Gatorade, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2015, is looking to push the boundaries by creating this unique experience that allows consumers to experience what it’s like to stand in the batter’s box as Harper at Nationals Ballpark.
The Mill and Mill+ teams were involved from concept, R&D, camera rig, directing and on-set supervision to VFX and editorial. As one of the world’s first ever avatar VR experiences this was a very complex shoot.
Rama Allen, Mill+ Co-Director explains, “From the early days talking to the OMD’s Zero Code team and Gatorade teams and understanding what we all wanted to achieve, we immediately knew that there was something really magical about creating a Bryce Harper batting experience. One that allows people to be there, to fulfill a dream, to stand in the cleats of others and hear the roar of the crowd and feel the scale of the stadium, the pressure and the tension – to become their hero. For us, this meant VR was absolutely the right approach and was one of those great collaborations of a strategic client brief being perfect for the medium and for The Mill. The concept, the technology, everything just aligned.
“I took my inspiration from ‘Being John Malkovich’. I wanted to transport the audience in to the avatar and this made the number one challenge for us giving our VR avatar a physical body, as well as allowing the audience to feel as if they are inside the mind of the avatar, literally eavesdropping on actual thoughts, the noises around you and creating a truly intimate connection.”
The design approach was all about athletes and celebrities being the closest thing we have in reality to superheroes and comic-book style mythical gods. This really informed the look of Bryce’s avatar, designing human movement and the hyper-real look. The hyperbolizing of the athleticism of Bryce Harper was smashed athleticism with comic-book vocabulary.
Rama adds, “In terms of how we decided to build Bryce’s body inside this batting experience and to take it as far as we could go, he’s made of energy, an electrical power that you can see and feel and the sound that goes with that reinforces the experience perfectly because it’s unbelievable and an overwhelming sense of self, and that’s what the team wanted to amplify. When people put this on, we wanted them to walk away and go ‘oh my god’ – ‘I was just this gleaming powerful baseball avatar that’s able to hit a ball a mile whenever they want to – I just hit a home run.’”
Westley Sarokin, The Mill’s Co-Director comments, “We had prepped some shots of the field and on set we had Bryce try out the VR test so he could get a sense of the experience we were trying to create. As soon as he put it on a huge smile hit his face, he totally got it. In fact everyone who tried it out during the shoot had the same reaction, and this is exactly the reaction we wanted.
“The sound design was crucial to the experience. We used binaural audio, which are small mics that sit in your ears and pick up and record audio in the same way it sounds when you speak. We gave these mics to Bryce and he walked around with the bat and we just riffed with him, his thoughts, his process and every noise around him. This additional dimension to the experience meant the audience not only had a physical body but we placed them in the mind of the avatar.
“On set at Nationals Park in D.C., we set up the camera rig and ran various tests. The rig we created used a 14-camera GoPro that could see everywhere. This had to be taken into account for the lighting, cinematography and for the entire production of the film. We had significant amounts of live action and VFX components on this project, meaning we had to capture all the environments, the players, Bryce and the stadium in various lighting conditions – all of these plates then needed to be seamlessly stitched together.
“We added the VFX components in 2D and 3D, moving the experience into the hyper-real visual realm and immersing you in to the incomparable world, body and mind of a Major League Baseball player. Every action builds on the experience; stepping up to bat, the exact feeling and awareness of being on the field, swinging the bat, interpreting the pitches, knowing if you should swing and that unequalled sensation of connecting with the ball.”
Rama continues, “It’s one thing to be Bryce Harper, but it’s another thing to be what he represents; his energy, athletic ability and to feel connected to his sense of strategy. We wanted to give people that visceral sensibility of being in that particular place and time and have a completely transportive experience. For us this is the intersection of gaming and VR”.
Westley adds, “We wanted the entire experience to be magical enough so the audience could stand in the batter’s box and know what that really feels like. As filmmakers and storytellers, we wanted to make it truly emotive and distinctive - that’s our job, at The Mill we always want to turn it up, it’s in our DNA. What we are trying to do is prototype the future of film and I believe this experience is a step forward on that path.”
Express your inner Bryce and experience standing in the cleats of others, hear the almighty roar of the crowd and feel the epic scale and finally, hit that home run!