19 months ago

Agency Awards, Silly But Worth It

Since opening it’s doors, The Program has opted not to submit work for agency awards. The decision came from an earnest belief that collective efforts should be laser-focused on delivering top-notch creative work rather than grandstanding. Going all-in on awards felt like wearing a studded leather vest to a funeral. Sure, it makes you look good, maybe even great, but it distracts from what’s important.

This year, however, we broke with tradition and, to increase our agency’s public profile, submitted work to the Portland Advertising Federation’s Rosey Awards. Flying The Program flag was the night’s objective. Our submissions were good. Great, even. Success, however, didn’t hinge on leaving the venue with trophies in-hand. Reppin & flex’n was enough, which I was happy about.

I, personally, have always found industry awards to be silly, because they often measure appetite for validation more than they do creative firepower. Crowded trophy cases, while impressive, are often earned by dedicated awards-submission staff, not wildly creative teams. Don’t get we wrong, if you hand me an award for almost anything, I’ll gladly accept it, but I’m not going to burn a lot of calories running you down for it. The chase cheapens victory. Victory has value when it’s earned on your own terms.

So, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it when we won at the Roseys. Sure, I primed my palette with complimentary liquor and falafel, but the moment, the trophy and the camaraderie mixed into an unexpectedly sweet cocktail of swellness. Winning felt good. All this time, I’ve been wrong about awards. They may be silly, but they’re not lame. The comradery and teamness (not a real word, I know) that awards inspire are worth the price of submission alone. To my surprise, the studded leather vest fits just fine.

By Jim Nowierski, Senior Strategist

27 months ago

Tips for Creating Killer VR + 360 Video Experiences

Here at The Program, we hold VR, filmmaking, and cycling sacred, which is why we were especially stoked to create Night Sessions - a 360-video/VR mountain biking experience - for our brand partner, Ledlenser. The project united three of our four favorite things (sorry pizza, maybe next time) and provided an opportunity to bring the first low-light high-impact 360 video to market.

The biggest challenge in creating compelling experiences in VR is dealing with an entirely new design/best-practice paradigm that’s markedly different from 2D or even typical 3D work. In VR, audio cues and hints that direct the viewer’s gaze become much more important - especially for fast and dynamic experiences. When you’re capturing 360 footage for an experience, use camera orientation, subject blocking, timing and spacing to guide the user. If done correctly, the experience will be seamless - the viewer will be immersed in the action but still feel free to explore the environment as they please.

We began by testing different 360 rigs in low light. Not just any setup will shoot high-res footage in darkness. We chose a custom rig equipped with Sony A7s’ - aptly named the Dark Corner. But even with a low-light rig, we anticipated lighting and stitching limitations, so to ensure the highest quality resolution, we opted to shoot with stationary camera positioning.

Next came scouting. To maximize the 360-degree nature of the experience, we sought a location packed with obstacles and criss-crossing tracks so that riders’ paths would overlap and wrap around the viewer. The tracks also needed to be densely packed within a small area so that we could hit lots of spots in two days of filming. We settled on a location outside of Hood River, Oregon packed with jumps, drops and berms. Then, we plotted camera positions, selected talent and scheduled the shoot.

The shoot lasted two days. Time was tight. Ledlenser products must be shot in transitional light, so we had 3 hours of shoot-time per day. Shooting in 360 added to the time pressure. Everything is visible in 360 - you’re never out of view. Which means, at each new location, you must hide crew, camera cases, lights and mics before cameras roll.

The remoteness of our location also posed a challenge. We were deep in the woods. We drove on rutted-out logging roads and lugged heavy gear up steep inclines and across hard-as-concrete trails with pebbles that could double as ball bearings. We had to be quick, sure-footed and mindful of poison oak and bears.

After the shoot, we stitched together the footage from the cameras in our rig (four cameras, each with a 90-degree field of view) into one full 360-degree experience. Then we edited.

When you’re stitching, it’s common to run into problems with footage warping. To avoid warp, opt for a rig with more cameras. The more cameras, the narrower the field of view in each camera and the less warping in the final stitched image.

To pull the experience together we produced an Android GearVR app using Unity3d. Drawing inspiration from common VR gameplay mechanics, we implemented gaze-enabled interactive sliders and gaze suggestion arrows to direct and inform users through a simple and intuitive UI. This allows users to start and exit video playing based on VR visual cues and GearVR controls, elevating the experience beyond a looping 360 video.

Night Sessions was deployed at the Outdoor Retailers Conference and has since been used by Ledlenser’s sales team to show buyers how powerful Ledlenser headlamps really are.