Human Birdwings

A transmedia story about a flying dream that reached millions of people and became worldwide headline news.

Dutch broadcaster NTR wanted to explore online and non-lineair storytelling, so together with award winning video artist Floris Kaayk we developed the fictional story of Jarno Smeets, a young man who dreams to fly like a bird and thinks he knows how he can make that dream come true. The ultimate flying dream: flying like a bird with flapping wings.

The story was carefully crafted and build, creating the fictional character of Jarno as well as several other characters, backstories and the storylines leading to the final flight.

The story of Jarno Smeets’ ambition and dream-come-true was distributed on online platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and a blog. All charachters in the story where very active on social media, having their own Facebook and Linkedin profiles as well as supporting blogs and Twitter pages. We rolled out a total of fourteen short video’s that step by step took the audience through the building process and towards the first (and final) flight.

We aimed to make the audience part of an exciting experimental online storytelling format and had them participate by sharing their own ideas, dreams and solutions for building the wings. Our main character shared his inspiration and motivation, his research, the designing and the assembling of the wingsystem and the final tests through his blog, Facebook and by actively posting in relevant forums and online discussions.

In collaboration with Industrial Design experts from the Technical University Eindhoven we conceived the wing design, the technical backgrounds and the use of materials to be as feasible as possible.The main purpose is to balance the story at the limits of fantasy and realism by using state of the art electronic technique in a fictional setting. Crucial breakthroughs in the wing development and the testflights are therefore manipulated by the use of photorealistic computer animations to give the impression that the wing system really functions.

The story reached over 10 million views and 25,000 reactions on Youtube. The story was also covered by major media like BBC, Wired, Daily Mail, Gizmodo, Techcrunch, Discovery and many Dutch media. Even the Mythbusters shed their light on the matter. We counted over 30,000 tweets, 2,000 emails and near to 1,000 reactions on the blog.

We also created an art installation out of all the content and artifacts we created, exhibiting the video’s, the actual wings, sketches and other content that together formed the amazing story of our Flying Dutchman!

Links to relevant sites:

Human Birdwings Blog
Human Birdwings Youtube
Human Birdwings Twitter


NTR Broadcasting
Floris Kaayk
Raymond van der Kaaij
Eelko Ferwerda (also co-director)
Floris Kaayk
Supported by
Mediafund, Dutch Filmfund, NTR Broadcasting