Virtual reality has made a massive comeback (we've been on board since Lawnmower Man) thanks to Oculus VR and marketers have been among the first to take advantage. From TV shows like Game of Thrones, Sleepy Hollow and The Voice, to UK grocery chain Tesco, the next level of consumer engagement is apparently full, 360-degree immersion.
Now Marriott Hotels is using the ever-evolving technology to offer people the chance to check out a couple of its prime destinations without having to pack a bag or jump on a plane. The hotel brand teamed with Academy Award-winning VFX shop Framestore and experiential marketing firm Relevent to create "The Teleporter," a phone-booth like contraption that uses Oculus Rift and some sensory wizardry to virtually send you to Wai’anapanapa Black Sand Beach in Maui and the top of Tower 42 in London.
Not only do you get the visual sensation Oculus Rift is famous for, but also feel the beach breeze and ocean mist, or the cool London air. Relevent's VP of innovation Ian Cleary says that while Framestore was capturing the video and images, they had someone recording how these places felt. "They were taking inventory of the breeze, the sea spray and sensations like that," says Cleary. "So we've used mechanical elements like industrial grade misters and fans in the Teleporter to recreate those sensations. It's like an amusement park crammed into a closet."
Framestore established a virtual reality division more than a year ago and executive creative director Mike Woods says The Teleporter is both a culmination of lessons learned over that time as well as painstaking R&D process to create new capabilities. "We used a lot of the things we learned working on Gravity," says Woods. "This was just one hugely complex, stereoscopic 3D stitch job to make it feel completely 360-degree without being able to spot any errors, looking believable, getting a realistic sense of depth. It was a massive challenge."
Despite the challenges involved, Woods says that The Teleporter and other virtual reality marketing efforts we've seen so far are just the tip of the iceberg. As our path has progressed from small TVs to curved flat screens, as well as IMAX movies, there's only one destination on the horizon and its getting much closer.
"It's all going one way, heading towards virtual reality," says Woods. "It's not just taking up your peripheral vision in stereoscopic 3D, it's 360-degree vision in stereoscopic 3D. There's not a single business in the world that couldn't benefit from it. It's a more immersive way to tell a story, it's a more immersive way to see a product."
Obvioulsy Marriott's Teleporter shows a use for travel-based companies, but Woods also points to the potential for art galleries—imagine a full immersion version of Google's Art Project. "There's also architectural run-throughs," says Woods. "What better way to experience a building or home before its built? The Marriott Teleporter is just a sign of things to come."
The Teleporter is touring eight Marriott locations from September to November, including New York, Boston, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Dallas, San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco.