10 things brands need to know about creating virtual reality experiences

Google’s recently announced Jump platform, which will allow film-makers, brands or hobbyists to create their own 3D images with a specially configured 16-camera rig, is the latest example that virtual reality has arrived in the mainstream.

The rig may resemble the Death Star, but it will allow VR content to be stitched together relatively cost effectively. Prices on kit are also falling all the time, with consumer level Oculus Rift headsets set to retail for $200-400.

Smart brands have got the message. Qantas recently teamed up with Samsung to take some of the tedium out of the long-haul flights with a VR trial for first class passengers showing Hollywood action snippets and 3D experiences of visitor attractions.

Elsewhere film-makers and artists are exploring VR’s potential. US animator Mac Cauley produced an Oculus Rift film The Night Café that let viewers wander about in a world of Van Gogh paintings.

The best brands have always understood the importance of storytelling. From cave art through to HD TV, stories have been paramount. VR is the next step in the evolution of the ways that humans explain things to each other.

Although it is tempting to adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach, VR is happening now, so getting hands on experience is important. Here are the top considerations for creating a VR experience:

1. Get your geek on

First up the science. Stereoscopic image capture needs to replicate human vision, and to do this it needs two reference points to replicate the slightly different vantage point from the left and right eye. The content you create needs this to trick the brain into thinking a 3D environment is in front of the viewer and to do this you need two vantage points and two cameras.

2. This is not your normal camera rig

To do VR really well it requires specialist equipment. For proper 360 degree VR, you will need to say hello to bespoke 12-camera 3D printed rigs. The footage is stitched together in post-production to create a 3D, virtual world that’s in front, behind, to the side and every angle you turn.

3. Quality is king

For brands to move VR beyond a simple novelty to something that really captures the attention of the user, imagery has to be superb. Shoemaker Merrell spent six months developing its TrailScape VR experience. This recreated a walk in the Dolomite Mountains complete with physical elements like ropes that mark a bridge, a rock wall and fans that simulate wind.

4. Don’t make me spew, please

Avoiding motion sickness is no joke. Kingfisher in India set up a VR experience that measured heartbeats and pulses on a badly rendered rollercoaster. The most disturbed punters got a beer to calm their nerves afterwards, but what did it really do for the brand?

5. I’m the director now

Narrative structures are different within VR and the viewer is the co-director, as there’s a whole world to explore. Plan for this by allowing the action to be stopped and started accordingly, with engaging action spread across the 360° view. The Dos Equis interactive masquerade called on participants to explore goings on at a masked ball and find a treasured possession of the host.

6. Get interactive

VR is not a passive experience, so create a decision tree style experience with lots of options. Tourist board Destination British Columbia created an Oculus Rift experience that mirrored a real-life journey in providing viewers with the options that they would encounter on a trip.

7. Card, Gear or Rift?

Each platform has its pros and cons. Facebook-backed Oculus Rift has high image quality, but is the most expensive and it needs to be cabled up to a high spec computer. Samsung’s Gear is a headset that a Samsung Note phone is loaded into, and is a lower priced package overall. It is also wireless with impressive quality as seen in a shark diving experience it created. Google Cardboard already has lots of apps and experiences in the marketplace and the headset cost is low. Other entrants are coming soon, so a prudent approach may be to develop content that’s compatible across multiple devices.

8. Making it social

Although the VR experience is a solitary one, brands should consider how you can make it a group experience to get over users’ self-consciousness. Coca-Cola took groups into a World Cup locker room mock up and from there to the pitch of the Maracanã. In future, interaction between individuals will be a possibility so social sharing is important.

9. Stimulate the senses

Make any VR activity multi-sensorial by engaging all of the senses – sounds, scents and touch. To promote Game of Thrones, HBO created a 90-second rendering of the 700-foot ice wall from the show, complete with sound effects to reproduce wind and shaking of the floor.

10. Plan, plan, then plan

Plan meticulously. This is a new area for many brands, so expect the unexpected, and test the experience you build well ahead of implementation.

Leigh Chapman is senior account director at Space

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