The Augmented City is a podcast series that explores the impact of Artificial intelligence on urban life & culture

Transmedia & AI in Belgium: A Conversation with Domenico La Porta

Transmedia & AI in Belgium: A Conversation with Domenico La Porta

Charleroi, Belgium is widely considered to be one of western Europe's most economically and socially depressed cities. Once the industrial center of Francophone Belgium, Charleroi never recovered from the collapse of the coal and steel business. 

Charleroi is also the birthplace of The Smurfs. First introduced in 1958 as a series of comic characters by the Belgian artist Pierre Culliford (pen name "Peyo"), the Smurfs left Belgium for America in the 1960s. There, the Smurfs moved beyond comic books to become a media empire of advertising, films, TV series, ice capades, video games, theme parks and toys. Charleroi retained bragging rights. LA kept the money.

But a new public/private partnership has launched to change that dynamic where creative people capture the lightning, but others package and sell it. The R/O Institute, pronounced en Francais "Eir-O", invited me to Charleroi to speak about augmented characters to an audience of graphic artists, storytellers and creative technologists.

I spent part of the week with R/O Institute's director Domenico La Porta. We spoke about the current state of transmedia and Artificial Intelligence. This is more than building new media properties. Storytelling has become integral to product development, something that the digital artists from Belgium and beyond are being trained to help develop. 

The highlight was the 24hr storyjam over the last weekend of the bootcamp. Organized as a hackathon, the storyjam produced 16 story pitches where teams and individuals competed for a six month fellowship and incubation period to help bring their stories to a professional pilot level. I served on the jury with Domenico plus the CEO of Media Participations (Europe's number 1 comic/animation/graphic novel publisher), a concept artist and a top Belgian animator. 

The winning team pictured here met at the bootcamp and literally hacked a storyworld and business plan over the weekend. Appropriately named, "Oddity", I will re-visit this team after they start their fellowship next year. But you can see from their faces, a fierce spirit of creation is alive and well --- even in a struggling place. 

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