Can't wait until Friday to get your Avengers' fix? Samsung Mobile has teamed with Marvel to create a virtual reality experience that throws you into the heart of an epic Avengers battle.
To promote the new Galaxy S6 phone and Samsung's tie-up with the upcoming "Avengers: Age of Ultron" film, which hits theaters tomorrow, Samsung and Marvel worked with 72andSunny to create a film and mobile campaign that also happens to promote the electronics giant's Gear VR headset.
It begins with "Assemble," a pair of online "recruitment" films directed by "The Amazing Spider-Man's" Marc Webb. They show a young boy, a female engineer and pro athletes -- surfer John John Florence, soccer star Lionel Messi, Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy and cyclist Fabian Cancellara -- receiving mysterious suitcases that match each to an Avenger and send them to a secret hideout. There, they train to become the heroes with the help of the Galaxy S6 and Gear VR headset. The mission later broadens out to the wider audience of Avengers fans and then invites them to partake in a 360-degree viewing experience on an Android device or through the Gear VR headset via an app available in the Oculus VR store today.
The VR experience throws viewers into a huge battle scene between the Avengers and their Sub Ultron enemies in the Avengers Tower. It gives them a similar POV to the athletes in the online films, allowing them to glimpse the action in full 360 degrees as they move through the scene. It opens as if the viewer is Iron Man, looking through his helmet and experiencing HUD (heads up display). It then moves into a "bullet time" scenario that carries viewers through the fight scene, where they can slowly take in all the action as they follow the Avengers' weapons flying about, including Thor's Hammer and Captain America's Shield. In the final scene, they come face to face with the film's supervillain -- Ultron himself. (The demo video below only gives a partial glimpse of what unfolds.)
"One of the core objectives of our marketing campaign is to be able to provide an authentic story to both Samsung mobile customers and Marvel's Avenger fans in a way that has literally never been done before," explained Samsung Electronics Director of Global Marketing Jamie Park via email.
Aside from promoting the phone and the Marvel film, the campaign also needed to include Samsung's ambassador athletes. According to 72andSunny Partner/ECD Bryan Rowles, "We ended up with the idea that, whether you're an athlete or a normal person, wouldn't it be cool to be a superhero -- wouldn't it be cool to be an Avenger?"
Initially, the agency planned to do just the longform videos promoting the Galaxy S6/Edge, but "we realized that the films weren't leading you anywhere. They were dead-ends, so we thought it would be much more interesting if the films dropped you off into something you could participate in." That's when the VR experience came in and "the North Star became very clear," Mr. Rowles said.
The agency tapped Framestore, the effects company behind "Gravity" and the much-talked about Game of Thrones VR experience from SXSW, to create the VR component. It also worked hand-in-hand with Marvel, which "gave us access to all their character renderings while keeping a hand on the tiller, so it stayed true to the franchise," said. Mr. Rowles.
According to Framestore VR Studio Executive Producer Christine Cattano, one of the biggest technical obstacles was the rendering time for spherical 3D video. Many VR projects are rendered in game engines, which helps shorten the timeframe, but "a big portion of this is traditionally rendered video," she said. "We essentially created 90 seconds of film in 360 degrees, 3D in under two months." The company used the same rendering farm used for "Gravity" -- one based in London supported by a giant power plant -- and it still took three days to render the environment for this project.
Also, the fact that the experience took place during a battle ran risk for one of the biggest user experience issues when it comes to VR -- nausea. "We knew the idea had the potential to be really hectic, but the agency had the idea to make it like bullet-time. Their idea of having something very slow so people had time to experience what was going on really helped with that."
Along with the VR, Samsung also has a series of activities planned for retail, online and digital channels, as well as a 60-second spot that compares the sleekness of the S6 edge to that of the Avengers' weapons. There will also be a promotion that will send 1000 superfans the briefcases seen in the films, containing an S6 preloaded with the 360-degree experience. 72 also participated in conversations on the various product placements in the film, which include Tony Stark's futuristic versions of Samsung devices.
All told, "we were very careful to protect Marvel's universe which was built over the course of many years, and we fully respect every aspect of it," said Ms. Park. "We understand that Marvel fans have a strong attachment and deep understanding of this universe, so when we created this story, we worked closely with Marvel to deliver an authentic experience that fans would truly appreciate."
"The whole process was super collaborative," said Mr. Rowles. "Between Samsung and Marvel, they were really open to doing something new with the movie partnership model and creating a gift for fans of the Avengers, so they are able to geek out on even more through these mobile initiatives. That to me is the sticky part."