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From Philly Ad News Article  July/August 2017 Issue

    Using Virtual Reality to deliver Real Legitimacy

What do you do when you need to create something that is unbelievably cool while at the same time incredibly authentic?

When Smith Brothers Agency in Pittsburgh was faced with exactly this challenge, they called Philadelphia’s own Blue Visual Effects, well known as experts in the emerging field of Virtual and Augmented Reality Media. Smith Brothers’ client, MSA, makes safety equipment for firefighters. And they had this amazing new G1 mask and integrated TIC that they wanted firefighters to experience at trade shows. Not just “experience” – they wanted to stop firefighters in their tracks and blow them away. No mean feat when talking to guys who run into burning buildings for a living.

The Challenge

Let’s start with the product itself – it’s literally a tool that firefighters trust with their lives. Which meant there could be no hint of exaggeration that might call into question its credibility. But it’s a product that’s used in a fire. And you can’t set a fire at a tradeshow. Certainly not a fire that real firefighters would consider a legitimate test of a product vitally important to their survival. But a purely digital fire was risky too. For even if Blue CGI’d something that would impress the general, movie-going public, it wasn’t going to cut it with firefighters. These guys can read what a fire is doing by the way it’s burning, they talk about it ‘breathing’ and ‘eating’ and ‘thinking’. Those guys are going to call BS on it - and the product - in a heartbeat if it feels artificial. And, because firefighters are a brotherhood, they’re going to tell each other what you did. So the stakes were high. Very high. Which was why MSA and Smith Brothers had to show real fire – in order to show that their new products were the real deal. And since they couldn’t bring the firefighters to the fire, they wanted to bring the fire to the firefighters. Virtually. And they called Blue Visual Effects. “This was my first foray into VR production so I knew I needed to partner with someone who not only understood the technology but who knew the medium well enough to plus our ideas and make it a truly remarkable experience for viewers.” Matt Haritan, Executive Producer, Smith Brothers

The Shoot

Blue has a lot of experience with Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality – creating exciting projects for everyone from the National Guard to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to Good Neighbor Pharmacy. But they’d never done anything quite like this. Shooting at a live-fire fixed-location in Pittsburgh, Blue’s Creative Director Howard McCabe and his team scouted the site twice before actually filming. “We learned some valuable things – like which cameras melt and which don’t – and then we planned for redundancy. We had sacrificial cameras and lights that we knew would fail at some point.” What they didn’t have, however, was live monitoring. “Yeah, so as the Director, I had to be in the live fire environment in full protective gear and on oxygen, actually using the equipment we were showcasing” McCabe explains. Which meant being in the smoke, the water, and the 900 degree heat of the fire. "During the tech scout, I saw the intensity of the fire and smoke in the Flashover chamber and thought to myself, ‘Here we go’.”


The Partnership

But as anyone in advertising knows, physical logistics is just one element that can make a project like this tricky. The other is managing the three way partnership. Not this time, however. “The collaborative spirit among all of us - client, agency, Blue, and the firefighters -was amazing” McCabe explained. Smith Brothers’ ECD Craig Seder echoes McCabe’s sentiment. “From the initial call to the final color correction, Blue showed a level of knowledge, skill and precision in this new medium” “They were completely transparent about what we were bringing to the table,” McCabe continues, “letting us explain how Virtual Reality worked, to work hand-in-glove with them, and pushing all of us to greater success. And that made all the difference.”

The Payoff

But did it work? “The finished spot blew away all expectations” said ECD Craig Seder. EP Matt Haritan was similarly effusive. “Blue took a simple idea that was incredibly difficult to execute and delivered one of the coolest pieces of content I’ve had the pleasure of producing. And the client? Ben Mauti, Fire Service Segment Manager at MSA, put it this way. "We had high hopes to create a unique experience for our customers, and with Blue's help we succeeded. Most of the reactions by the firefighters at the show were some form of ‘amazing!’" In other words, it was the hottest thing at the trade show.



Agency: Smith Brothers
Executive Creative Director: Craig Seder
Executive Producer:  Matt Haritan
Account Director: Tom Kirby
Production & Post Company: Blue Visual Effects
CD/Director: Howard McCabe
Producer: Dave Manganelli
Camera Consultant: Dave Connor
DP: Chad Horn
Developer: Matt Tiridge
Production Manager: Ben Carter
VFX: Vlad Baharetyvich
VFX: Rick Malwitz
Sound Design: Pete Rydberg
VP, Business Development: Stephanie Antell



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