Airlines and the application of Virtual Reality is nothing new. Lufthansa or Emirates have already showcased their offer in VR and Qantas was the first airline to offer an in-flight VR experience to their customers. Now, another player is stepping in the game and puts VR for airline promotion on a new level. If you have ever wondered how it is to fly with Etihad Airways, you can now ‘try before you fly’ with VR. Reimagine by Etihad Airways was released on May 27th starring Nicole Kidman. With the immersive 360 experience, Etihad Airways wants its prospective customers to understand what flying with Etihad means.
Kidman says that “the film is a culmination of Etihad’s vision to tell the airline’s story in an extremely innovative way and a commitment to engaging with the public as has never been attempted by an airline before.” Viewers can join the actress and her production crew on their trip from New York to Abu Dhabi with a twin-decked Airbus A380. In the 5 minutes VR feature, the viewer gets to know the whole variety Etihad has to offer – from Economy Class, Business Class to First Class. The virtual experience gives the viewer also an idea about the Residence, the airline’s luxurious private three-room cabin that is the highest end airplane seat in commercial aviation in the world. To let prospective air passengers know what kind of service they can expect, interactions with the inflight chef and the butler are demonstrated. And by the way, just a quick side note, did you know that you are allowed to bring a falcon on a plane? So in case you are a falcon owner, you can just bring it along on your next flight with Etihad!
Etihad Airways highlights that with their VR production they showcase their commitment to innovation and technology. Furthermore, they release the first VR film to star a Hollywood actor. Peter Baumgartner (CEO, Etihad Airways) said: “We want to share Etihad’s story in a completely new way, using technology to make our consumers a part of the narrative and to experience an Etihad Airways A380 flight first-hand, from anywhere.” The result is amazing and gives the viewer a great idea about the luxurious offers of Etihad. But it was even more interesting for us to get insights into the making-of and to learn more about all the difficulties and struggles that VR producers, especially in those specific circumstances of Reimagine, face(d).
For the VR experience, which has taken more than six months to produce, Etihad collaborated with The Barbarian Group, a digital creative agency, and MediaMonks, a digital production company. An A380 got grounded for three days so that the shooting could take place. For this purpose, the airplane got fully customized prior to filming. The moving of the cameras in the airplane was a big challenge for the production crew. Therefore they removed seats, overhead lockers and other sections in order to install an own designed rail for the cameras that was mounted to the ceiling of the plane. An incredibly amount of lights was needed to ensure smooth shots as well as to create shade to imitate movement of the actual still standing aircraft.
In the post-production phase all footage is put together to a seamless VR film. The output for the 360 images is around 10k of resolution. For each scene, colors and contrast have to be adjusted to create the desired mood. We have already touched shortly the topic of 3D audio, but Eric Thorsell (Sound Designer, MediaMonks) explains the difficulties with the sound mix in more detail for the Reimagine production. In a traditional film mix there is a fixed front and back, but what they are creating for VR is kind of a sound sphere, where every direction is equally important. There are different layers of sound that make up only one scene: dialog, foot steps, movements, cutlery, glasses clanging. The different layers have to be adjusted so that in the end the sound experience works with regular headphones.
As Maria Greene (Destination BC) said at the ITB 2016, the investments they faced in 2014 for their VR production were huge. Nowadays, the same production would most likely cost not more than 1/5th of what Destination BC invested originally in their campaign. It would be interesting to know how much the production of Reimagine was and to compare it to other campaigns, such as The Wild Within by Destination BC. But anyways, the result is great and we definitely see a big potential to use the Reimagine VR experience for promotional purposes as well as for up-selling. And as Anthony Antasio (Director, Reimagine VR experience) says: “You have to have an effect on people’s emotions – that is the most important aspect.“
Reimagine is available for the Oculus HMD, Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard, Youtube360 and Facebook 360. On June 17th, an updated version with 3D sound will be released. Try out Reimagine by Etihad Airways and let us know what you think about it and if they managed to affect your emotions!
The Making of Etihad Airways VR Brand Campaign – Reimagine
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