VR For Brands: Bring The Cool-Factor, But Build An Experiential Narrative



At SMWLA, one of the film industry’s leading VR minds breaks down common misconceptions about brands and VR.

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VR is a bright shiny object that may seem out of reach for many brands. The reasons for this could be budget limitations, technological requirements, or a combination of the two.

The good news is that VR might be more accessible than you think; however, there are several important considerations for marketers and creators to keep in mind as they experiment in this rapidly evolving space. At SMWLA, Gawain Liddiard, Emering Technology & VFX Supervisor at The Mill, shared learnings garnered from working on VR across cinematic works and passion projects.

VR isn’t just flash

Liddiard explained that VR can be seen as a flashy effect used for sizzle, but in reality, its immersive nature can be used to tell powerful stories. He referenced “Mule,” a VR horror film that uses the unique qualities of VR for storytelling impact. The thread across all successful VR projects, from quick turnarounds (two weeks) to cinematic productions: a compelling storyline.

Cinematic VR is about doing the hard things well

Quoting Jeff Bezos, Liddiard said that modern media formats, though emerging, should be held to the same quality standards as established formats. “A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person,” he said. “You can earn reputation by trying to do the hard things well.”

VR isn’t only a test-and-learn format. In fact, to build a lasting reputation around your efforts in the space, he suggests holding your work to a higher standard. This might mean breaking some of the established conventions and taking new technical approaches to achieve your goals. When you understand the technology, or partner with someone who does, taking risks is less scary, notes Liddiard.

VR can disrupt while still playing nice with Hollywood

When it comes to VR and film, creators like The Mill must constantly balance the pushes of technology with the pulls of traditional Hollywood processes. One example of this: time spent on a project. In Hollywood film, time is money. “If you want to waste a lot of money, come to a Hollywood set and disrupt it,” said Liddiard.

That said, there are instances where the new world of VR can work harmoniously with the fixtures of Hollywood. Citing a Google project that involved Justin Lin, director of “The Fast and the Furious” series, Liddiard said tech companies can have success with leading film teams through heavy R&D and experimentation. In some cases, this means creating your own software and apps for things like allowing for greater collaboration on set.

VR can inspire action like traditional film cannot

Due to the immersive nature of VR, films shot in this medium can move people to feel things and, ultimately, act on these feelings in powerful ways. For example, “6×9” was a VR film from The Mill and The Guardian that was used to bring to life the experience of being a prisoner living in solitary confinement in order to shed light on its complex psychological effects.

For brands dabbling in complex, immersive formats, Liddiard suggests maintaining a high quality output by partnering with teams that have mastered the tools and focusing on narrative to unlock VR’s full potential.

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