Can you interact with a seller or a product as if you were in the same room, even though you’re at your computer, somewhere else?
Volumetric storytelling is what we’re talking about. It’s okay to admit you’ve never called it that way. It involves rendering a 3D world that one can interact with through the computer, but must be delivered to the user. Take them into the world through the viewing glasses (virtual reality) or show them the image as it would appear in their home (augmented reality).
This technology is still in the proof of concept phase, with some tentative marketing efforts. Perhaps a prime example of volumetric storytelling in action was the holographic apparitions of Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky at several European diplomatic meetingsor ABBA’s recent virtual concert in London†
“I would define volumetric storytelling as implemented in AR or VR and use 360-degree photography to produce a 3D model created through volumetric recording or motion recording.” Explanation DJ Smith, COO of VR and AR platform The Glimpse Group.
But how do you get there?
Stacking Visual Building Blocks
First, you need to start capturing an object 360 degrees to render it in 3D. This involves placing the subject in the center of a series of cameras to capture the subject from all angles. In the case of the virtual ABBA concert, 160 cameras were needed to capture the four band members.
“Volume capture is neither cheap nor light,” said Courtney Harding, founder and CEO of VR and AR agency Friends with Holograms. The technique generates large files that can choke when delivered over narrow bandwidths. If a volumetric file is delivered over a 5G network, that’s fine, but anything less will result in “laggy” playback, she explained.
A 360-degree photo shoot has its own challenges to work out. How many people? Do they move or stand still? Are they speaking? To dance? Juggling? One person – or four? “You have to capture all the data, all the people.” said Harding. And the video has to be shot in one take. If that scene is 15 minutes and someone sneezes in the last 30 seconds, you’re stuck. There’s no “cutting” to another scene, so you might have to do it again, she said.
How to deliver the goods?
The volumetric story needs a platform to be seen. That means virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR). Each method has its strengths and weaknesses, as well as its own sensitivities.
The 360 technology provides “good view of an environment, but it’s not comfortable in a VR headset,” says Smith,
AR offers a “unique experience, but isolated use cases and is severely hampered by the requirement to use phones.” He said. “The opportunities will be hugely opened up with AR wearables.” Here google and Apple are preparing new plans for AR-friendly smart glasses, a concept that Google has tried once before.
As for virtual reality, it has “amazing and transformative experiential potential, but [it is] hampered by early, bulky, expensive hardware and lack of great content in a wide variety of genres.” Smith noted.
Even the platform on which you choose to display a volumetric file sets the boundaries of your stories. The smartphone offers a small screen for an AR story. VR is bigger and offers a much wider field of view, Harding explained, but there will be a greater degree of complexity.
“AR implementation is more topical,” Smith said. Think of showing a product in a customer’s living room, viewed via their smartphone. “Virtual reality is more environment-based. You are transported to the volumetric scene.” said Smith. “VR is an empathy machine. In the VR experience, the user has a sense of presence – you feel like you’re there.”
Show instead of just telling the story
It is that sense of presence that is the main attraction of volumetric storytelling. Shlomi Ron, CEO of the Visual Storytelling Institute, likened it to the science fiction experience of being teleported into another world. When done correctly, volumetric storytelling should provide a “3D experience, where the people interact” with the subject, be it a person or a product.
It’s possible to simulate a real-life setting, allowing users to conduct teleconferences in a virtual sitting room, explains Ron. It would look like a real room. Users would be able to see and walk around everything.
Such technology would be ideal for travel brands, “to create a sense of ‘being there'” when selling destination vacations, Ron explained. The same technology can also be used for city planning, product development and remote training.
Still, a creative should bring a different sensibility to the room when shooting a 3D shot. “Think of it as game development,” Ron said. “You have to make sure that every possible angle and perspective has some value from the user’s perspective.”
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Still figuring it all out
The problem with new technologies is that potential can be demonstrated, but practical use is more difficult to demonstrate. There is no checklist of sensible practices that a digital marketer can “tick off” when setting up a campaign using volumetric storytelling.
Harding encouraged people to put on headphones “and get a sense of what’s possible.” An example of such a piece of content is “In the morning you wake up until the end of the world”, which Harding cited as an example of volumetric storytelling. The short film tells of a day when people in Hawaii woke up to a smartphone warning about incoming ICBMs.
“Understand what good storytelling is and what is possible,” Harding said. Then it becomes easier to find out what is good for the brand.
“It’s up to the marketer to apply the teleport experience to the target,” Ron said.
“The best thing digital marketers can do is keep a close eye on industry implementations to understand the potential and start experimenting with small proof-of-concept activations.” said Smith.
Marketers need to start distinguishing the strengths and weaknesses of the volumetric technique. They will have to develop their own checklist of best practices the hard way – by trying.