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News / October 17, 2013

Stan Douglas & NFB Producing New 3-D Art App

Photo of Stan Douglas by Michael Courtney Photo of Stan Douglas by Michael Courtney

Internationally renowned Canadian artist Stan Douglas, who won the $50,000 Scotiabank Photography Award in May, is venturing into a new territory—a 3-D art app for iPad and  iPhone—in a new project created with the National Film Board.

Douglas and NFB producer Loc Dao discussed the project this week at the 57th BFI London Film Festival in partnership with Power to the Pixel, a global cross-media forum.

The project, titled Circa 1948 and due to launch in spring 2014, will give users a look at a moment in Vancouver history as experienced by homeless veterans, gamblers, prostitutes and corrupt police officers. Like some of Douglas’s other works—which to date have mainly been still photographs and film installations—Circa 1948 will look at class, race and corruption through the lens of a moment in Vancouver’s past.

“We are building a nonlinear environment with an almost unlimited number of frames, 160 pages of script and dialogue, and [it] does not use a single piece of photography,” Dao told an audience regarding Circa 1948 at the Tribeca Film Institute in New York this spring.

“We go back in time to 1948, to Vancouver right after World War Two. We have a well-off west side and a poor east side of town. We have a class war, we have corruption at government levels. We have racial tension. Things were different yet oddly similar to today,” Dao said in his New York talk.

In one preview clip, Dao showed a user flying down Hogan’s Alley on the east side of Vancouver, where Jimi Hendrix’s grandmother once lived. Another showed a glowing orb outside an east-side house; these “represent the souls of the people who used to live there, and you encounter their conversations” Dao said. “And as you piece together these conversations, you form a larger story.”

While nonlinear storytelling is something Douglas explored in films like Inconsolable Memories (2005) and Suspiria (2003)—in which he uses algorithmically based technology to create storylines that emerge programmatically—the app promises to take his historically rooted “recombinant” storytelling a step further.

“It is pretty significant that an artist of this calibre is creating his next work for iPad and iPhone,” Doc said in New York. “It’s incredible how he’s painting with code….Stan defines the world of Circa 1948 for his illustrators, who design it in 3-D and then our team of programmers bring it to life.”

The project includes a narration script by award-winning playwright Kevin Kerr and is voiced by nearly 20 Vancouver-based character actors.

The Circa 1948 storyworld will also include a website and interactive installation. A spokesperson for the NFB said venues for the installation are still being worked out, but will be in North America.

Leah Sandals

Leah Sandals is a writer and editor based in Toronto. Her arts journalism has appeared in the Toronto Star, National Post and Globe and Mail, among other publications, and her creative work has been published in Prism, Room and Freefall. She can be reached via