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Multimedia Authoring - Introduction, Who is the Author?, Authoring Dimensions, Authoring Processes, Movement Oriented Design (MOD), Conclusion

story systems digital content

Nalin Sharda
Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia.

Definition: Multimedia authoring involves collating, structuring and presenting information in the form of a digital multimedia, which can incorporate text, audio, and still and moving images.


Authoring involves collating, structuring and presenting information in the form of a document created in some medium or media (Csinger, 1995). Traditionally this has been applied to the production of static text documents. With the advent of digital multimedia systems – that can incorporate text, audio, and still and moving images – authoring process has become much more complex. Interactive multimedia systems allow the user to change the presented content, and therefore, add another level of complexity to the authoring process.

The driving force behind all authoring is the human need to communicate. Verbal, pictorial, sign and written languages have provided the means to communicate meaning since time immemorial (Elam, 1994). Today we can employ multimedia systems to combine text, audio, still and moving images to communicate. Computer-based digital multimedia systems not only provide the means to combine these multiple media elements seamlessly, but also offer multiple modalities for interacting with these elements (Elin, 2001). The cross-product of these multiple elements and modalities gives rise to a very large number of ways in which these can be combined (Lemke, 1998).

To handle the complexity of multimedia authoring we need to combine theories, models, tools, and processes from the domains of the arts, sciences and technology for creating meaningful content (Sharda, 2004a). Movies have a much longer history than digital multimedia, and their authoring processes can be used to inform the development of multimedia authoring processes.

Who is the Author?

Digital multimedia systems provide much greater flexibility than the traditional textual documents; this predicates the need for redefining the meaning of authoring. We can get some insight into this new meaning of authoring by exploring the question, “Who is the author of a movie”?

As shown in table 1, a movie is created by a series of transformations. The inspiration and ideas for a story come from life. The Writer uses life experiences to create a story plot; at this stage the Writer is a user, while Life is the author. The Writer then writes a film script, or screenplay, which is used by the Director. Then the Director becomes the author of the raw footage based on the script. Often people consider the Director as the ultimate author of a movie; if this was true, then we should all be happy watching the raw footage. It is the Editor who puts this raw footage together to make the complete movie that can be watched as a meaningful presentation. Therefore, we can say that the Editor is the final author of the movie. However, with a videocassette or a DVD, the Borrower can use the remote control and change the order in which the various scenes are viewed. Now the Borrower is the author, and the other home viewers (deprived of the remote control) are the Users.

Interactive multimedia systems provide the users with the ability to change the presented content, making them the final Authors of the presentation. However, with the ability to easily manipulate multimedia content, new collaborative authoring paradigms are constantly being invented, based on the ideas of remixing and Open Source software (Manovich, 2001b).

Authoring Dimensions

This highly complex process of authoring multimedia content can be viewed as a three dimensional activity, as shown in Figure 1.

These three dimensions, namely, temporal, spatial and digital dimensions are not entirely orthogonal. Therefore, changes in one dimension can effect the composition in the other dimensions.

The temporal dimension relates to the composition of the multimedia presentation in time. The main aspect of the temporal composition is the narrative, which is akin to the plot of a story. In traditional media – such as a novel or a movie – the narrative is fixed, and the user is expected to traverse the narrative as per the predetermined plot. In interactive multimedia systems, the user is given the ability to vary the order in which the content is presented; in other words, the user can change the narrative. The Movement Oriented Design (MOD) paradigm (Sharda, 2004b) provides a model for the creation of temporal composition of multimedia systems.

The spatial dimension deals with the placement and linking of the various multimedia elements on each ‘screen’. This is similar to the concept of mis e scéne used by the film theorists (Cook and Ernink, 1999). In a time varying presentation – such as a movie or an animation – the spatial composition changes continuously: most of the time the change is smooth, and at other times the change is abrupt, i.e. a change of scene. The spatial composition at any point in time must relate to the narrative, or the plot of the temporal composition, while fulfilling the aims and objects of the system. The Multimedia Design and Planning Pyramid (MUDPY) model (Sharda, 2004c) provides a framework for developing the content starting with a concept.

The digital dimension relates to coding of multimedia content, its meta-data, and related issues. Temporal and spatial composition was part of pre-digital multimedia designs as well, e.g. for films, slide shows, and even the very early multimedia projection systems called the Magic Lantern. The digital computer era, particularly over the last two decades has provided much greater freedom in coding, manipulating, and composing digitized multimedia content (Manovich, 2001a). This freedom brings with it the responsibility of providing meaningful content that does not perform fancy ‘bells and whistles’ (e.g. bouncing letter, or dancing eyeballs) just for the sake of it. The author must make sure that any digital artifact relates to the aims and objectives of the presentation.

Authoring Processes

Authors aim to convey some ideas or new meanings to their audience (Sharda, 2004a). All authoring systems require a process that the author needs to follow, to effectively convey their ideas to the consumers of the content. Novels, movies, plays are all ‘Cultural Interfaces’ that try to tell a story (Manovich, 2001). Models of processes for creating good stories have been articulated for thousands of years. Nonetheless, some scholars stand out, such as Aristotle, who over 2300 years ago wrote Poetics, a seminal work on authoring (Aristotle, 1996). Robert McKee details story authoring processes as applied to screenplay writing (McKee, 1998). Michael Tierno shows how Aristotle’s ideas for writing tragedies can be applied to creating good screenplays (Tierno, 2002). Dramatica is a new theory of authoring, based on the problem solving metaphor (Phillips and Huntley, 2001).

Processes involved in creating a meaningful digital multimedia presentation have evolved from the processes used in other media authoring systems; and some of these are used as metaphors for underpinning the process of creating multimedia. For example, PowerPoint uses the slideshow metaphor, as it relates to lecture presentations based on the (optical) slide projector. Multimedia authoring is one of the most complex authoring processes, and to some extent not as well grounded as those for the more traditional media (England, 1999). The following sections present two authoring models developed for supporting the process of authoring multimedia systems (Sharda, 2004 b, c).

Movement Oriented Design (MOD)

Movement Oriented Design uses story-telling concepts for multimedia authoring. Some of these concepts come from screenplay writing principles. It provides a framework for creating multimedia experience by focusing on three facets: motivation, need and structure, which form the why, what and how of multimedia authoring.

Why / Motivation: The motivation facet directs a project by formulating the project concept as a series of questions, because, only when we ask the right questions, can we get the right answers. We start with a problem statement, break it down into subproblems and look for solutions by telling a story that solves these problems. This concept is similar to the idea used by Phillips and Huntley in developing the Dramatica authoring paradigm and software.

What / Need: The need facet explores what the user wants. The generic answer is: to get emotional movement. Users crave emotional engagement and stimulation. Consequently, systems that manage to achieve this emotional movement succeed; and the best way to achieve emotional movement is through story telling.

Let us first explore emotional movement from a humanistic story perspective. As viewers come out of a good movie crying or laughing, they often say, “That was so moving”. They are talking of emotional movement. Students coming out of a good lecture may not say that it was moving, however, they have gone through a similar experience. Their experience probably began with anticipation, was followed by discoveries, and ended in a new understanding; making it a moving experience. A good multimedia presentation must achieve emotional movement.

How / Structure: To facilitate the creation of a moving story we view each story as an ensemble of story units. In addition, each story unit has three parts: Begin, Middle, and End (BME). This follows the axiom given by Aristotle in his Poetics, that every story must have a beginning, middle and an ending. The beginning (termed Begin) of a story unit lays the groundwork. A good Begin should hook the user, and arouse desire to find out more. Middle should convey the main story message. The End should provide a natural termination; it should conclude the current story unit, and / or link to the next story unit. Any story unit that does not have exactly these three parts is incomplete. Finding effective Begins and Ends is always more challenging than creating the Middles.

Screenplays consist of three acts, which form the BME of the overall story. Each act comprises a number of sequences; each sequence is made-up of scenes. In the current screenplay writing practice, the scene is used as the atomic story element and it changes whenever there is a sudden change in location or time. With Movement Oriented Design, we can further divide scenes into story Movements. The word Movement is used to signify that each of these sub-scenes must move the story. In music, the term movement refers to “a principle self-contained section of a symphony, sonata etc.” (Penguin, 1982). A Story Movement must be self-contained; i.e. it must be a micro-story with BME components.

A story works if its Movements work. And a Movement works if its BME components fulfill their function: Begin creates a sense of anticipation, Middle reveals the main message, and the End gives a sense of closure. In addition, the End, wherever possible, should link to the Begin of the next Movement. By linking these Movements in a cause and effect relationship we can create stories that keep the users interested in the narrative. Just as we can create a moving humanistic story, we can create a moving story of any other type, including a multimedia story.

Story Development: To develop a multimedia story, we start by stating its story problem, and propose a solution by identifying, in broad terms, its BME components. Next, we can take each component, and break it down into sub-components, each having its own BME structure. We follow this process until we arrive at the story Movements. Finding suitable navigation path(s) through these Movements give us either a single story or a collection of alterative stories.

Navigation: Interactive multimedia design presents a level of complexity much higher than that of a linear multimedia presentation. By breaking the entire story into Movements it becomes possible to create a structure where the Movements are linked non-linearly. Different navigation paths provide different solutions to the various story problems. Movement Oriented Design helps in managing the complexity of creating nonlinear interactive multimedia system.

Thus, succinctly, the Movement Oriented Design methodology predicates that we can create emotional movement by taking a story problem and developing it into a sequence of connected Movements; where each Movement is a complete story unit with BME components. These Movements can be linked linearly or non-linearly for interactive systems.


Authoring multimedia is much more complex than authoring traditional media. Collaboration between various parties is necessary for authoring any significant multimedia system. There are three multimedia-authoring dimensions: temporal, spatial and digital. These dimensions interact with each other in complex ways. The Movement Oriented Design (MOD) methodology uses story-telling concepts to develop the narrative of a multimedia system in the temporal dimension. Multimedia Design and Planning Pyramid (MUDPY) is model that supports systematic planning, design and production of multimedia projects. Multimedia project planning and design components include: Concept statement, Goals, Requirements, Target Audience, Treatment, Specifications, Storyboard, Navigation, Task Modeling, Content Gathering, Integration, and Testing. The MUDPY model exposes the relationship between these multimedia authoring aspects, suggests the order in which these should be tackled, and thus, supports cooperation between the members of a multimedia authoring team.

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The definition of multimedia authoring is good. Instead of searching many websites, it was simple to understand.