Of all the things on Jam3's agenda for this year - an office move, a possible second office and the development of a 360 degree camera - the most unusual would have to be this; waiting to see how North Korea reacts to its latest project.
"We haven't had any reaction yet, but we are just waiting for the phone call from Kim Jong-Un," jokes Adrian Belina, partner and creative director at the Toronto-based firm (pictured, left, with founder and technical director Mark McQuillan, center, and partner and creative director Pablo Vio, right). He's referring to The Defector, their latest project, which features hidden camera footage from North Korea. Accompanying a documentary by director Ann Shin and Fathom Film to be broadcast on Canada's TVO, the website features a would-be defector from North Korea, and all the harrowing experiences she encounters on her journey towards freedom.
It is undoubtedly reminiscent of Jam3's work on Bear71 for the National Film Board of Canada. Launched at Sundance last year, it won a swathe of awards including a Gold Cyber Lion at Cannes. The 20-minute interactive film followed the life of a female grizzly bear in Canada's Banff National Park, from the moment she is tagged and collared by park rangers to the moment of her untimely death, and was "narrated" by the bear in the first person.
However, this time the narrator is human, and based on a composite of real stories of defectors. While the documentary itself focuses on a smuggler, the site takes visitors right into the terrifying world of someone desperate to escape a totalitarian regime. "We wanted the experience to be different from the movie, and met with Ann Shin before she even shot the film to get the right footage," says Belina, adding that the work is not only a marketing tool for the documentary but a way to inspire interest in the plight of North Koreans. "Documentaries are such a niche market. So, we aim to provide an avenue whereby people may not necessarily have to see the film, but can still get access to the information."
Clearly, film is a passion for Jam3, for whom projects such as these have partly resulted from the Canadian government's mandate to fund Canadian-produced content. Belina says "digital storytelling" is certainly one of the firm's USPs. But film is not its only specialist area; much of its work consists of technically complex projects that marry technology with a certain artistic flair. This has included working with BBDO Toronto on Skittles' Create the Rainbow, a site allowing users create their own quirky Skittles commercial. Jam3 also worked with BBDO and headphone brand Denon to create the Denon VisYOUalizer, an app using Kinect that allows people to try on the product virtually, turning their faces into a dynamic, customized music visualizer. Other projects including working with singer Bjork on her HTML5 website, Bjork.com.
Jam3 was founded nine years ago by McQuillan who was soon joined by Belina and Pablo Vio (all pictured). The trio met at Sheridan college in 2003, on a postgraduate course in interactive multimedia.
While McQuillan had a strong interest in programming, Belina and Vio came from more of a design background. As such, Jam3 prides itself on the marriage of creative and technical know-how.
"All our directors and designers have to have a level of technical savvy, but at the same time our technical people aren't just code geeks. There has to be an artistic element there too," says Belina, who admits that interviewing for the 20-strong firm is a complicated process where people are really "under the heat lamps." Nevertheless, he says the office culture aims to let staffers have fun, despite the tight deadlines inevitable in its line of work, with a vintage arcade machine and beer fridge on site.
An intense focus on R&D in-house has resulted in developments such as its proprietary 3D particle engine, which allows higher particle counts as well as the ability to import models and other data, and was used in Bear71's website and Bjork.com as well as on Jam3's own website Jam3.com. Jam3 has also developed a prototype 360 degree camera, which it plans to license, and launched five mobile apps in the past year.
Meanwhile, with an increasing number of clients coming from the U.S., Jam3 is now seriously considering expansion across the border, with a second office in the works.