THE THREE CS: CONTENT, CONTENT & CONTENT - WHY AR & VR NEED QUALITY 3D

 

July 7, 2015 — Being born content creators with a love of technology allows you to understand that people don’t interact with 0s and 1s.

Over many years we have been criticised and praised in equal measure. From Hong Kong to Bogota people have always been quick to suggest upgrades, alternatives, general criticism - often without even being asked. In fact most of the time without ever being asked!

And while we take as much on board as we possibly can, there has been one element that has never received the same level of criticism as the others: 3D design.

One of our core strengths is undoubtedly the level of 3D quality we put into every single piece of work we create. In the early days of the business, much of our budgets were spent on content design, certainly a massively higher percentage than our competitors in the early days of AR. As a result we have been numerously endorsed for our 3D content by some of the greatest institutions, brands and content creators around the world. We just took the criticism from elsewhere instead... 

As the Creative Director of the company I feel privileged to have met and worked with some of the greatest experts of Universal Studios, Smithsonian Institute, DreamWorks, BBC Earth, 20th Century Fox, Amblin Entertainment and of course National Geographic. We’re proud to have built penguins for Frozen Planet, polar bears for National Geographic and even Jurassic Park dinosaurs for Steven Spielberg himself.

 

Having come from an advertising background where budgets allow extensive 3D production on rare occasions only, it obviously has been a learning curve for all of us, however we always had the thirst for quality in everything we did. We believed, I think rightly, that great experiences come from what people subconsciously feel. AR is undoubtedly an amazing technology but without compelling experience it can feel gimmicky, an unnecessary tech advance without a home. A coupon with the letters “e” in front of it if you will.

I personally am a little bit of a Patrick Bateman when it comes to detail and according to my colleagues my middle name is ‘mildly disappointed’. Over the past four years I have learnt many aspects of 3D production and people’s reactions to it within an AR and VR environment. Here’s a rundown of what I consider the simple yet important lessons I’ve had when trying to build something great:

1. Quality, the audience feels it.

The temptation to compromise is always present. It’s always painful to turn down a project based on budget or time conflicts but is it worth it? The argument is that most of the audience can’t actually recognise i.e. point out a specific detail and say, ‘Wow, the shadows that the 3D models cast dovetail seamlessly into the real environment’ or, ‘It’s extraordinary how the virtual lighting conditions are matching the one of the live camera feed’. Nonetheless we believe in our audience and we profess they deserve the best. This attitude was confirmed to be right worldwide by their direct feedback.

The first thing we noticed was that however people don’t necessarily see the level of detail we implement, but they do feel it. I have experienced feedback from the audience such as ‘It’s amazing how real it feels’, or ‘I don’t know what the difference is compared to other experiences I had, but this one is just stunning’ many times.

Detail: Our 3D builds go to intricate levels of detail 

Detail: Our 3D builds go to intricate levels of detail 

2. Animation, the more the better.

This isn’t about duration. The character has to reach B from A in X seconds. Easy. Or is it? I’ll let the video footage below speak for itself, but in a nutshell, detail in animation is probably more important than anything else. Again, making a compromise is tempting, the shortest (and from an animation point of view the easiest) way between two points is a straight line, we know that from first grade, but it’s also the most boring way too.

We had the privilege to study our subjects – from wild animals to dinosaurs – extensively with the help of the planet’s greatest experts to be able to capture the personality and specific characteristics of each one of them.

How clumsy can a penguin be in its natural environment? How does a giraffe turn its head towards something approximately half its height? Do the ears move? Why? When? And how exactly if we talk about a rhino? And the list goes on. The more detail, the more lifelike these digital characters will become and the more immersive it results. As a result we are often asked questions such as ‘how did you manage to green screen an elephant?!”

3. Storytelling, none of the above makes sense without it.

Most of our Augmented Reality experiences are tailored to fit a certain timeframe set by our clients’ needs, often very short. We have to fill that timeframe with something that engages and entertains the audience; we have to tell a story. Let’s say we have 30 seconds to show something of a specific character. The audience has to be able to react to the action as they are part of the story, furthermore they play a key role in our Augmented Reality experiences. It has to be scary, cute, comic or sometimes even touching.

The little adélie penguin featured in Air, Land and Sea by National Geographic never ceases to put a smile on people’s faces all around the world as it falls over and slips back into the ocean from an ice shelf. The stunning intelligence of three orca whales swimming synchronised towards the same ice shelf to wash off prey leaves the audience speechless. People crouch to pet the leopard as it lies down in the middle of the scene and when he rolls over to expose its belly, I still, after over 40 installations of the scene worldwide, hear people melting away followed by an ‘awwww’.

That is why we call it Experience Engineering.

 

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