Storytelling & Design

Local Video Project Takes the 'Choose Your Own Adventure' Path

A Portland designer dreams up a video character Frank Aberdean to celebrate retro cool—and user interactivity.

By Caitlin Feldman March 7, 2014

In Chapter 1 of Portland designer Mako Miyamoto’s Frank Aberdean—an evolving online video series following the exploits of a mute, skeleton-mask-wearing dude—it is New Years Eve, 1988, and Frank is just waking up. He gets out of bed already wearing his signature red leather jacket, and throws in an exercise tape in his VCR to start his morning constitutional. Things get weirder from there.

With pulsing '80s synths and slick cinematography, the video oozes cool­. It is an unabashed ode to pure style over content. Inspired by Reagan-vintage horror films, Frank’s tale will unravel over the coming months based on choices viewers can vote on. (At the end of the three and a half minute video for Chapter 1, viewers are asked to vote on an element of the next installment. In this case, it’s the choice between a Lambretta scooter and a Bronco—Frank’s vehicle—with the winner determining the direction of the plot.)

“I didn’t want to just be like ‘here,’” Miyamoto says. “I wanted some other way to engage people and have them become part of the storytelling and part of the character. I wanted them to see it evolve and have them be vested in the experience.”

As with Miyamoto’s photo project featuring surreal scenes centered on Wookiee masks, undertaken to better his photography skills, he created the character of Frank to hone his videography. But even as a side project (Miyamoto works full-time as an art director at ad agency Roundhouse, which we profiled last fall), this video series has required commitment. In the three months he spent actively developing the production, he invested five to six hours after work. For the six days of filming, the crew was at it for 12 hours a day.

About a dozen people worked together to bring the project to life, including another Roundhouse art director, PJ Portlock, who wrote the movie’s musical score. Since almost no dialogue is used in the episode, creating the right sound was absolutely essential.

“Frank is this really mysterious character,” Portlock said. “You don’t really know a whole lot about the backstory. A lot of it was about trying to create that sense of mystery.”

Frank’s creators are very secretive about what may or may not happen next, and wary side-glances occurred every time I asked a question about Frank’s future. Here’s what we know: a driving scene will occur in chapter 2, at some point in time we might see a cameo by another Neon Werewolf character, and “there will be blood.” So, if you’re keeping score, that narrows the direction down to…everything.

To claim a stake in Frank’s future, vote here.

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