Samsung just released an epic virtual reality experience for the Samsung Gear VR to promote their blockbuster Marvel film Avengers: Age of Ultron.
You start off in the Avengers Tower. A HUD display pops up. You’re in Tony Stark’s Ironman suit. A look down at the big metal hands confirms it. You check out the New York skyline through the HUD overlay. When you activate the launch prompt, you start flying through in slow motion.
You pass by Thor as he hurls a hammer out ahead. You’re instantly conflicted, in a good way, looking over your shoulder to see his follow-through and spinning back around to see where it’s going. The whole experience is like this. You’re basically on a camera track in the middle of a battle between the Avengers.
As Thor’s hammer rips through the body of an Ultron to the left, Captain America throws his shield, taking your attention back to the right. Unless you want to see how far an exploding Ultron spreads. Before hitting its target, the shield slices through a set of pool balls and they separate with perfect geometry.
Hulk tears another Ultron in half and tosses the two halves. There is so much to see you just have to keep going back. The slow motion allows you to see every movement in perfect detail. It’s the best use of VR in an advertising campaign I’ve seen yet. Such an amazing look at the characters.
How To Turn The World into Avengers
The experience is the brainchild of 72andSunny in LA, recently named by Fast Company as the world’s most innovative company of 2015 in advertising. The agency’s mantra was summed up by 72andSunny’s founding partner and CEO, John Boiler, in a recent interview with Adage.
Geeking out on new ways of storytelling. That’s our mission. It’s not like the old ways don’t work, but you’ve got to expand.
Here’s what it takes to create a virtual reality experience like theirs:
1. Learn From the Past
This isn’t 72andSunny’s first stab at VR. They were responsible for the original Age of Ultron experience for the launch of Samsung Gear VR back in January. They were happy with it at the time, but like any creative pursuit, they were anxious to get another crack at it.
The first experience had you standing stationary in Tony Stark’s lab in the Avengers Tower. You were guided through what to look at. This time around, they were set on building in more movement. They loved the ability to interact with objects through Ironman’s HUD and wanted to carry that through.
2. Do Your Homework
It seems each new day brings a new take on virtual reality. Something to learn from. Before getting started on any design, the user experience (UX) team looked at as many other Gear VR experiences as the could, siting Pacific Rim and Galaxy 11 as being particularly influential. They also drew from learnings within the Oculus community around best practices for generating movement, using slow motion, and avoiding nausea. Above all, they wanted to create an experience in which you can explore the environment.
3. Align on Creative Direction
With a franchise like Avengers, it had to be authentic above all else. Coming out of the previous experience, they really wanted to make it more dynamic and push the limits beyond what anyone else has done with Gear VR now that a few months had passed.
The fly-through was part of the original idea wanting the user to glide through the Avengers tower. Around the camera movement, all of the characters would somehow move around you. One challenge upfront was knowing how slow to go. How to guide people. Weapons were used as anchors so people could be guided through the experience with something to focus on instead of getting lost.
It helps when you’re connected to something. You’ll notice how well the camera track and weapon motion work together to keep you on your toes without making you want to hurl.
4. Gather Assets
One of the most amazing things about the experience is that everything you see is actual Marvel Avengers art. Marvel provided every piece of artwork. Here’s Ironman. Here’s Hulk. Captain America. Here are your weapons. A bunch of Ultrons. HUD elements. None of it had to be rebuilt, thanks to a company called ILM.
5. Pick Your Partner
72andSunny handled a lot of the creative direction and user experience work in-house, but outsourced the animation to a shop called Framestore out of New York. Framestore is the same shop they teamed up with on the original experience in January. Their fingerprints are on other big projects like Interstellar and Game of Thrones.
The original concept was even more complex. They were hoping to cycle through different POVs and give the audience a chance to be each Avenger. But after testing it against the goal making it feel immersive and cinematic, a single track ended up being the only way they felt they could tell the full story.
There were also a lot of learnings from a production standpoint. Little things like APK sends (the file format used for installing software on the Android operating system) every time an iteration took place slowed down the process. It took a lot of back and forth in this stage to make sure everyone was on the same page.
Since this is a Samsung campaign, it should come as no surprise that you’ll need the Gear VR to experience it in all its immersive glory. However, they have also released a 360 version on YouTube.
The experience is part of a three-piece interactive campaign. Here are the other two live action films for you to check out.