The Future Trust had a conversation with Tim Dillon, Head of VR & Immersive Content at MPC, an Academy Award-winning visual effects studio and Technicolor business, to hear more about VR...
Virtual reality (VR), along with augmented reality (AR), promise tremendous opportunities and exponential growth. Filmmakers and game developers are using these new mediums to create immersive experiences that let audiences actively participate in the content. Because of this, technology companies are creating new devices and platforms that audiences and gamers can use to engage in those experiences. This new format of engagement offers plenty of opportunity for brands and advertisers to use VR and AR to interactively and creatively connect with their customers.
The VR and AR markets are still nascent, but 2016 has proven to be a break-out year with record investments in the technology, big successes for AR games like Pokémon Go, new products like the Google Cardboard sets, and bold new VR film projects like The Martian VR Experience. We can expect much more in the coming months.
The Future Trust had a conversation with Tim Dillon, Head of VR & Immersive Content at MPC, an Academy Award-winning visual effects studio and Technicolor business, to hear more about VR and its use as a powerful medium for branding, advertising, and promotions.
Dillon: It’s changing so rapidly. All of us who are lucky to be spending a lot of time working in VR and augmented reality and immersive media are seeing that month to month. If you look at the end of 2014, through 2015 and all through this year in 2016, the technology is obviously developing at a rapid pace, but I also think it is people’s – meaning creatives – access to the technology that is defining what can be done with it. For advertising, and for everyone working with brands, it’s no different than filmmakers. It’s being able to look at content that’s being created and test ideas. People are trying ideas and finding out, “Well, maybe that doesn’t work so well. Let’s take it to a different place.”
I think there’s a little bit of a founding of ideas going on, and it’s really interesting. We’re certainly involved in that process.
Dillon: We have a dedicated VR team. I’m sitting here in our newly opened Technicolor Experience Center in Culver City. We’ve just moved to a bigger space, which gives us the opportunity to think about what VR looks like inside our own space. We’re currently opening up new VR demo rooms, and we have the right layout for all of the headsets we have.
We can bring people here to the space and see things. We are not just doing this here in Los Angeles. We have similar setups happening in New York, London, and our other facilities.
But L.A. is definitely a focus for us here on the West Coast, with proximity to San Francisco and all of the technology companies.
Dillon: I think they absolutely do. I was on a roundtable recently with a few advertising heads of production and strategy people. It was clear in the conversation we were having that the focus is on the democratic end of the media – meaning Google Cardboard and 360° videos on YouTube and Facebook – and that there is a lot of immediate interest.
This is because from an advertising and a brand perspective, that return on investment needs to be clear – not only from a financial perspective, but in terms of making sure the media and content reaches a critical mass of people who are seeing it.
Obviously economics comes into it but that’s not, I don’t think, the main driver.
Right now it’s about how many people are going to see this? You know that’s about media value. What’s the earned media value?
I think from that perspective last year, 2015 was tough for advertisers to truly look at VR and – other than using VR in events – see a clear route to VR’s viability.
This year, 2016, 360° videos and Facebook’s commitment to that format has really bloomed and that makes it easier for a brand or an advertising agency or a marketing agency to say, “yes, this is equal to the other digital content we’re creating.”
Beyond this we are now seeing that there is a growing audience that wants to see VR.
Dillon: Certainly. There’s a whole wide range of diverse work we’re doing, from marketing pieces to content pieces for films.
We’re also working with Facebook and Google and Microsoft and A-list technology brands on the things they are doing in VR and promoting in VR. For example, we created a launch film for Google Tiltbrush, which people might be familiar with. And we created a mixed-reality film that I think is fair to say has been completed to high production value standards.
I think mixed reality is a very new area. And just for the uninitiated, by mixed reality I mean showing someone wearing a headset while being filmed, and then super-imposing in what they’re looking at so you can see what the user might be seeing. And then in the case of the Google Tiltbrush, we showed people drawing and creating artwork in Tiltbrush. So that’s an example of working with Google.
We’re working on a series of VR projects with all types of different headsets. Some of those we will be launching in festivals.
Often now we’re looking at launching content across platforms. So we’ll launch a piece in Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear, Cardboard, Vive, and PlayStation.
There has been a big influx of music projects for us, and those tend to run on the type of music production timeline you’d imagine: “There’s a music single coming out so let’s get a 360° or a VR piece done in time for the release of the song.”
These VR projects are fast and snappy. They are a little bit more challenging compared to traditional video, but they are well worth the time.
We just launched a project for the band One Republic. It is a big band with a new album that has just come out here in the U.S.
The band is excited; they are all over TV talking about it. And they have both a 2D video and a 360° video for their single “Kids” by the same director, who is Hal Kirkland and with whom we worked with on the VR piece.
So it’s a good example of how the content can be produced for both regular and 360° applications and then be simultaneously launched. It points to a new format that Universal Music is going to continue to explore for all their bands.
Dillon: There is a necessity right now to get the experiential design of the film, or whatever you want to call it, to the audience. Not everyone has headsets, certainly not the Oculus Rift and Vive headsets. Sony PlayStation is just launching in October, so I think part of our strategy around deliverables, versioning, and promotion is driven by that.
But I think even in a year’s time we’ll see a difference in terms of the amount of people who have headsets in their homes.
There will still be a wider number of VR experiences outside of those using headsets, whether that’s at an event that’s been put on by a marketer or a content owner, or even at a more public event, or even if it’s just wider than headset, meaning it’s an Instagram video or a short film.
But we’re also starting to see cases where projects are initiated as VR films or animations, and actually starting to jump the fence and become feature films. There was just an example I was reading about, about a short animation that’s going from a three-minute VR film to getting a deal to be a TV series. And that’s incredible, but I think it’s indicative of where we’re at, that this isn’t just about the headset; it’s about great content in any space, really.
Dillon: Yeah, everyone in a brand is looking at their marketing budget. And there are different activities in that, right? There are event budgets, there are PR budgets, there’s advertising/media spend in there. What we’re seeing is a convergence of all of those things.
Some of the VR projects and mixed-reality projects we’re working on are pulling in from other disciplines. They’re pulling in funding from event budgets because they’re going to put VR at an event as part of the project, or they’re going to take the project to Sundance or Tribeca or to the GDC [Game Developers Conference] or Cannes.
Brands like Nike are already doing a lot of retail installations and commercial advertising with VR. And that’s something they’re going to continue doing because they’re selling their products in a particular way. I think some brands will engage with immersive media more natively than others. Other brands, for example fashion labels, will take a little longer to get to immersive media.
It’s worth saying that as VR evolves over the next year or so into mixed reality or augmented reality, and headsets evolve into more functional pairs of glasses, then retail, for example, becomes more relevant.
Dillon: The level of engagement is huge in VR. This medium has an unprecedented level of engagement. When you’re putting someone in a headset they are one-to-one with the content.
Now there’s a question about whether you interrupt that experience with advertising. So far there is not a lot of prevalent disruptive advertising in experiences, but there’s a lot of conversation around what would be appropriate and what wouldn’t.
What we are seeing, and anyone who’s put on a headset is going to see, is that you have a lot of opportunities to insert advertising around the user interface.
You have menu design. So there are appropriate places that you could put billboards, adverts, and animated adverts discreetly into an interface that doesn’t interrupt content.
But I think to your point, it’s already recognized journalistically as content, but also now by brands, as being a very captive space where you’ve got someone’s complete attention. I mean, you can’t even look down and be distracted by your phone. So it’s that kind of unique space.
I also think that in the next few months, we’re going to see the influx of social media into VR in a big way. Facebook owns Oculus. They’ve got a clear strategy to make VR with the Oculus Rift and the Samsung Gear more social for gamers and for regular users, to be able to have buddy lists with friends and to be able to be in experiences with other people. That will expand and expand, and I think when brands see that, they’ll see it’s not just one person in a headset. It’s one person in a headset talking to 20 other people. That’s a bigger metric, you know?
Dillon: We probably don’t have enough time now to cover all the bases, but I think a way to sum it up would be to say it’s very wide-ranging, and that’s one of the most exciting things about a new medium or a new platform space.
It’s so wide-ranging across so many different companies and verticals—if you want to call them that—in terms of categories of content, film, brands, journalism, etc.
So I think the key to success will revolve around focus. For us at MPC, as part of Technicolor, we’re focusing in on what we think is interesting and we’re looking at how other creatives are engaging with VR – how people are trying to tell stories, how people are trying to craft experiences.
And right now there’s not a lot of places to go. So actually, I think we – MPC and Technicolor – play a role in terms of who you can speak to, who can you go see, to see A-list cinematic content in VR and also explore wider, more interesting experiences.
We’re sitting at an interesting intersection in terms of all of the partners and creatives who are making pieces and we’re very aware of what everyone’s doing and we’re trying to help people do things. We’re lucky to be sitting in a really interesting place within all of that.
In terms of where it’s all going, I would say we’re seeing an evolution in all those verticals. I think what we hope is that headset adoption, and people’s interest in the content that’s being created, will be on a big upwards curve as people see more and more of it through 2017.
When we land on the other side of the year, we’re going to be in a different place where we can be releasing lots of different types of experiences. Some of them games, some of them more ‘sit back and experience,’ and some of them more functional.