It's been missing from every 3D movie you've seen in a theatre, although it's something most moviegoers would prefer to do without. 3D commercials are preparing to hit cinema screens and promise to deliver a 3D experience of a different kind.
Imagine spokespeople reaching forward to pour you a glass of the newest soft drink, or to show off the latest smartphone, all just inches from your nose. The in-your-face world of marketing has been waiting with baited breath to offer attention-grabbing and intimate experiences with their products and brands.
With the launch this past weekend of Shrek Forever After comes the first major 3D campaign in the U.S.: a 30-second spot produced for Sprint Wireless and filmed by Toronto-based Geneva Film Co. The theme, naturally, is interruptions.
As a young man tries to carry a conversation on his Sprint Wireless phone he's interrupted by the action of three movies. A high school dance number is the first to crowd him, dancing, singing, and gyrating in his face as he strains to listen to the conversation on the other end. The 3D brings different layers to the crowd of dancers, and we have to peek through cart-wheeling legs and finger-snapping arms to make out the poor guy in the centre.
As he moves away, a car chase scene throttles beyond the screen, crashing through trash and spraying it across the audience before sideswiping the front rows and screeching away. Our hero, still trying to talk on his phone, can only duck and cover.
The spot finishes with an alien ship landing amidst a Star Wars battle of blasters and swooping spaceships. Two of the space soldiers grab our hapless hero and, as he's carried away to his doom, he screams: "I'll text you" into his phone. The tag line, just before the Sprint Logo appears, reads: "Movies don't interrupt you. Please, no talking or texting during the film."
"In a thirty second spot, you can be a bit more aggressive with the 3D," says James Stewart, the Canadian Director behind the ad. "We're still not poking your eyes out, but we have a lot of elements playing in what we call the negative parallax area of the screen. You wouldn't want to do that for ninety minutes, but you can certainly take a logo, a can of coke, and give people a really intimate view of them that you can't otherwise get. "
Stewart says the style of the ad, a PSA warning you to be quiet, speaks to the tentative nature of being the first major 3D commercial. The different movie scenes allow the company to experiment with different types of 3D while also allowing for a 2D version to be produced and used. The PSA message supports Sprint's dominance in owning the prime ad space in a movie theatre's pre-show where the moments leading up to the start of the movie rate the most expensive. Here in Canada, Telus, Toyota, and Coke own these spots, and thus are the most likely to be the first to launch a similar 3D campaign in Canada.
Stewart says that while the advertising industry has been cautiously testing the idea, both Skittles and Samsung dabbled with 3D ads in select markets in the U.S. It took the success of Avatar to really bring out the commitment for a national campaign. This may seem odd considering that advertisers are usually amongst the first to embrace new media technologies; they were the first to use plasma displays and augmented reality, for example. But the hesitation is as much about the technology itself as it is about the staying power of the business. Any 3D ad created has to be able to play using the various 3D systems used by different studios and different theatre chains, from one movie to the next.
"The content is technology agnostic," explains Stewart of his own solution to the problem, which involves assembling the ads as a single digital file. "We give you two separate eyes, left and right. It doesn't matter if it's playing in a RealD cinema or active glasses or passive glasses, iPhone, TV, or no-glasses. What matters is the encoding and file-delivery. The cinema file is normally unique to the server, but we can create a file that will work with all the different servers."
This means his ads can also be adapted to support the various 3D technologies coming out for mobile phones, televisions, video game systems, and even the Apple iPad. The major brands are happy that the summer blockbuster season is now bringing a steady stream of 3D blockbusters. Sprint will also be targeting Toy Story 3 and The Last Airbender for its 3D campaign this summer, but wants to make sure its campaigns aren't limited to just those opportunities either.
If there's something missing from the Sprint ad, it's the presence of any specific phone or feature. The PSA merely supports the carrier brand. Stewart feels that if the ad is a success, we'll see very aggressive ads with prominent product shots in 3D to immediately follow. His spot was designed to answer all the questions the industry may have about 3D's use, combining live-action with computer effects, true 3D shots with converted 2D shots, and elements composited into a single sequence. With those parameters mapped out, ad agencies can let their imaginations go wild.
The only short-term limitation will be in finding producers and directors to make the content. "There's only a handful of people on the planet doing this," says Stewart, who was among the first to work in 3D across all platforms, becoming a top choice for creative agencies both as a Director as well as an industry advisor. His sense is that while the Canadian market will be a bit behind in launching 3D advertising, his company has given the country a key role in the industry early on. "As a Canadian, I'm always on a global platform because of my work in 3D," he explains.
The 2D version of the 30-second commercial is accessible on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMyq4MFu9gc