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A multi-disciplinary approach to re-purposing a documentary into an educational interactive

Sonia Poorun
Juniper Films

Kerry Eyles and Franciso Gurovich
University of Western Sydney, Nepean

The paper is based on an educational multimedia CD-ROM which is currently being developed. The product will be demonstrated as part of the paper .The interactive is a result of re-purposing the stills, video, music and text from the television series and book, "Pacifica - Tales from the South Seas", produced by Juniper Films in 1993. The product was jointly developed by Juniper Films and the University of Western Sydney, Nepean, under the DITARD Industry Innovation Scheme. Australian educationalists and the National Curriculum Profiles were consulted during the design of the product to ensure that secondary students will develop a wide range of skills by using the product. It is anticipated that a prototype will be ready for discussion at the conference.

Background to the project

The project is based on a partnership between Juniper Films, a documentary film production company, and the University of Western Sydney, Nepean Design Department. Juniper Films are providing the content (video, stills, text, audio and music ) and the University of Western Sydney, Nepean are providing the professional expertise and equipment. The collaboration was established through the Department of Industry, Science and Technology (previously known as the Department of Industry, Training and Regional Development) Industry Innovation Program, which aims to establish new links between the private sector and the public sector research institutions.

Juniper Films

Juniper Films is a Sydney based independent production company. The company has been making documentaries for the last 24 years. Juniper Films' documentaries have been broadcast on national and international television, as well as non-theatrical and educational markets. Having already explored the more traditional based modes of communication, namely, film, video, book, and audio CD, Juniper Films wanted to expand into the arena of interactive multimedia. Juniper Films has a large database of video, audio and photographic resource materials which are ideal for interactive multimedia titles.

Juniper Films was interested in moving from the traditional linear passive approach to receiving information to a more engaging experience that would allow the recipient to interact with the information. As content material, Juniper Films decided to use their most recent production which was a 13 episode documentary series and companion book about the myths, legends and traditions of the people of the South Pacific region entitled "Pacifica - Tales from the South Seas"

University of Western Sydney Nepean

The University of Western Sydney, Nepean, is situated on the western outskirts of Sydney. The Master of Design (Digital Media) course is a new course first offered in 1993 by the Department of Design Studies, Faculty of Visual and Performing Arts. It is designed to allow students to explore the scope, directions, possibilities and problems brought about through the developments in digital technology.

A small group of final year students with a strong interest in multimedia and education were eager to work on and investigate the challenges of re-purposing existing documentary material for interactive educational use.

Aims of the project

Department of Industry, Science and Technology

Industry Innovation Program National Teaching Company Scheme:

Juniper Films

The University of Western Sydney Nepean (Design Department)

The team

The team was made up of final year students from the Master of Design (Digital Media) and representatives from Juniper Films. This convergence of expertise in the areas of education, computing, project management, communications and film provided a fertile multi-disciplinary environment that is essential for the production of an interactive multimedia title.

The package

Pacifica is an educational interactive CD-ROM.

Aims of Pacifica

  1. To familiarise users with the South Pacific Nations through a study of their culture and geography.

  2. To present a body of information in a variety of ways that may be accessed by various methods and that encourages the development and use of a range of skills.

  3. To provide a context and stimulus for learning in conjunction with a resource base of information.

  4. To provide learning experiences in line with the National Profile Statements for Society and Environment, and Technology.

  5. To reflect the world wide interest in the Asia Pacific region.

Description of the package

The package consists of 4 sections united by a central theme of a sea voyage around the South Pacific Islands. The introduction sets the scene with a welcome aboard from the captain and by showing a map of the voyage from the user's continent of origin to the South Pacific Islands. Once in the South Pacific the user can access each of the four sections through objects in the cabin interface.

Educational focus

Following consultation with education consultants and examination of the National Education Profiles for Technology, and Society and Environment, the package has been designed as a teaching resource primarily for the Technology, and Society and Environment curriculum areas in years 6 to 10. The body of resource material, consisting of video, stills, sound, music and narration for over 30 stories was examined in terms of the 6 strands of the Society and Environment Profile and the 4 strands of the Technology Profile. The Society and Environment strands include:
  1. Investigation, Communication and Participation
  2. Time, Continuity and Change
  3. Place and Space
  4. Culture
  5. Resources
  6. Natural and Social Systems
While the material was appropriate to all strands it was particularly relevant to studies of Culture, Time, Continuity and Change, and Natural and Social Systems. The Technology Profile includes strands on:
  1. Designing, Making and Appraising
  2. Information
  3. Materials
  4. Systems
The resource material was found to be appropriate to all areas whether as a stimulus, as examples of systems or the use of materials, or forming the basis of a design brief. The original material was in a series of linear story formats. It was important to find other ways of presenting the information that would encourage students to use problem solving, information and thinking skills and become active participants in constructing their own knowledge.

The package is not an end in itself, but has been designed as a springboard for other activities in the classroom, eg. design briefs, system design, and discussions. To support this, a set of teaching ideas and unit outlines have been prepared to encourage teachers to look beyond the computer screen and see the package as a teaching resource that offers new opportunities for student exploration and discovery.

Production process

Phase One: Set up

  1. Creating the design team
    The concept design team consisted of three people supervised by David Hegarty, Lecturer and Coordinator of Master of Design (Digital Media) Course. The team members had varied backgrounds:

    Sonia Poorun - Documentary Films, Communications
    Kerry Eyles - Technology Education, Teacher Training, Teaching and Digital Media
    Francisco Gurovich - Project Management, Systems Analysis, Digital Media and CBL

    The multi-disciplinary range of expertise and different perspectives of the team members enhanced the process and the final product. Other talents, including content specialists, educators, graphic and industrial designers, animators and programmers were incorporated into the production team as required.

  2. Define aim and objectives of Pacifica Interactive
    The aims and objectives were defined based on the resource material and the National Curriculum Profiles.

  3. Define target audience
    It was decided that the Pacifica Interactive would be targeted to years 6 to 10 of Australian School System, however the international educational markets and the general public have also been considered.

  4. Define the required production equipment.
    It was acknowledged that the Department of Design, UWS, was quite well equipped for the production of this title.

  5. Define delivery platforms
    Pacifica Interactive will be released for Macintosh and MPC platforms

Phase Two: Concept design

  1. Re-purposing
    The resource materials were:

    Pacifica - Tales From the South Seas, 13 x 1/2 hour documentary series
    Pacifica book
    Additional 10 x l/2 hour documentary series
    5000 slides
    Geopolitical data base of the South Pacific Nations
    Library of natural sounds
    Original sound track

    The original format of the material (stories) was not presented in an appropriate form for Pacifica Interactive, new perspectives and alternative methods of presentation had to be devised in order to fulfil the stated objectives.

  2. Explore alternative interfaces
    The visualisation of the package commenced. This included the feel and look of the package.

  3. Define metaphors
    Due to the material to be covered, it was decided to use the idea of travelling on a sailing boat. This was an appropriate primary metaphor for the title as it allowed for travel between the islands and incorporated the element of adventure.

  4. Define individual sections
    It was decided that Pacifica Interactive will have an introduction and four sections.

  5. Develop strategies for different sections
    Unique strategies were devised for each of the four sections.

Phase Three: Detailed design

  1. Interface design
    The style of the graphics was defined.

  2. Scripting and storyboarding
    A detailed storyboard was produced for every component of the interactive.

  3. Teachers resources
    The education consultant commenced work on the teacher notes after lengthy consultation with the team.

  4. Resource list A complete resource list was compiled for: video, stills, graphics, maps, text, animations, sound effects, music and voice over.

  5. Production plan
    At this stage a task list, timetable and time lines where prepared. A list of required talents was compiled.

  6. Prototype
    The first prototype was created and tested.

Phase Four: Production

  1. Data acquisition
    Based on the resource list all necessary resources were acquired and digitised.

  2. Authoring

  3. Production of teacher resources

  4. Design of packaging

  5. Cross platform conversion
    A gold CD was produced for Mac and PC.

  6. Testing
    The product and the teaching resources were tested.

  7. Debugging

Phase Five: Manufacturing

    Master data was given to the manufacturer and artwork for the packaging and teaching notes was supplied to the printer.


Interactive multimedia requires a different approach to linear media. In order to be effective the material must be presented in a unique way, that allows the user to select their own path, make links and engage with the information. This encourages the use of lateral thinking and problem solving skills. Our overall aim was to determine educationally valid ways of presenting the existing material in an interactive mode. Defining our objectives and desired outcomes for the Pacifica Interactive based on the National Curriculum Education Profiles has forced us to employ a range of strategies that will enable the students to develop the appropriate skills.

There are two well defined approaches to re-purposing existing documentary material. The first or minimalist approach, is to convert the film or video resources to a CD-ROM with a few menu screens. The second approach is to make an interactive as a totally independent product which requires shooting of video, stills and in general a fresh acquisition of resource material.

We chose to incorporate elements of both these approaches in developing the Pacifica Interactive. We found that as long as the material is plentiful and covers a variety of media, and the concept development team is given total freedom on the re-purposing of the material, it is possible to create a quality interactive product based on existing material. The convergence of people from different backgrounds, namely, film, design, education, project management and computers has allowed the product to be developed from many different perspectives, which has enhanced the final product.

End note

At the time of printing of the Conference Papers, the product was still being developed. Any changes to the original plan will be discussed during the presentation.


A Statement on Studies of Society and Environment for Australian Schools (1994). Curriculum Corporation, Victoria, Australia.

A Statement on Technology for Australian Schools (1994). Curriculum Corporation, Victoria, Australia.

Studies of Society and Environment - A Curriculum Profile for Australian Schools (1994). Curriculum Corporation, Victoria, Australia.

Technology - A Curriculum Profile for Australian Schools (1994). Curriculum Corporation, Victoria, Australia.

Authors: Sonia Poorun, Production Manager, Juniper Films, Box R55, PO Royal Exchange, Sydney NSW 2000. Tel: (02) 550 0858 or (02) 569 0303; Fax: (02) 569 8810.

Kerry Eyles, Department of Design Studies, University of Western Sydney, Nepean, PO Box 10, Kingswood NSW 2747. Tel: (02) 678 7203; Fax: (02) 724 6267 or (02) 678 7217; Email:

Franciso Gurovich, Department of Design Studies, University of Western Sydney, Nepean, PO Box 10, Kingswood NSW 2747. Tel: (02) 6787203; Fax: (02) 678 7217; Email:

Please cite as: Poorun, S., Eyles, K. and Gurovich, F. (1994). A multi-disciplinary approach to re-purposing a documentary into an educational interactive. In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (eds), Learning Environment Technology: Selected papers from LETA 94, 238-242. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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