Virtual reality is the ultimate empathy machine. These experiences are (...) opportunities to walk a mile in someone else's shoes.
- Chris Milk
How virtual enhances reality
Virtual reality has actually been on the radar for longer than most people know: back in 1957, Morton Heilig’s Sensorama was already simulating reality through immersive experiences based on 3D stereoscopic videos.
Recently, VR devices, which were so expensive to produce before, became available to almost everyone. Suddenly, they were integrated in our everyday tools and gaming devices: smartphones with gyroscopes allow you to reproduce 360º videos, quality headsets can now be bought for about 100€ and Playstation® dominated the VR gaming market with a dedicated, intuitive and considerably affordable VR system.
VR is also no longer limited by wearable gear, even though you lose part of its immersive impact. Youtube, Vimeo and Facebook can reproduce 360º videos that you can experience by dragging your mouse on desktops or by moving your smartphone around.
The first Virtual Reality / 360° interactive Doodle celebrates Georges Méliès, the French illusionist and film director.
With more users accessing virtual reality players, digital communication and marketing teams have been taking advantage of this technology to enhance the power of storytelling and increase brand awareness, creating engaging and memorable experiences.
User journeys in 360º
A-to-Be challenged us to design a VR video for their brand activation at the MaaS Market event in London this past February and also to show at other MaaS events in America later on.
Being a mobility-focused technology company which develops solutions to improve the human journeys, A-to-Be wanted to cause an impact on its peers and on potential partners. More than using an explainer video with a focus on “what” and “how”, they wanted to immerse the users in the future of mobility - to transport them to the possibilities that their service can provide and to make them feel empowered by it. With these goals in mind, a VR video was the perfect match.
The goal of the video was to allow the user to follow an ideal journey and to truly understand how A-to-Be’s technology can integrate devices, transportations, services and payments for a seamless mobility flow.
VR - More than 3D
Naturally, A-to-Be needed the video to fit perfectly in its already defined visual identity - the animation should make sense when put side by side with other communication pieces and materials.
Since their visuals were flat-based, using an illustration style that could recreate this ambience was the way to go. Our challenge was to make this illustration immersive: it had to be believable, relatable and memorable.
We took the rules and visuals of 2D animation and applied them to a 3D environment in order to create a unique VR experience that could be instantly associated to A-to-Be. Working with flat elements in 360º, it was crucial to ensure that the elements would work in different angles, always considering that the user would be in the centre of the action.
A turnaround in storytelling
VR changes the premises for the design thinking process as well. Unlike linear stories (in which you may or may not have secondary elements to increment the experience), in VR, side stories are not an option: the user is going to be curious about the whole environment and will most likely be looking everywhere (which, really, is exactly the point in VR).
In this scene, the focus is the main character. The user might take a look around the train and see that there are more people there - a woman is even knitting on the train. Using spacial sound effects and voice-overs helps us to make sure that it’s easy to follow the main story.
This means that, in order to create a successful communication piece, you need to consider the story from every possible angle and to use every tool that you have available - spacial sound, intuitive visuals, voice-over - to redirect the user’s attention back to the main story or, at least, to make sure the core message is received.
Every video project needs an effective testing phase, but with VR it becomes imperative. You need to understand how users react to the story - where and what they look at, how they react to a certain scene, if the message is easy to understand and even if the animation used tends to cause motion sickness. Consistent adjustments based on aligning the video with the client’s needs and understanding the users’ reaction are key steps to succeed.
VR with a purpose
It’s also important to understand that not all videos are apt to be made in VR: as designers, we know better than to make a VR video just for the fun of it - regardless of how much fun we actually have when designing them. As in all other design subjects, this choice must be meaningful.
However, when properly planned, VR allows you to add that special impact to a message: It transforms “I saw a place” into “I’ve been there”.
In the end, just like regular animation, VR is all about empathy and engagement, with the benefit of taking users closer, capturing them in the environment of a brand, a campaign or an idea.
Are you thinking about using VR on you next project? Let’s grab a pair of headsets and talk about it!
We will soon be disclosing the full video! Also, if you’re curious, you can take a peek and find out what A-to-Be had to say about this challenging and fun VR project.
Originally written here: Original Blogpost.