Building the UPS Store's Cardboard World

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Doner recently launched Cardboard World online, building out its integrated campaign for The UPS Store starring adventurer Joe Biz. The site takes visitors through all the small business services available at the UPS franchised subsidiary, engaging them in various games and challenges along the way. The project was created entirely in-house at Doner. Vice Chairman/CCO Rob Strasberg and EVP/ECD Interactive Justin Smith describe the creative and technical challenges involved in realizing the site.

What was the brief from the client? Was it always their intention to recreate Cardboard World online?
Rob Strasberg: Cardboard World online was conceived as part of an integrated campaign. For maximum impact we wanted to roll out the interactive promotional part of the campaign at the launch of their new online printing service and to sustain momentum going into the pre-holiday season.

Tell me about your thinking for the premise for the site--the adventure, and the various challenges?
RS: It all stems from the same creative brief. The UPS Store was known almost exclusively as a place for shipping. The game component and character were developed for small business owners to experience The UPS Store's other services in an engaging way. We designed a promotion to incentivize more time spent with the content and return visits to the site.

You did all the digital in-house, right? Can you tell me about the biggest challenges when it came to the production of the world, and the various games?
Justin Smith: The site was conceived, designed and built by Doner. The biggest opportunity was this: How do you bring the Cardboard World animation from TV to life interactively? We didn't just transfer an animation from TV to the Web, it had to be a unique interactive experience that lets users explore the world. The biggest challenge was the tight integration with 3D-modeled videos and 3D Papervision models in order to create a seamless user experience. The site is effectively a large mash-up of video, models, flash animation and static environments held together by the Joe Biz narrative and the workflow of the promotion.

What was the makeup of the project team? H ow many production staff went into building the site?
JS: The team involved included executive creative director, creative director, account director, digital project manager, interaction designer, three art directors, a web content developer, a CG supervisor, two CG artists and four senior Flash developers.

What tech played the biggest role in the development of the project? Did you have to come up with new applications for the tech in order to get this off the ground?
JS: The technology that played the biggest role in the development of the site is Papervision (an interactive 3D language for Flash). The assets were created primarily in Maya based on the concept art created by Psyop. The entire production was done using Flash, Flex Builder for site coding, SVN for code/repository management, Maya, Photoshop and Adobe InDesign for documentation.

Was there any sharing of assets with Psyop in terms of the broadcast and the digital? If so, how did that work, or did you have to rebuild everything in house?
JS: We spent a lot of time with Psyop in the beginning of the project to think through the different aspects of the World and devise a process for working with their assets. They supplied us with the models used in the TV spots, and our CG team built, lit, and rendered all of the assets used on the site and in the Papervision scenes.

Looking back on the project, is there anything you would have done differently if you were starting all over? What sorts of lessons did you learn from this particular job?
JS: There are several big learnings on this job. The main thing is devising more strategies for seeing through all the production details when using technologies and media that you are unfamiliar with. For instance, with Papervision, since you use true 3D objects rather than rendered flat textured shapes there was no way to see what was possible and how that would impact our proposed designs without actually building something. So we began to intensively build prototypes during the design phase. After getting mixed results, one of the things we discovered was that the only way we could get the best appearance and still have acceptable performance was to change the way we modeled the scenes and cut holes where objects intersected in order eliminate dropped polygons and large download sizes. Another idea that was reinforced yet again was the benefit of having a lot of cross disciplinary collaboration early in the process—it's very important for design, development and production teams to eat from the same apple cart.

Anything else interesting about the job that we didn't cover here?
JS: Something significant to note is that this is the first commercial project to launch using E-Prize's Web-Services platform. This took significant technical expertise from our development team to integrate and test the platform and deep collaboration with the team at E-Prize. It represents a significant step forward in our ability to design and integrate promotions into immersive Web experiences. Since E-Prize is the leader in online promotions, this makes this project pioneering and important to how promotions are integrated into Web-experiences in the future.

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