Imagine living in a world where you can do anything you want, except enjoy the simple pleasure of biting into a creamy Magnum ice cream. That’s the dilemma faced by Luna, a virtual influencer who stars in Magnum’s latest campaign #NotAvailableInTheMetaverse.
The campaign, created by LOLA MullenLowe Madrid, flips the script on the metaverse craze and shows how some things are better experienced in reality. In a short film that premiered at the Metaverse Fashion Week, Luna uses a VR headset to escape her digital existence and discover the joys of the real world. But when she encounters a Magnum ice cream, she realises that she can’t taste it in the metaverse. The film, directed by Bacon’s Martin Werner, uses wit and an awareness of sci-fi tropes to celebrate real-life pleasures and challenge the hype around the virtual world.
LBB’s Alex Reeves spoke to LOLA MullenLowe executive creative director Tomás Ostiglia and BaconX creative director Ditte Marie Ludvigsen to find out what went into both the campaign idea and the clever VFX work that brings it to life.
LBB> Where did this idea begin? Was the metaverse idea in the brief or did it emerge from something more general?
Tomás> The idea came from thinking about the brand and reflecting on what this brand, which defends true pleasure, should say right now with everything going on in the world. At LOLA we always believe that the brand is the brief and that’s why we work towards what both the client and the brand ask of us. By doing this we often find ideas that are much more aligned with this context and have a greater capacity to enter into culture.
LBB> The story is quite bleak. It really demonstrates how much trust the brand has in creativity that you've been able to play with darker themes. Why was that important?
Tomás> Without doubt, the trust in place between client and agency is what makes it possible for great ideas to happen, and those in general are the more daring ideas. Here, the idea was to imagine the metaverse in the distant future where an avatar is able to develop VR goggles to enter into reality. The reverse of what happens now, where people need to escape reality in order to get to another place, like the metaverse. This gave us the perfect excuse to remind people that it is important to enjoy what we have.
Having an ice cream is one of life’s wonderful pleasures that cannot happen in the metaverse. So, if you really think about it, it is actually more uplifting than bleak as the message is targeted towards humans and not avatars!
LBB> Japanese anime and cyberpunk have been referenced in a few different Magnum projects in recent years. Why do you think it works so well? And what were the visual inspirations?
Tomás> A couple of years back we previously used anime for a series of short films about pleasure for the 23rd edition of the Japan International Festival that continued the collaboration with artists that we have been doing for some time. https://lbbonline.com/news/behind-magnums-anime-anthology-that-quietly-delights-in-human-pleasure This is different in that animation needed to play a key role as we are telling the story of an avatar who lives in the metaverse.
It works very well because it is made with an elegance that fits the brand with inspirations ranging from cyberpunk to ‘Blade Runner’. Taking things from the metaverse itself but stylising them to tell the story of this character who lives in the metaverse but at the same time feels curious about the real world, can be seen in the details such as the decoration of her house and in the pet hologram cat.
Ditte> For the exteriors of the film, we drew inspiration from Tokyo's neon-lit streets and Blade Runner's dark and gritty cityscapes. Our goal was to create a world that was visually stunning yet conveyed a sense of unease and uncertainty, underscoring the dystopian nature of the virtual world.
To establish the digital nature of the world quickly and effectively, we added a glitch effect, inspired by Salomon Ligthelm’s 'I Am You' for S7 Airlines.
LBB> When it came to creating the cyberpunk dystopian world of the character's 'real' life, what were the visual inspirations?
Ditte> In the streets, we integrated numerous holograms, signs, and symbols - many of them inspired by Hayao Miyazaki's work. By including his style in the holograms' design, we aimed to highlight some of the central themes of the film, such as the connection between humans and nature, the perils of unchecked technological progress, and the need to maintain balance in life.
Our hope was to create a unique and visually stunning world that not only entertains but also provides commentary on important societal issues. Ultimately, we want to underline the message that true pleasure can't be found in a virtual world - that there is beauty in the real world that we need to cherish and protect.
LBB> The film is so classy. I could watch a feature-length version. What were the biggest challenges in the filmmaking process and how, working with director Martin Werner, did you overcome them to make sure it was right?
Tomás> The biggest challenge was locking the story because although the idea was very clear, it could have been told in many ways. At a production level, motion capture of a real person was used, then a 3D model in Metahuman with captured data, and Unreal 5 for the scenarios. In addition, the live action was shot at Keleti Station in Budapest with the incredible actress Dorcas Coppin in a train built on set and designed completely by Peter Grant. An exceptional job by the entire Proppa team, Bacon X, led by Martin Werner directing both the live action and the motion capture camera movements. Animation is always a slow process, and it requires a lot of patience, going back and forth until the desired result is achieved, but working with the very best makes it easier and an amazing craft is achieved. Outstanding.
Ditte> Crafting a 3D animated film is a unique process that is markedly different from producing live action content. One of the biggest challenges we faced was ensuring that everyone involved was on the same page and that the workflow was as smooth and efficient as possible. Fortunately, we were able to leverage the power of Unreal Engine to handle all aspects of the production process, including design, animation, and lighting, with ease and agility.
However, integrating the live-action and 3D worlds proved to be another major hurdle that we had to overcome.
Thanks to the impressive capabilities of Metahuman, we were able to quickly produce a high-quality CG asset that Martin and the client were both thrilled with, and that worked seamlessly with the live action footage featuring our actress. We also utilised motion capture to create an early representation of the film, which served as a foundation for refining our animation and environment design.
Of course, like any tool, Unreal has its limitations, and we had to find new and innovative ways to work around these obstacles, such as figuring out how to structure our files, animate our scenes, and render our elements. Understanding these limitations and finding creative solutions was essential to making our 3D content in Unreal successful.
Despite the technology we used, human talent was still essential to ensuring the success of the project, and our team of talented artists and producers played a crucial role in executing this film. The team's creativity, attention to detail, and ability to adapt to new challenges were invaluable in making the film a reality.
LBB> Are there any moments or details in the film that you're particularly happy with?
Tomás> I can’t put my finger on any specific details because I think there is magic in many moments. The most epic is the placement of the VR goggles and using the reaction of the cat to get more emotion, combined with the live action of the real person is impactful. I love how the avatar crosses a street full of fast cars without caring because she is connected to everything that happens in that world. Also, the bite in the air followed by the disappointment in that reflective and somewhat dark look that the avatar has at the end of the movie, because although she had an incredible experience, it cannot be satisfied without being human.
Ditte> As a relatively late addition to the film that originated from LOLA, the hologram cat was not part of the original vision, but it turned out to be an excellent inclusion. The way it interacts with the main character added a level of emotion that we were not anticipating. Additionally, the hologram cat serves as a symbol of the main character's desire for something real and tangible in an otherwise virtual and synthetic world. We think the hologram cat was a great creative decision, and we're thrilled with how it turned out in the final product.
LBB> As an anti-metaverse message, how did it go down at the Metaverse Fashion Week in Decentraland?
Tomás> It worked very well and generated a lot of intrigue and in just the first week we got 100,000 visitors. We had 363 million social reach and four million press reach, with a total potential reach of 132.5 million and an earned average of 4.4 million.
LBB> And tell us about the virtual influencer aspect. How did that work and what was the response?
Tomás> As the campaign is still running, we do not have the final data of the impact of the virtual influencers, but by counting their own reach it is clear that it is impactful, and people are intrigued just by seeing these characters that were born for the virtual world using our VR goggles. Perhaps it is the first time that avatars or virtual characters are seen using VR goggles. Hopefully one day this will become a symbol to encourage people to disconnect for a while and enjoy the pleasures that the real world has to offer.