First Contact

In 2003 I had the pleasure of working on a very special project for Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board of Canada. The year marked the 400th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain's first contact with the First Nations people of what is now known as Québec.

This multimedia project became the WorldMediaFestival's 2005 intermedia-globe GOLD award winner for "Best Interactive Web site" and recognized for its innovation in 2006 by the British Columbia Social Studies Teachers Association.


First Contact is an online Web tool that will be used to teach students about Samuel de Champlain's exploration of early Canada: its land and people. The students will “explore” as Champlain did using his Astrolabe and by learning from the native peoples. The Web site First Contact will contain text from original works (Primary Documents), time lines of important peoples and events, the ability to find out more about individuals of the time by going “Inside the Mind of...” and explore some of Champlain's excellent maps and how they were done. Once a student has learned about the period and collected their information in the “Collector” a multi-media story will be able to be created in the “Story Studio” . The story will be played out and read back to them in real-time with Text to Speech technology (TTS). This story could be entered into contest with other students from around Canada.

The Creative Approach

Instead of creating an interface and design that catered to the students of the day it was decided that the site should take on a more era based look and feel. This would give it a much stronger appeal to those of the current and future generations.

Setting the Scene

Since the project will be based around Champlain and the exploration that he did the site will endeavour to place students in the middle of something that may seem so far removed from them in the days of GPS locators and satellite technology. Tooled with an Astrolabe the student will use this as a tool to guide them through the interface of the site.
  • Imagine you are on one of the old wooden sailing ships of the day, you have just completed a long voyage across the Atlantic and seamen are now transversing the St. Lawrence River and busy mapping the shorelines. But in order for France to make a claim on this area of the New World they need you to map the land and its features. You are [user's name] Samuel de Champlain's new assistant.
  • After months at sea, in the scuttle you go and head for the shore, along with Champlain, your team and native guides. It is twilight and the new sun has yet to break over from the East - and with it distant memories of home and loved ones.
  • You take your first steps of the new land and make your way up through the forest and brush, covered with the morning dew, to the rocky top of a nearby hill. It is still quiet,
  • but in the distance are the sounds of unfamiliar crickets and birds. Welcome to the New World... welcome to New France. And with that thought, you reach down and grab your tool that will help bring glory to the motherland - your Astrolabe. Through it you gaze into this land full of mystery, adventure and danger searching for your next stop and marker.

The Technical

Please see the Site Flow Diagram attached.

The Visual

The discussed vision of the site will be as follows.
  1. The user will log into the system or sign up for a new account at the entry page. Some discussion of the adventure and contest may be provided on this page.
  2. Once logged in the user can either grab their Astrolabe or go to (possibly) the ship which would serve as the location of the “Collector” (if agreed).
  3. If the user activates their Astrolabe he/she will see the introduction sequence of a ship traveling from a global view of the ship charting across the Atlantic on an old style map of the world (ala Indiana Jones and the plane trip maps from one location of the world to the other) zooming in tighter to the location as the ship approaches New France and the area that Champlain and his assistant (the user) are about to map (ala Jim's Hummer zoom-in idea.).
  4. This next sequence could have some sort of stop animation (panned stills) or other technique to show the user coming from the anchored ship, into the scuttle, onto shore and up the hilltop.
  5. Once at the top of the hilltop the user will bring out his/her astrolabe and enter the QTVR environment. The QTVR scene will be a 360 degree panoramic view of the skyline. The user will look through the round telescopic eyepiece of the astrolabe and pan across the skyline to “search” for areas to explore in the Website. In the panoramic image will be picture representations of the elements of the Website. Some ideas would be constellations in the shape of people (Native and French) that could represent “Inside the Mind”, smoke in the distance from a Native settlement to represent Story Studio (ala the stories that are told around the fires) and rivers and other elements to represent the other sections of the Website (these need to be brainstormed and thought out what they could be in the image.) As the user operates their astrolabe using the levers to pans across the scene an astrolabe in the bottom of the screen could be turning at the same time to show what area of the site the user will enter. Once the user has chosen the area that they want to explore, they would “record” that marker and enter that module.
  6. Each module will have a background theme of the area that the user saw from the QTVR scene. For example the “Story Studio” could have the background of Natives telling stories around a fire or “Inside the Mind of...” could have a star-scape. Incorporation of some element of the panoramic view will allow the user to identify what section that they are in and relate it to the QTVR scene.

The Website

The First Contact website can be visited here at
Please not that this website uses older technology such as QuickTime VR and Shockwave Flash that may not be present on your computer.
To view a demonstration of the website, please visit