PICNIC 06This article resumes our PICNIC coverage on day two of the conference, which focused on the theme of “Exploding Media.” The second half of PICNIC’s Exploding Media coverage explores branding campaigns, location-based entertainment, and the development of special effects. 

Jessica Greenwood, deputy editor of trendwatching magazine Contagious, took the audience on a tour of innovative branding and marketing campaigns that are all on the frontlines of the changing media landscape. One of the quotes she used in her introduction was one of Douglas Adams: “Anything invented before you were 18 has been there forever, anything that turns up before you’re 30 is new and exciting, and anything after that is a threat to the world and must be destroyed.” Adams’ quote raises an interesting notion, indicative of how innovations are often received. Greenwood elaborated on several innovations in the marketing field that did receive favorable receptions, and, probably more importantly, were also quite successful in reaching their goals.

The first case was Virgin Mobile’s Australian campaign Right Music Wrongs, which kicked off with a video of musician Vanilla Ice apologizing for his music, asking the public to vote on whether he was guilty or innocent of ‘music wrongs.’ The project had an initial budget of only $150k, launching an engaging campaign around the musician and the concert he was going to give in Sydney in March ’09. It ended up reaching 22 million people and getting hundreds of thousands of people engaged in several online activities.

Next up was the case of Kraft Food’s iFood assistant. Kraft wanted to specifically target and engage an older male audience and was convinced the way to go was not marketing, but actually extending the Kraft product line into an interactive service, advising clients on nutrition and providing recipe suggestions.

The Kraft case shows what the current shift in marketing strategies is all about: traditional marketing meant that you were done after the product’s purchase. This is not the case anymore: buying and using the product is all part of a value chain, and marketing means you have to parent the product through every step of that chain.

The third case that was discussed was Best Buy’s Twelpforce, a professional approach to customer services through Twitter. The Twelpforce Twitter account is an aggregate account for all tweeting Best Buy employees who voluntarily choose to participate. It is an attempt to share and disclose all the tech knowledge within the company to its customers much faster and much more efficient than was previously possible.

PICNIC 07In traditional marketing, it would have been unheard of to let “random” employees publicly communicate with customers in this way. It would have violated every corporate communication policy and have the communication professionals very nervous about image. Best Buy, however, went so far as to publicly published the employee guidelines for the use of Twelpforce, and the results have been amazing. Dedicated employees even tweet on days like Christmas Eve, which is great for Best Buy’s customers, because that’s when a lot of them actually start using their products.

Other great examples Greenwood pointed out were Nike & Livestrong’s Chalkbot , Adidas’ nanotechnology campaign and Guiness’ introduction of statistics to the UK Rugby league through the use of RFID technology.

At that point I left the scheduled conference for a moment to meet up with Georg Broxtermann from Orbster, the company behind the popular gaming website GPSMission.com. GPSMission is a location based gaming platform that can be used to put together scavenger hunts, guided tours and other location based entertainment. 

GPSMission released the latest version of their iPhone app, which offers the possibility of enhancing your gaming experiences with augmented reality. The possibilities of the app and its underlying platform are shown off in a game called Ghost Patrol, which is shown in this video. However, according to Georg, this is just the beginning, and he told me and fellow ARG reporter Julien Aubert from French ARG community Fais Moi Jouer that they would love to reach out to the ARG scene, as their platform also offers interesting ways to engage players in narrative. Personally, I would love to see ARGs bringing their players more and more into the real world. 

I did return to the conference hall for Thursday’s closing session called “Doing the Impossible”, a presentation by Ed Ulbrich, executive vice president of Digital Domain, one of the leading special effects companies in the world. Ulbrich talked us through the process of the creation of a computer animated human character for Warner Brothers’ movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, something long considered the ‘Holy Grail of digital imagery’.

 Ulbrich told the audience about the initial inquiries from the studio, asking them to prove it was possible to create a believable human being in the first place. Painstakingly, they put together a 20 second demonstration clip that convinced the studio, while scaring the folks at Digital Domain themselves. Digital Domain knew that they “cheated” for the demo clip: there was no dialogue yet, and no elaborate show of emotions, and that was exactly where the challenge was.

benjaminbuttonWhat they did have was a point of departure, and so they started looking into ways to tackle the problem. The goal they essentially tried to reach was to apply Brad Pitt’s natural random physical traits to an animation model. To be able to do this, they had to capture these facial expressions somehow. The first thing they tried was motion capture, but this approach failed: even recording 100 different facial points produced a sub-par result,  because facial movement is made up of much more than 100 differentiating points.

The solution lay in applying what Ulbrich called a “technology stew”, combining technology from different industries like gaming. Thus, Digital Domain created the Facial Action Coding system. It is based on the premise that are only seven basic facial expressions and therefore seven basic shapes that the muscles of the face can achieve. They ended up using 28 cameras with overlapping viewpoints that recorded these facial expressions, assembled out of millions of polygons. They then had an artist create busts of Brad Pitt in various stages of aging, scanned these in, and combined them with the facial expressions. This left them with a library of emotions that could then be used to put together different scenes of the movie. The presentation was very engaging and even though some of the discussion was pretty technical, everyone listened in awe. The presentation ended with a few scenes of the movie, overlapped with the bits of animation that were pulled from the library to put it together.

If you’re interested in seeing more of Digital Domain’s Acadamy Award winning techniques, check out The Science Behind Benjamin Button, a website created to demonstrate this technology to the public.

Pictures courtesy of Danceinthesky and Digital Domain.