Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production

Think Smart: How Tech Innovation Can Aid Storytelling

Creative Production Studio
New York, USA
Taylor James reveal how the latest developments in tech are influencing the way brands engage and attract the modern-day consumer

From Unreal Engine and digital twins, to virtual production and NFTs, creativity in tech is fast evolving the way in which brands connect with audiences. With the modern-day consumer able to engage with brands through so many different channels and across multiple touch points, consistency in storytelling has become an increasingly important factor for brands looking to create a cohesive customer experience.

As a one-stop shop for integrated solutions, creative production studio Taylor James has vast experience and insight into how brands can strengthen their digital presence and keep pace with ever expanding innovation.

In this interview, LBB speaks with VP of business development Andrew Hall, vice president / studio lead Jenn Dee, global head of automotive + Future Technology Ross DelConte, and ECD Jay Harwood to find out how brands can be utilising tech more efficiently to create a streamlined marketing strategy.

Tasked with developing and Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant F1 team’s AMR22 NFT drop, Taylor James produced five video NFTs using turntable animations of various parts of the new car as exclusive digital collectibles. 

LBB> The modern-day consumer has so many options/avenues to shop and integrate with brands. How have you seen this develop over recent years? 

Andrew> The biggest change has been the move to online shopping. Around 20 years ago, the challenge for brands was how to drive footfall to the high street. And then came the rise of online shopping, putting even more pressure on those high streets. 

Here in the US, doing online shopping for things like groceries was not very common before the pandemic. Covid took online shopping to a whole other level. So I think more and more purchase decisions are now initiated or completed online. 

Jenn> Within all that there’s great opportunity for creative studios like us who can offer things like digital twins or ways to build a virtual fitting room. I think that’s going to be the next big development where you can create your own avatar and have a virtual fitting so that when you receive your products at home, you already know that they're going to fit. 

I believe for women in particular this will be a game changer in eliminating the stress of trying things in-store. You could do it in the privacy of your own home, without the mirrors and lights and judgement.  

Ross> All companies in some way, shape or form have been going through a digital transformation for the past few years. They're digitising their products, creating digital workflows for their content development, using CAD to create a digital version of their products… all the way up to digital twins - a virtual copy of a physical product. 

Digital twins started in the automotive industry and it has evolved into other areas from phones, appliances, and televisions to clothing. On the customer experience side of things, it’s about creating configurable experiences - like you do for cars. Consumers now have the ability to create a digital twin of themselves to, for example, see how clothes are going to fall on their body.

Jay> There’s been a constant evolution to shopping online, as digital technology streamlines it become more refined and enjoyable to interact with.

I believe people will always opt for the path of least resistance - bad websites, bad communication or even untidy shops makes purchasing a stress. You’ll go elsewhere if those experiences fall short. 

Brands that prioritise these evenly across every touchpoint build a stronger connection with their customers. I wouldn’t say it is easy to do this, but it is much easier than before to create a smooth experience from commercial to in-store to purchasing online. That journey of buying is more important than ever and if done right is really enjoyable.

LBB> What are the innovations in tech that have led to these new opportunities?

Andrew> Smartphones have had a huge influence because that's then led to social media becoming more prevalent. For a small to medium sized brand who can't afford a TV commercial, an Instagram post is a very affordable and convenient way to reach consumers. Especially after the pandemic, when the desire to shop local and buy eco was strengthened even further. Social media platforms have made it easier to discover these smaller businesses.

Smartphones have also given us handheld portable cameras that go everywhere with us, and now we’ve got AR and VR experiences we can access easily. I remember shopping for a shoe online and I was able to use AR on my phone to scan my foot and have a custom sole added!

Customisation is a huge consumer trend, which is being enabled through technology such as Unreal. Before, what you had to do was pre-render a product and the camera would go around it in a certain way. That meant the brand had to make educated guesses on how the consumer will want to experience the product and make the decisions for them.

Jenn> I agree, that shift in ownership over the development and creation is what the consumer wants. We're in a time now where consumers are demanding more control over things than ever before.That's why there's so much pressure on larger brands to think differently from the perspective of the user - rather than how they believe the item should be marketed or sold.

Jay> As much as we don’t see much VR anymore, this was one of those moments in the industry that blurred the borders between film, gaming and experiential. The technology and the talent crossed over and for the first time we were working next to a completely different skillset that challenged the way we interacted with content. 

That innovation sparked new conversations and workflows to streamline the way we work and the way we consume the content. Filmmakers could start thinking about non-linear storytelling, interactive designers could make physical experiences instead of online experiences, game designers could make cinematic activations. All of this shook up the industry for the better and gave a new injection of creative ideation that was well overdue

Ross> At Taylor James, we've developed advanced pipelines utilising Unreal Engine. Creating content using Unreal Engine has enabled us to build better customer experiences for brands. Combined with our digital twin workflows, we create content once and then reuse it in any way needed.

There’s the use of AR to be able to see what a product would look like in your home, giving consumers powerful technology at their fingertips and giving brands more creative output opportunities using their digital twin.

But with the onset of the metaverse, it's now not just the digital representation of a brand’s physical product that needs to be considered. It's also the virtual representation of their products within the metaverse.

Take fashion brands for example. In the metaverse, you can buy virtual clothing for your avatar. This clothing may not be available as a physical product, but it’s being purchased for a virtual world. That's huge. 

There’s also a trend for buying property in the metaverse to be able to build your own space to engage with consumers. Taylor James is well positioned to excel because of the massive efforts we placed around transforming our CG and Unreal Engine pipelines. That means we are ready to support anyone that wants to make that leap into the virtual world. We enable brands to get more out of what we produce for them. It's the crossover between the traditional ways of engaging customers mixed with more future-focused technologies.

Caption: A series of interactive real-time virtual kitchens using Unreal game engine technology. The immersive experiences allowed event goers to freely explore SKS kitchens from various angles, select each to configure options, choose finishes, see how it operates, and learn more about its unique selling points.

LBB> How has this opened up more storytelling opportunities for creatives?

Ross> Before the pandemic, everyone was expected to travel, fly around the globe, and be in different locations for face-to-face meetings. Now, everyone is embracing digital interaction. It allows us to speed up the process and increase efficiency.

The amount of collaboration that's been unlocked, not just internally, but with clients is absolutely phenomenal. Brands embrace their ability to be very hands-on and engaged in the decision making much earlier in the process. Our new collaborative process has enabled us to get from concept to approval so much quicker, mainly because clients are now just as invested in production as the creatives.

Jay> With all this development in technology, we’re seeing new ways to film with techniques like virtual production, which is the hot topic right now of replacing greenscreen for LED walls and playing it through the Unreal Engine. But filmmaking is not just one stage, pre and post can utilise this same tech and can make the process more collaborative and quicker to iterate through versions. 

Even manufacturing is easier these days, from the software to 3D printing, we can get to a better quality output quicker and cheaper than ever before. All of this means we can create more tangible worlds that help us to tell a believable story.

I believe in using the right tool for the job, if it’s practical. CGI or mixed, we now have an arsenal of tools to make content for any platform. The stories that we tell are still just one part of the creative process, how we do it is the other part. 

Taking some of the laborious tasks out of the production process, whilst giving more visuals earlier on in the process, not only benefits the creatives, but for the actors, crew and post team.

Andrew> Good storytelling and great creative are the best ways to capture attention, which is key in today's saturated market. With the amount of channels today, brands need to be able to create content that works across all different channels. Because consumers tend to use multiple devices when they buy - they might start on their iPhone and then open their laptop or iPad. So the brand experience needs to travel across all those devices well.

New technology like Unreal is also pushing us to produce brand content in a different way that gives customers the level of personalisation they desire. Things like virtual production enables brands to tell stories that are not possible to capture in-camera but that you can create fully on a virtual set. There's still some way to go with that but it will certainly be a game changer in giving opportunities to brands, especially on challenging budgets.

Jenn> Today’s creative storytelling helps shift power into the hands of the consumer. The control is leaning towards the consumer versus the retailer themselves. And I think that's what's going to continue to grow. 

Look at the way the millennial generation really ushered in a shift with regard to how they interact with shopping. We used to go into a store, look at a couple of things and then buy. Now you’ve even got young people buying in order to sell online. There are so many new avenues. So I think storytelling will become more of a consumer thing versus the retailer dictating it.

A virtual production undertaken during the pandemic, Rain-X asked for a CGI production with a touch of humanity. Taylor James delivered a beautiful mix of VFX, CGI, and the desired live-action within the limited budget.

LBB> How has it shaped/changed consumer purchasing behaviour?

Andrew> There is a fuelling of globalisation now that consumers can get anything they want from anywhere in the world. Unlike the retail store that had certain operating hours, online there is almost an expectation for always-on customer service. If you don't give consumers the information they're looking for in a timely manner, they're very quickly turned off. 

At the same time you’ve got cultural movements happening across the world from BLM to Extinction Rebellion. People are now more conscious about the products they buy and where they come from. They want more information. And that goes back to the idea of storytelling and its importance to the modern day consumer.

Jenn> I think it goes back to what I was saying about the millennial generation ushering in the level of accountability that we want to see from retailers. People want to know where materials are coming from, how they are being sourced, etc. They are a lot more invested in their purchase.

Jay> Purchasing behaviour is very different depending on what you’re purchasing and at what price point. You don’t tend to buy something expensive without researching it thoroughly first. The story of the brand, their beliefs and their status plays massively into what you buy. That journey of understanding a brand can be great, but it can also be overwhelming. 

Technology can ultimately ease some of that complexity, but it all stems from one strong creative vision that simplifies a process and if the infrastructure we interact with is built by brilliant designers, writers, programmers and visionaries. All of which work together to make consumer purchasing something completely different from how we used to simply walk in a store and buy something.  

Ross> Advertising is now less forceful and more subliminal. It's about creating a feeling for the consumer that allows them to imagine what they will be able to do or be with a product. It’s about trying to make sure that the content tells a story. That it makes someone feel alive, makes someone want to experience new things. It definitely makes it more fun for our creatives as well.

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