Virtual Reality – a technological evolution

  • An ‘experience’ that fully engages the senses and appeals to the heart

In recent months, Mercedes-Benz South Africa (MBSA) has embarked on a number of virtual reality campaigns through their visual effects and animation agency, Sinister Studio.  The agency has developed four test-drive videos, with the first one showcasing the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupé and the second the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Both of these utilised technology to profile the cars’ features in ways not previously possible.

The third campaign sees the Mercedes-AMG C 63 being tested at high speed at the Kyalami race-track. Again, computer graphics and 360-degree film combined to create a fantastical experience.  The producers later superimposed Lewis Hamilton, F1 racing driver, into the test drive – another first.  The success of this approach is entirely due to the technology that was used.

This campaign has gone above and beyond expectations as MBSA once again sets the benchmark for innovative ways of pulling fans and customers closer to the brand.

The fourth brief was to launch the new range of Mercedes-Benz roadsters and cabriolets by bringing to life the sense of child-like wonder embodied in the range, and appealing to the emotions of the brand’s fan base, both young and old.

The agency decided to use virtual reality to expand on Mercedes-Benz’s global television campaign, and its popular #LookUp campaign. They pushed the boundaries of what virtual reality had been used in the past and made an experience based on fantasy.

“The tricky part of filming cars,” says Christian van der Walt, Sinister’s CEO, “is that there are lighting and depth of field issues to reconcile. When filming, the interior of a vehicle is generally darker than the environment it’s being driven in and this needs to be compensated for. So what we did was use a ‘pod’ of cameras to shoot a 360-degree view of the outside world, and then we completely created the cars’ interiors with computer graphics. This allowed us to seamlessly integrate the two aspects.”

But the fourth video – featuring the Mercedes-Benz C-Class Cabriolet – pulled all the elements together in an overlay of characters, fantasy and animation that we’ve never seen done before.

“This digital world is truly experiential and allows viewers to ‘feel’ as if they are the protagonist of the journey. Our video incorporates fantasy creatures similar to those in the global commercial, which takes the virtual experience to the next level.”

As a teaser, Sinister Studios filmed a short video featuring three children and a dog in the back of a cabriolet. The children were asked how they felt driving in the vehicle and what they saw when they were asked to #LookUp, and their responses were amazing… “animals without feet” and “it feels like I’m on a bubble that’s flying away”. Their thoughts and words were used in the virtual reality to physically portray what they saw and express how they felt.

“This type of Virtual Reality campaign has not been produced by any other automotive company, and has the potential to build love for the Mercedes-Benz brand by appealing to the emotions of our fan base,” says Selvin Govender, Marketing Director, Mercedes-Benz Cars.

“Users are able to view the content as a 360-degree video on their PCs, smartphones and tablets, or they can familiarise themselves with the full virtual reality experience on devices such as the Samsung Gear VR or even the Google cardboard, using their own mobile devices.”

“We believe that Virtual Reality could offer fans and customers the convenience of having an incredible experience that could come as close as possible to driving and enjoying the thrill of a new product, while in the convenience of their homes with their personal devices,” says Govender.

“The innovation rests on the rendering of a virtual reality test drive in 3-D graphics, in a fantasy realm that allows you to immerse yourself in the world of Mercedes-Benz.  We’re not just pushing product, we’re giving people an experience,” concluded Govender.