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Using immersive technology to tell a story

Valentina Culatti from Unit9 looks at immersive techniques and technologies, from interactive documentary to the latest trend: Virtual Reality.
The main question that we need to ask to ourselves is what immersive storytelling is. So when is an experience or story immersive - is when you are part of it. That’s the simplest answer you can give. So you can define these in different ways. You have… we talked about interactive documentary. It’s not something that requires any advanced device to be experienced… and it’s something that is still familiar in terms of format with what us as users, audiences are used to, but still it’s adding a layer of interaction that makes it more immersive. And, I don’t know, compelling.
The Most Northern Place tells a story that was untold before, about operations, like military operations, happening during the Second World War in the North Pole, basically. And it goes through documents and archives, but it basically delivers the story in a very visual and a narrative way. Where you have contributes that are not just images, but also like voices becoming from recordings of the periods. And extracted text coming from documents of the era.
Clouds over Cuba, it’s like how you can live again through an historical moment in the world’s history, and be fulfilled, and feel the suspense of it, and be driven by the soundtrack that was put in place. So it’s like for people who haven’t experienced those days. It’s like, you know, watching a film, but not really because you know that everything has really happened. So it’s the beauty of creating a narrative line that drives you through it. But it’s not something that you would look at passively, but it’s something that you would interact with, so you can progress in the story, you can go back, you can stop and go deeper and deeper.
You also have second screen experiences, you also have something that is totally immersive, like, physically immersive. So you have stunts where you’re combining different technologies. The benefits of creating a multi-devices campaign, multi-platform campaign, are probably related to the fact that you make the campaign louder. You have a broader reach. And basically you can be with the users every minute of their life, no matter where they are and what they’re doing. We’ve recently released a campaign for Fox and - Twentieth Century Fox - and it was for the launch of a film called The Kingsman. And basically what they asked us to do, was to create the latest kind of interactive trailer.
So we created a second experience, that basically was playing - a second-screen experience - that was playing with the plot of the film. The film was all about training people from the street to become the new knight, you know, a new spy. And the idea for us was to deliver missions that you could interact with with your mobile phone, but on the desktop. So you basically, by completing some task on mobile, you would have seen the output on the desktop screen. And you would have been able to progress. What is interesting about using the mobile is also the connection that it has with the story itself, because you have an arsenal of weapons as a potential knight.
So the mobile is felt as a weapon that you can use. It’s the latest trend, which is like virtual reality, where you have yourself looking at something that is not belonging to the same physical space where your body is, but your brain is completely involved in that. An immersive experience, actually, an immersive stunt, for the launch of a new chewing gum called 5 Gums - Wrigley’s is the brand. Basically it was a multi-flavour chewing gum, and they asked us to create a multi-sensorial experience.
So we had to design the experience from scratch, and we created a stunt where people were asked to enter a darkroom - a container - and then within the container they were welcomed by a host that was putting them in a harness. And then they were introduced into the space where they were locked and then lifted up. And wearing the Oculus, they were immersed into different environments, like different worlds. They were reflecting the different flavours, and they were interacting with it. And there was also like a sense coming out of this hacked device to mirror the flavour itself, as well as sound, you know subwoofer, that was really immersing.
So basically the users were experiencing the product and its variety and its flavour with their whole body and senses. When you look at virtual reality, and you are writing a story for it, you need to make sure that you don’t break the dream. So, for instance, if I’m telling you a story about a zombie, a zombie attack. So the zombie are coming towards you, and you’re wearing your Samsung gear or your Oculus Rift. And you’re immersed in the story, you’re looking around, you’re panicking, but then in the script it says, “and then the zombie touches you”, you break the illusion because your body is not feeling anything, and your brain is expecting that the body feels something.
So it’s a matter of being able of writing stories that are appropriate to the different devices, and to the different experiences that you want to design. I think that for a technology, for a production company like us that is driven by innovation it’s important - I’d say it’s essential because it’s the nature of the business that we do. But it’s not playing the biggest role. It’s something that allows to enhance the story if used correctly - as we suggested. It doesn’t have to be gimmicky, but you can still deliver a successful campaign without having any technological element involved. So you need to be careful, and involve the technology only when it’s necessary.
Managing Director at UNIT9 Valentina has 10 years experience working in interactive production.
After graduating in Science of Communication with a Master’s degree in Multimedia Content Design, she started her career in postproduction. She later moved to UNIT9 working as producer on interactive projects. She has produced several award winning campaigns working for global brands and advertising agencies.
Valentina is a session leader for the D&AD Training Course, “Interactive Production from Start to Finish”.
Here, she explores immersive techniques and technologies, from interactive documentary to the latest trend: Virtual Reality.
The 2016 D&AD Awards celebrated some exciting interactive documentaries, including Inside Abbey Road and Sons of Gallipoli.
You can take a closer look at some of the projects Valentina mentions by following the links below.
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Storytelling in Advertising

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