×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

How StoryFile Technology Enables a Recorded Subject to Interact With Viewers

Astronaut Terry Virts was trained to deal with cutting-edge technology and high-stress situations on his numerous space missions, but NASA failed to prepare him for his latest career challenge: sitting absolutely still for hours in a small studio in Los Angeles and baring his soul.

“This is far more stressful,” he says, only half-joking.

The two-day shoot for StoryFile — a mobile app expected to launch in the fall — saw a 360-degree volumetric camera rig capture Virts’ answers to hundreds of questions about his life and career. The result: a holographic version of the astronaut that can interact with viewers. “You’ll be able to have a conversation with me and ask me anything,” says Virts, who spent more than 200 days in space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour and the International Space Station on a pair of missions between 2010 and 2015.

StoryFile uses artificial intelligence and natural-language processing to allow the platform to mimic a real conversation, preserving the subject’s answers for future generations to explore. The app will present the stories of historically significant people, as well as putting that tech into the hands of everyday users, allowing families to document the lives of their loved ones.

The company was founded by the wife-and-husband team of Heather and Stephen Smith. “Our initial inspiration for the whole idea came from trying to replicate the memories of Holocaust survivors for the public, especially the Q&A parts,” says Heather Smith. “We saw that the Q&A parts really engaged audiences, and then we realized that so many people wanted to do the same thing for themselves and create memories for their families and children and grandchildren.”

While that was the catalyst, the tech wasn’t available a decade ago when the couple started, Smith says. “Back then it was very expensive and labor-intensive,” she explains. “We knew it had to be automated, and by 2017 the technology had advanced enough where we could take it further and really refine the concept.”

Since then, StoryFile has filmed about 20 full-length interviews, including the one with Virts, as well as some 30 shorter ones. “Others are scheduled and in the pipeline,” says Smith.

“It means that anyone will be able to talk to someone like Terry — someone they’d probably never otherwise get to meet — and have a conversation and learn from their experiences,” she notes. “Imagine being able to do that with scientists, artists, athletes, musicians, politicians, writers and so on. It’s a really revolutionary way of dealing with aural history, but it’s still a very new technology, and I think the upcoming beta launch will help people get used to it and see the endless possibilities it offers.”

Smith says the technology also has a strong library component, both for private and public users. 

“We’re talking to museums about doing this with some very high-profile names, and we also see applications ranging from online education to hiring and even dating,” she says. “There are many directions we could take it, but right now we’re focused on getting the app out there and getting it scalable.” 

Popular on Variety

More Artisans

  • Rocketman

    'Rocketman': Chris Dickens Discusses the Inside Story of Editing 'I'm Still Standing'

    Endings are so important and how the viewer leaves the cinema is crucial. For editor Chris Dickens, finding the perfect ending for “Rocketman” was paramount, but it was also a challenge. Elton John’s hit “I’m Still Standing” was going to end the film with the original idea of going to Cannes to recreate the video [...]

  • Charlies-Angels 2019 Costumes

    How Costume Designer Updated Looks for 'Charlie's Angels' While Nodding to Past

    The costumes that the “Charlie’s Angels” trio have worn over the years have always been functional but fashionable. In the TV show starring Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith and Kate Jackson, which ran from 1976 to 1981, and then in the movie franchise of the early 2000s with Lucy Liu, Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore, the [...]

  • Ludwig Goransson Composer

    Composer Takes Music for the 'Star Wars' Series 'The Mandalorian' to a New Universe

    Ludwig Göransson, the Oscar- and Grammy-winning composer of “Black Panther,” faced a tricky assignment when he took on “The Mandalorian,” the new “Star Wars” series launching this week on the Disney Plus streaming service. “It’s a new medium, a new set of characters — and it has a certain tech-y grittiness, because you’re dealing with [...]

  • Charlize Theron'The Addams Family' film premiere,

    Charlize Theron to Be Honored by Costume Designers Guild (EXCLUSIVE)

    The Costume Designers Guild announced Wednesday that Academy Award-winner Charlize Theron will be honored with the spotlight award. The Spotlight Award honors an actor whose talent and career personify an enduring commitment to excellence, including a special awareness of the role and importance of costume design. “Charlize Theron is a costume designer’s dream, bringing integrity [...]

  • Sir Lionel Frost (left) voiced by

    Chris Butler Looks at the Magic Behind Animating 'Missing Link'

    Laika’s latest feature “Missing Link” raises the bar once again for the world of stop-motion, pushing boundaries in scope and visuals. The story of an unlikely friendship between Mr. Frost and his 8-foot yeti buddy Link is one of hope. “Missing Link” producer Arianne Sutner says the message of the film was to “leave people [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content