Floods kill more people than any other natural disaster in the United States. Most people die in cars, trying to beat the odds and make their way across flooded roadways. Nowhere does this occur more than in desert regions of the West.
When Las Vegas-based agency Robertson+Partners came to us on behalf of the Clark County Regional Flood Control District to create content around flood safety, they didn’t want a traditional awareness campaign. For decades, public service announcements in broadcast, radio, and print media have educated and informed the public, but how do you improve upon the time-tested PSA?
Rather than talk about the issues, we opted to show people what it feels like to be swept away. Using a blend of narrative storytelling, animation, and the empathetic power of 360º video, we set out to immerse the public in the problem and leave them with an experience they would not soon forget.
Our client knew their audience. More than any demographic, “young invincibles” – usually males in their late teens and early 20s – take the risk of crossing flood waters in cars. But how do you avoid making this demographic feel clichéd and portray them in an empathic light?
We wrote a tale of two best friends, recent graduates on a road trip around the country. Before heading to different colleges they’d have one last adventure. And it wasn’t until they’d arrived back in their hometown of Las Vegas – weary from the road and plenty of close calls under their belts – that they’d take the risk of crossing a flooded intersection and embark on a harrowing near-death journey.
Once we had the narrative dialed in, we set out to establish the visual look and feel of the experience. We wanted the beginning to appear hopeful and inspiring, portraying two young people with their whole lives ahead of them. To achieve this and convey the backstory of their road trip, we started with an illustrated slideshow that drew on rich, warm colors and beautiful landscapes.
As their journey takes a turn for the worst, the colors become more muted and ominous. Gray overcast skies and dark, opaque floodwaters would produce a sense of dread and claustrophobia. Finally, at the moment of near-death, the world would go completely dark, leaving the user blind and disoriented.
The client wanted the experience to take place in the Las Vegas area, but not specify an exact neighborhood or intersection. Using Google Maps and Street View, we found an intersection that afforded us just the right space, obstacles, and backdrop we needed while remaining nondescript.
To lock down timing and movement, we needed to pre-visualize the entire experience without expending exorbitant time and resources on animation renders. Using Unity we built our scene in VR, laying down scratch tracks for dialogue and blocking the movements from exiting the freeway to the heroic helicopter rescue.
While there are two characters on this journey, the driver’s POV is that of the viewer, so they are never seen or heard from. This made it exceedingly important for the passenger character to be well developed and believable. We needed to personify the “young invincible” audience we were trying to connect with, use this character to direct our attention to key action, and create an emotional connection that we risk tragically losing in the final moments of the experience.
To drive the character animation process and achieve believable and spatially accurate movement, we used iPhone facial capture and body capture using a Perception Neuron suit. Our talent would act out the full scene with dialogue and body movement timed to multiple pre-recorded angles of the experience. This data gave us the foundation for a perfectly timed, physically dynamic, and emotionally impactful performance.
Our audio team has performed music and sound design for numerous VR and 360º video projects, but “Water Always Wins” was especially challenging in scope. In researching real-world flood rescues, we noted an eery sense of calm and quiet within the vehicle. Modern automobiles are sound dampened, and therefore, without road noise, remain relatively silent when swept away. This makes every instance of lurching, submerging, and collision that much more dramatic and surprising.
Using Ambisonic workflows in Pro Tools, we were able to mix the soundscape within a virtual sphere around the viewer’s head, adding to the realism and immersion of the experience.
• AdFed The Show 2020 – Virtual Reality: Gold Winner
• AdFed The Show 2020 – Corporate Social Responsibility: Gold Winner
• 2019 Pinnacle Awards: Award of Excellence for New Digital Platform
• Presented to FEMA at Watershed University SoCal Summit in LA to 100 floodplain professionals
• Presented to the National Weather Service in Las Vegas
• Nevada Highway Patrol has included the video in “Driver’s Edge,” a defensive driving course for teens.
• Incorporated into Henderson, Nevada’s DRIVE program, a mandatory class for anyone under 18 driver who gets a ticket.
• Incorporated into the Clark County School District’s driver’s ed classes at 9 different schools and added into the health curriculum for other HS students in the area.
FROM OUR PARTNERS:
“Pixel Farm produced more than we ever imagined with our flash flood VR experience. They included us from conception to full animation with professionalism and creativity – on time and on budget. Their video isn’t just the “wow” we wanted. It will save lives.”
– Erin Neff, Public Information Director, Clark County Regional Flood Control District
“The team at Pixel Farm exceeded our expectations in bringing our VR vision to life. They’re smart, cool, passionate, collaborative and highly focused on every single minute detail. They created for us and our client a truly immersive, realistic, visceral experience that users are deeply engaged by. We couldn’t be happier with them and the product we created together. Hire them now.”
– Scott Robertson, Owner/Creative Director, Robertson+Partners