News & Views

Interview / Framestore's Christine Cattano on Virtual Reality

by Contagious Contributor

Virtual reality is a hot topic at the moment, as shown by Google Cardboard picking up the Mobile Grand Prix at this year's Cannes Lions. As part of an analysis of the strengths, opportunities, weaknesses and threats that the technology holds for advertisers, to be published in Issue 44 of Contagious, Emily Hare spoke to the executive producer of Framestore's VR Studio, Christine Cattano

What are some of the key challenges of producing virtual reality campaigns with brands?

Working on marketing projects usually means working with marketing timelines. One of our biggest spoils can be just not having enough time for a project. We can definitely throw as many people as possible at something to build up assets, but if a project doesn’t incorporate enough time for R&D and for working in user testing it's not going to benefit the end product.

Producing content for VR at this point in time is such an iterative, subjective process, you need to have the window to try things, get other opinions, rework it, and then try things again. It all comes down to creating a meaningful experience. The thing I try to get clients to take away when they are writing ideas for VR is this: Guys, if it can fit in a box, make it for a box, if it can fit on a screen, make it for a screen, you may spend less money and do it better that way. But if you’re going to use 360 degree 3D to tell an immersive story, make sure you're thinking about how to give the user some presence in what they’re experiencing.

What do you see as the potential for virtual reality in telling stories?

You inherently have the ability to allow for interactivity. Video games have long been using non-linear stories and elements of interactivity to engage users. That’s one of the interesting things, that mix of games, filmmaking and entertainment really coming together.

If you look at people who are working in VR, aside from the highly technical people, a lot of the content folk have been either working at companies within the games industry or places like Framestore doing high end computer graphics. You’re seeing all these people who are bred to be in this world, approaching it with techniques that they have already used, but as they move forward, they’ll start to develop new tools, new techniques and new ways of approaching things and that’s when we’ll really start to see the medium flourish.

We’ve done over 15 VR projects in the last year and a half and each one we raise the bar one step higher, we want to take it one step further because we want to keep pushing the envelope about how people are making and thinking about VR experiences.

What do you see as the key opportunities for brands?

We’ve long seen brands and advertisers moving away from traditional avenues of reaching people. I think experiential has been a buzz word for a while. If it’s done well it has been a great way to give an audience a very personal and unique experience, often using technology to create an emotional and even physical connection. I think VR takes this all of that one step further. It gives brands an opportunity to create an experience or even a memory that the audience or end user can take with them.

Are there any brands or sectors that VR is particularly relevant for?

For me it’s less about the brand itself, but how they choose to utilise the media. I’m sure there are certain brands that will be more suited to doing things like product demos with VR like cars, for example, but I think product demos are not necessarily the holy grail. VR experiences should be meaningful for the end user and provide a valuable experience for them, otherwise we risk becoming desensitised and disinterested in VR, just as we've seen in traditional categories of advertising.

What are some of the key challenges for the technology?

Right now, distribution is one of the biggest questions in VR. Obviously the Oculus Rift isn’t in everybody’s home, it’s still a developer kit at the moment. A lot of high-end immersive experiences for Oculus require big custom PCs to run, and not everyone will have these in the house. So a lot of those end up being on site activations.

Google Cardboard can reach a much wider audience though it’s not as immersive and as technologically advanced as even the Gear VR is, and mobile devices don’t have the graphics capabilities that a giant computer and graphics card will. It would be wise for brands to first think very carefully about how they want to activate and how they want people to experience their VR content: what level of immersion/experience they want them to take away as an association with their brand, and then decided how to activate and what platform to use.