The Lexus campaign uses the latest DK2 Oculus Rift headsets to allow consumers to virtually experience the car via an immersive and interactive car configurator, allowing users to create their own NX by selecting from a range of features.
Consumers also have the opportunity to virtually test-drive the car through a multi-dimensional urban landscape and so 'personally' experience the NX.
“It's an integral part of the launch,” said head of Lexus Europe, Alain Uyttenhoven. "It offers consumers a unique and personal way to experience the NX – building anticipation and creating a buzz.”
Amaze worked closely with Oculus Rift, taking six months to build the technology. We asked James Deeley, creative strategy director for Amaze, to walk us through the process.
MB: Is this your first project with VR or Oculus Rift technology?
James Deeley: "We became aware of Oculus Rift through its launch on Kickstarter – much like most people – and have been observing the recent maturing of VR. The Lexus NX launch gave us the first opportunity to create an experience of this kind. The key thing with Lexus was that VR was right for the brand and for what we were trying to communicate; it was not just a vanity project."
MB: What did you use to create the CG animation?
JD: "Similar to developing games, the whole experience was built in Unreal Engine 4; the NX was rendered from incredibly detailed production CAD files, and the 3D city was a fully designed location, which featured miles of completed roads, buildings, bridges, tunnels and lakes. Once the city was built, a path was chosen for the NX to drive and then camera placements were positioned."
Digital Arts: How did your workflow differ from a 'normal' interactive experience?
JD: "This was a relatively new form of digital experience design for us, so we approached it in an iterative and collaborative way. Initially we used hand-drawn storyboards of key stages to tell the story of each experience – much like a film production would. We also created a raft of supporting assets: mood boards to suggest the visual stylisation, animation and film clips that gave a sense of the emotion and sensation we aimed for, and music samples that gave a feel of the tone and pace.
"As we progressed, we later moved into more polished visual designs of key parts of our story and of the character of our city landscape, and we then completed a more detailed storyboard that outlined the full experience for both the client and the wider design and production teams. Latterly we worked almost entirely in the developed build, making real time adjustments and decisions."
MB: What sort of controls did you have to build in for the virtual environment?
JD: "As the experience and device set-up was intended to be portable, to take to key events and dealers round the world, we had to keep it as compact as possible. Early on we realised that this would mean that we should avoid integrating too many additional features and devices (such as steering wheels) and to be as immersive as possible by avoiding the use of traditional elements like mouse control or keyboards.
"This meant we had to develop a way for the user to interact that was totally controlled by head movement. Eventually we integrated the use of a heads-up display and eye tracking to give us the control we needed.
"There was a need to fine tune and address areas such as the difference between head movements for 360 degree exploring and fixing on a navigable feature such as selecting the car exterior colour tiles. All these factors had to be considered and refined while also not detracting from the overall experience of the NX car itself.
"Timings were a constant area of refinement within the experience. The impact of something so immersive meant that it could overpower some people, therefore the duration of each part and how long a user required to look at functional feature were redefined almost daily."
MB: Did you add any special design, audio or other elements to make the experience a lot more immersive?
JD: "We were fully aware that other automotive brands were developing Oculus Rift experiences, and that many were already being showcased, so we aimed to make something quite different to what had been done before; something dramatic, groundbreaking and hugely ambitious.
"What existed already was generally film-based, and quite passive, often a fixed position in the car as someone else drives. Early on, we decided that to create something that was truly part of the campaign we needed to use CG rather than film – giving us a blank canvas to play with. It also allowed us to make it surprising and to give the user a sense of control. Doing this, we broke new ground from the up close detail in the configuration, to finding new methods for users to drift out of the car and view the external design of the NX in motion – our aim was to give people the time to saviour the NX's stylisation and design.
"We wanted the city itself to be a big character in the driving experience too, bringing a dramatic personality to the journey and bringing the campaign’s stylisation to life, adding a underlying narrative to the city drive whilst injected unexpected twists in the drive.
"Once this was decided, audio was used to add to the immersive experience and reflect the user journey. This included music playing from the stereo fading as you leave the interior view, to the growl and roar of the engine in tunnels – each of these aspects contributed to a powerful immersion for the consumer."
MB: What’s your view on how brands will be using virtual reality technology in the near future?
JD: "We expect to see many brands experimenting with VR in the coming months and there will be a big interest in seeing what they can do with something emerging.
"However, like any rich technology, it needs to have a reason to be used. VR has long been used in a variety of ways for military training, and this will now get more sophisticated and more mature. We also expect to see VR become a key educational tool, where history can be lived rather than studied, and also in medicine, where operations could be simulated.
"In the entertainment industry, the potential of VR is massive. Gaming is its natural base, but it also presents new ways of experiencing music, theatre, film or television, which could be revolutionary. The more it matures and integrates with other technologies, such as wearable technology, augmented reality, motion detection cameras, the more its role could explode. The connected retail space is really interesting and the effect it could have on the world has huge potential.
"Automotive brands have been quick to seize the opportunity, but others are set to follow and as such this feels like the start of something big."