson, associate professor of media arts and practice at USC.

The conference culminated with each group presenting their artifacts to other participants.

“I work on market trends and product innovation research so I’m in a group that looks at how the market is going to evolve, how technology is going to influence people’s lives and change their attitude and behaviors potentially,” said Ioana Badea, who has been working at the Intel Corporation for 14 years.

“The students in this class have really turned the experience of the exhibition [in]to this game, this way of immersing people in Rilao,” Fenton said.

Students in the class were divided into three groups, with each group representing a different perspective developed by an organization on the island. Each perspective then analyzed each artifact and explained them through their point of view.

Other universities that collaborated on the world-building project included the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, Bauhaus University in Germany and the ESPM school of marketing in Brazil.

“It’s really great to collaborate with people from different countries and students from different countries,” Fenton said. “Everyone brought on their own particular lenses to the world of Rilao.”