Doing something for the first time is a great feeling, but doing something so new that you don’t have the set of references, the criteria, to judge the work you’re doing is a wonderful, intimidating and educational experience.
When Samsung offered us the opportunity to try and come up with an innovative new purpose for any of their pieces of technology, VR and specifically the Galaxy Gear VR headset was an obvious candidate. To paraphrase Kevin Kelly, the chance to create a genuine experience ‘as authentic as in real life’ was too interesting to pass up.
‘People remember VR experiences not as a memory of something they saw but as something that happened to them.’ Kevin Kelly – The Untold Story of Magic Leap
VR as a consumer technology is still very new but what we saw when we started looking the growing number of exciting executions was that VR experiences are essentially solitary ones. You put on the goggles and are transported onto a surfboard, a rollercoaster, onto Mars. A recent, deeply affecting piece from The Guardian even puts you in the cell of a prisoner in solitary confinement – a great use of the technology and also a useful metaphor for the majority of VR experiences.
So when we discovered the statistic that a third of parents today are not at home to read bedtime stories for their children, we decided to see whether VR technology could bring a parent and child together, inside a real, virtual bedtime story. Could use Samsung’s technology to elicit real emotion and recreate the sense of closeness that is lost when parent and child are apart?
The use of technology to augment parenting is understandably a contentious issue and at no point in this process did we believe that our VR story should replace either books or parental presence in a child’s bedtime routine. Rather this is an experiment to discover if technology can be used to ease a modern tension and help parent and child stay emotionally connected when physical distance prevents traditional togetherness.
Given that we were embarking on a project without any precedents we knew that we would need both a guiding set of principles and a partner who could help us translate our idea into virtual reality. We found a perfect partner in Unit9 and together agreed that what we were making needed to behave as much like a bedtime storybook as possible. We needed to enable interactions between the parent and child, the reader and the listener, but these needed to be gentle and natural, designed to engage rather than excite a child. So not a game, not a completely passive story, but something in between.
The project was developed at quite a pace and we had several workstreams running in parallel. We had a bunch of fine writers working on and tweaking and revising the story that eventually became The Most Wonderful Place in the World. And we had illustrators and 3D animators creating a look and feel, trying different visual techniques to see what felt right. But it was when the two came together that we knew that a traditional, illustrated storybook world was the one for this project. It would be the animations and the fact that things were happening in 360degrees – up in the sky and behind the viewers’ heads – that would make this feel magical. Anything else – superrealistic 3d renders, papercraft etc – would be sensory overkill.
But as it is also not film – not even an interactive one – we needed to give the parent a child the opportunity to talk and interact ‘off script’ and the ability to control the pace of the storytelling. Incorporating VoIP into the VR experience was definitely a challenge, but one that we knew we had to overcome. Similarly giving the parent the ability to control the pace of the story – to pause and talk with their child between scenes was really important.
Explaining some of the concepts we were contemplating and sharing them internally and with clients also proved a challenge. At different points of the process we had to invent new metaphors for the interactions we were creating. Powerpoint builds and advancing between powerpoint slides was a very useful metaphor and one that both advertising and client teams got behind very swiftly!
This has been such a unique project that it’s hard to know what lessons we’ve learned that can be taken into future VR projects. If we were starting this again with what we know now, perhaps we’d have added a little more personality to the parent and child avatars each viewer sees. But when you are finding solutions to new problems that you have invented for yourself, you have to make choices on what to focus on and thankfully we had the principles we’d agreed on early in the process to guide us.
Most of the time, on most projects, there are canons of craft lore and decades of iconic work to compare what you are doing with. Working on this project was a step into the unknown and because of that liberating and terrifying in equal measures.
Client name and title: Dan Canham – Manager, Samsung Global Marketing
BBH Creative Team: Martin-Jon Adolfsson and Oksana Valentelis
BBH Creative Director: Joakim Borgstrom
BBH Strategy Director: Damien Le Castrec
BBH Strategist: Tom Patterson
BBH Chief Strategy Officer: Jason Gonsalves
BBH Chief Production Officer: Davud Karbassioun
BBH Business Lead: Julian Broadhead, Polly McMorrow
BBH Global Business Development Director: Tim Harvey
BBH Account Manager: Lara Worthington and Katharine Gritten
BBH Copywriter: Nick Kidney
BBH Print Producer: Simon Taylor
Additional Contributors: Amrita Das, Richard Cable,Jeremy Ettinghausen,Vix Jagger, Chris Meachin, Alex Matthews, Sarah Cooper, Patrick Dedman, Kate Frewin-Clarke, Matt Bertocchi, Katie Callaghan
Unit 9 Credits
VR Creative Director: Henry Cowling
Art Director: Fred Aven
Teach Lead: Laurentiu Fenes
Lead Unity developer: Xavier Arias
Unity Developers: Kevin Borrell, David Diaz, Luke Haugh, Mark Vatsel, Riess Phillips Henry Illustration / Environments & Character Design: Christian-Slane
3D Artists: Sophie Langohr, Steve Campbell
Storyboard Artist: Sophie Conchonnet
Technical Artist: Josep Moix
UX Designer: Camille Theveniau
Designer: Mariusz Kucharczyk
Sound Design: Chris Green, Sound Design
Head of QA: Dominic Berzins
QA Lead: Eve Acton, QA Lead
QA Senior Tester: Tom Watson, Ayesha Evans
QA Tester: Andrew Heraty
Executive Producer: Richard Rowe
Senior Producer: Emma Williamson
BBH Producer (Digital): Samuel Bowden
BBH Producer (Film): David Lynch
BBH Assistant Producer: Sarah Cooper
Production Company: Black Sheep Studios
Editor/Editing House: Black Sheep Studios
BBH Producer: Simon Taylor, Katie Callaghan