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How Netflix Let a Zombie Escape for the Resident Evil Launch



Founders’ creative directors on the activation where a man became a ‘zero’ in front of people’s eyes to promote the new Netflix series, writes LBB’s Ben Conway

How Netflix Let a Zombie Escape for the Resident Evil Launch

Working with creative agency Founders, Netflix decided to promote the release of its Resident Evil series with a truly terrifying experiential activation, right in the heart of Santa Monica. Using a specially designed glass box, a cast of actors and some top industry-level make-up and practical effects, the activation showed a man become infected by the franchise’s ‘T-virus’ and transform dramatically into a ‘zero’ [the zombies in the series].

Lasting an extensive four hours and capturing the intrigue - and fear - of passers-by, the experience came to a climax with the zero escaping from its scientist handlers and glass prison. Boosting the event’s reach, footage of the transformation and subsequent break-out went viral on social media, racking up a whopping 26 million views on TikTok alone. After the performance onlookers had the opportunity to share their footage online and take a selfie with the zero, spreading the word about the upcoming series based on the iconic video games.

LBB’s Ben Conway caught up with Founders’ creative director, copy, Martín Alfred and creative director, art, Felipe Rostagnol, to discuss the “magic trick” behind the live transformation, the best crowd reactions and the importance of generating social engagement on every OOH campaign.

LBB> Firstly, this is terrifying! How did this idea first come about? Did you have a brief from Netflix?

Martín & Felipe> Good to know you were terrified haha, that was the idea! Yes, we had the pleasure of watching Resident Evil before facing the brief and we found the ‘zeros’ scenes impressive. Our brief was essentially to create an idea to launch the series in a memorable way. So, the idea popped up right away and the Netflix team loved it from the start. But the hardest part was just beginning, how do we turn a person into a ‘zero’ in a glass cage, with hundreds of people watching?

LBB> How do you put an ambitious, experiential activation like this on the streets of Santa Monica? What processes did you have to go through to even get permission to do this?

Martín & Felipe> The production process was arduous, the first thing was to find out if it was legal to have a person locked up for so long. Luckily, it was. Then permits, box construction, technology development, casting, rehearsals, and everything that goes into the making of a live event in the heart of Santa Monica with thousands of people who walked by the activation.

LBB> How did the ‘story’ of the activation come about? 

Martín & Felipe> Well, no spoilers here, the series is all about a person infected with the ‘T-Virus’ who has 72 hours before becoming a zero. Imagining how we would react in those 72 hours before losing humanity seemed very powerful to us. If we could bring this premise to a live street event, the idea would be very disruptive for people as well as bring awareness to the core plot of the show. 

LBB> When did you decide the zero had to break free? What were your favourite reactions from onlookers?

Martín & Felipe> Initially, the Umbrella Corp employees were to escort the zero to a truck. But when we were rewriting the activation script, it seemed natural that the zero had to escape and try to devour the audience for the grand finale. People's reactions were surprising, from a man who stayed for almost four hours to a child who burst into tears when he saw the zero; his parents, instead of leaving, stayed to see what was happening while their son continued to cry. There were people who even made video calls to broadcast what was happening in Santa Monica. People went crazy!

LBB> How was the ‘smart glass cell’ developed to allow the transformation to happen in front of everyone’s eyes? And how did you design and create this illusion? It’s like a magic trick!

Martín & Felipe> It was definitely a magic trick. We worked together with Ketama Collective, a production company with great experience in this type of technological production. They came up with the smart glass proposal, which was brilliant, and we started designing and creating a structure that would allow us to switch between the two actors in less than 15 seconds, without anyone noticing. 

But before we could take advantage of the smart glass, we had to create a distraction: the actor's convulsions and the disinfection process with the smoke, the sirens and the person inside the hazmat suit - who was basically the other actor in a more advanced stage of the infection. It sounds easy but it was hours and hours of rehearsal and tons of hours in make-up for each actor. 

LBB> Four hours is a long time for an activation like this! Is this the most ambitious project like this that you’ve worked on?

Martín & Felipe> Nowadays, six seconds seems like an eternity to us, four hours is a delusion. But contrary to all the studies that say that we pay less attention than a goldfish, there were people who stayed in front of the glass cell for hours. We couldn't believe it. But the great merit went to the actors who sustained a great performance and improvised for 60 minutes at a time without lowering their energy for a single second.

We were lucky to have a great team, including a renowned casting director who put great options on the table for us. And as soon as we saw them [the actors], we all agreed that the chosen ones were the perfect couple. Also, they were used to working together as twins, so they were not only similar but moved in the same way. Netflix works in an incredible way, they supervised the whole process and allowed us to work alongside their special effects team and creative specialists.

LBB> The footage has gone viral on social media, including TikTok. Was this a significant part of the campaign’s creation? Is TikTok becoming a powerful tool for increasing a project’s lifespan?

Martín & Felipe> Yes, it did very well on all social media platforms; it had 26 million views just on TikTok. All OOH ideas today are thought to be able to generate engagement on social media, mainly on TikTok, which has an amazing reach. As much as you can do an activation in the busiest place on the planet, not as many people will see it compared to if it goes viral on TikTok or another platform. As an agency that was born from digital, it is a must to think about activations so that they also work on social.

LBB> What was the hardest challenge you faced on this project - and how did you overcome it?

Martín & Felipe> This was one of those cases where the planets align so that everything goes well. The logistics were not easy at all, the permits, the construction of the glass cell against the clock and all the technical and human details that can always go wrong but did not. Working with an amazing production team, and with an amazing client team at Netflix made this as smooth sailing as could be. We were destined to become zeros.

LBB> Anything else you would like to add?

Martín & Felipe> A little advice: if you see a person who is turning into a zero, don't stare or start filming with your cell phone, just run.

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Founders, Thu, 11 Aug 2022 16:12:00 GMT