Framestore co-founder Mike McGee on how brands can use technology creatively to do good

Mike McGee, co-founder and creative director, Framestore
Mike McGee, co-founder and creative director, Framestore

Digital technology is opening up opportunities for brands to do good in creative ways, says Mike McGee, co-founder and creative director at Oscar-winning content company Framestore.

Creativity. Some argue that it cannot truly exist in a commercial context such as marketing, but I disagree. Marketing is a hotbed of creative innovation, and nowhere is this more evident than creative technology.

Creativity and technology were once seen as mutually exclusive, but now that we’re so dependent on digital and high tech, they have merged to create a melting pot of creative opportunity.

As a company crafting visual effects (VFX) for films such as Gravity and ads including Galaxy’s Audrey Hepburn spot, Framestore has used technology creatively for 25 years (a millennium on the digital timeline). But when technology evolves at an exponential pace, every company, creative or otherwise, must evolve. For us, this means looking beyond VFX-related, passive-viewing experiences to investigate the more immersive and creative opportunities in technologies like second-generation virtual reality (VR).

Creativity and technology were once seen as mutually exclusive, but now that we’re so dependent on digital and high tech, they have merged to create a melting pot of creative opportunity.

Since the 1920s, when John Logie Baird invented the TV, we’ve become habituated to flat screens. But VR offers a new dimension. Although there will always be a place for conventional TVs, I’m convinced VR will change media and marketing consumption; so much so that Framestore has just launched a dedicated VR and immersive content studio.

The industry – and culture as a whole – is at the frontier of something genuinely new. And it’s electrifying. Although we’re still identifying the right ways to tell VR stories, some apt campaigns are breaking through.

HBO used VR to promote Game of Thrones – perfect for the audience’s love of fantasy-style sci-fi. The result was an experience where people entered the GoT world via a VR headset. Showcased at SXSW in March, it was utterly absorbing. People were falling over themselves to try it… and then literally falling over. Such is the convincing power of second-generation VR.

Then there’s O2’s "Wear the rose" campaign, where VR lets people feel like they’re training with the England rugby union team. There’s room for creative finesse, but the idea of using VR to open up something previously inaccessible is spot-on. Conversely, Tesco’s VR store in Berlin feels gimmicky.

VR’s stumbling block is that it offers a singular experience. But soon, once it is incorporated into smartphones and uses GPS, we will be able to network sets together to build group experiences. And this unleashes a whole new level of creative potential.

It’s rewarding to be a part of something so packed with creative possibilities. But it would be even more rewarding to use virtual reality in a way that creates 'good, not just 'feel-good'.

As a development partner for several VR companies, it’s rewarding to be a part of something so packed with creative possibilities. But it would be even more rewarding to use VR in a way that creates "good", not just "feel-good".

With EyeWriter, production company-owner Mick Ebeling "did good" by tapping into our industry’s penchant for innovation. Mick wanted to help Tempt, a "locked-in" graffiti artist suffering from neurodegenerative disease ALS, to communicate again. Mick rallied hackers to devise a solution: a tracking device, inspired by animation techniques, which clipped onto sunglasses. It let Tempt "talk" again by writing through retina movement.

Mick also used 3D printing to solve another heartbreaking problem. Last November he established Project Daniel, a prosthetic lab in a Sudanese hospital, to 3D-print arms for child war victims (tragically, the hospital has since been bombed and at the time of writing Mick is waiting to hear what – and who – survived). This time, Intel joined the initiative as financial and technology sponsor, thus developing the perfect connection back to the brand world.

This shows how, with a creative twist, brands and marketing-led innovations can be used to build social value. When brands are so exposed through social media, "doing good" is crucial. Restoring communication and giving children limbs – it’s so much more than CSR.

This got me thinking. Can we use VR in a similar way? If Mick hadn’t come to Tempt’s rescue, could VR have empowered the artist by letting him move again, albeit in a virtual world? And if VR can be used in a socially responsible yet branded way, what other possibilities are out there? For me, this is the true essence of creativity.

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