This is a case study from Backlight Studio, finalists at last year’s VR Awards for the category of VR Marketing of the Year, on their critically acclaimed 5D VR project “Only the Brave HIGH”.
About Backlight Studio
BackLight is a french studio based in Paris offering interactive productions since 2008. Beginning in the production of 3D animated films, we diversified into AR in 2010 & the creation of virtual reality experiences in 2014, becoming one of Europe’s VR market pioneers. Today, we develop brand content and our own in-house VR productions for entertainment.
About Only The Brave HIGH
Back in 2017, for the launch of a new perfume, Diesel and its agency 84.Paris wanted to highlight the new perfume bottle while illustrating the brand slogan: “Only The Brave”.
Inspired by the wider brand campaign (which focused on urban settings, extreme sport and skyscrapers) we turned the project into a thrilling 5D experience by inviting people to overcome fearsome heights in order to try to grab the perfume bottle. Users make their way along an unstable cornice of a New York skyscraper over 300 feet in the air.
Engaging the Audience
The first challenge we met was to make this experience the best marketing tool possible. Our core goal was to create an interactive advert for Diesel and to boost the sales of the new product in the locations where the experience was set up. With this goal in mind, we had to ensure that the experience worked to create a direct link between the brand and the user.
In total, we had a 3-month period for development before the experience had to be finished, fully polished and ready to deploy in shopping centers around the world.
The idea that underlined the whole experience was creating that subtle connection between the Diesel brand and the user. That was the reason behind our decision to blur the frontier between the real and the virtual; we built an immersive experience that featured virtual images as well as real objects and sensations. By incorporating the physical presence of real objects and sensations, we added a whole new dimension to the VR experience as well as a deeper feeling of immersion for the user.
In the development stage of the project, we wanted to engage with the user in a more intense and personal way as well as create a simple challenge for the user to overcome; this lead to the team proposing to centre the project around challenging a common fear: the fear of heights. We quickly moved to create a full installation setup, reproducing a building facade at 300 feet from the ground.
Again, bearing in mind the brief from Diesel to ensure that the link between the brand and the user was relatively direct, at the end of the ledge we introduced the product itself. Grabbing the perfume bottle became the ultimate goal of the experience.
In all immersive projects we conceive, we face the challenge of making the virtual feel more realistic. In fact, “Virtual Is The New Real” is the slogan of BackLight.
In this particular project, the reproduction of the landscape and the building were the first steps towards a great immersive concept. Our artists used Google Earth to select the most picturesque areas in New York City. From there, it took several weeks to model the iconic New York skyline and bring it to the level of authenticity we were happy with.
We paid attention to every detail from the wet rendering of the stone of the building to the pedestrians in the street, chimney smoke, or even the selection of colors of the typical golden hour. We also developed using Unreal Engine, a development tool powerful enough to reach our high rendering standards.
The wall in the VR experience needed to perfectly match the physical wall that the user scales in reality, the same notion applied to the perfume bottle, when the user grabs the bottle in VR, they need to simultaneously grab the bottle in reality.
The complexity of the project meant that several calibrations needed to be completed. We then added, everything detail by detail, until you truly believed you were in danger and 300 feet high. Some of the iterative improvements we made include:
- The cornice was installed: a simple board, the same width as the virtual one, high enough that your toes did not touch the ground but not so high as to avoid the risk of falling in real life.
- We added the AC / aeration against the wall and the aeration towards it, recreating the effect of wind blowing that you would experience from this altitude.
- We worked with Tape, a french studio who added spatialized sound to our XP.
- We created a window where the users sit and are equipped so that you can see a bathroom – giving even more realism to the situation – and from where users began the experience, with the feet floating in the air.
The more real, the more frightening…
Creating the thrill
The main challenge of Only The Brave HIGH’s production and the final goal of that experience was to be able to emulate the exact adrenaline-fuelled feeling you would experience if you were standing at the very top of a ledge without any safety gear.
Targeting the best simulation from the fear of heights, we had to find the best height for the experience: high enough to feel the danger and guarantee the fear but not too high to see the detail and feel the life down in the street. (subway, pedestrians, cars…)
The funny thing is, our director himself is afraid of heights.
“The ironic situation in that story is that I’m myself scared of heights. An ideal situation to understand and identify all the elements that could stun us. We worked on everything : high enough to be afraid, not so high to see the floor, the wind in our body and hair, the width of the cornice, the sound… I don’t know if I would climb the Everest now, but I keep believing virtual reality has therapeutic skills.” Jonathan Astruc, director @BackLight
We made an internal poll to choose the best height and we also discovered that, in addition to the immersive qualities of the haptics, adding the feet increased the sensation of reality. As a consequence we used Leap Motion to integrate the hands and Vive controllers placed on the legs to give visitors a feeling of “body awareness”.
Only The Brave was deployed all over the world, from Madrid to London, Paris to Istanbul, and allowed an increase of +120% of sales of the perfume in the places the experience was set up. BackLight is so proud that this virtual reality experience actually represents a new generation of interactive ads and won 13 awards in marketing and advertising festivals.
And you, are you brave enough to develop a 5D experience ?