Winning work: From selling milk powder to empowering communities with VR

In the first of our series that goes behind the scenes on winning entries from the Mumbrella Asia Awards for 2018, Vitaliy Nechaev, the founder of Vostok VR explains how a film for Nido Fortigrow from Nestle Philippines won his firm the prize for Most Engaging 360 Video / Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality Work


My interest in virtual reality came later in life than one would expect for an award winning VR filmmaker. It was 2015 and the Syrian refugee crisis was in full effect. Gabo Arora and Chris Milk’s Clouds Over Sidra, produced in partnership with the United Nations, showed me in 8 short minutes how easily the young Syrians spending their days and months in a refugee camp could be me. That’s when I understood the potential of VR as an empathy machine.

This profound VR encounter motivated me to take my own journey. I travelled to the Philippines to create a 360 video of a charity concert in a slum city called Happyland . The trip was sponsored by Carl Zeiss as a part of their Corporate and Social Responsibility (C&R) program.

It wasn’t a smooth trip. We travelled through the most dangerous parts of the informal settlement of Tondo. Our guide suggested we turn back. We chose to continue and complete the project. The film became an international success. Ironically, we shared an honourable mention award at Vision Summit Hollywood with Chris Milk, the man who motivated me to enter the world of 360 video.

This experience came full circle when we were invited by Discovery Networks to pitch for Nestle Philippines last year. Nestle wanted to present new packaging of their sales hit Nido Fortigrow milk powder in an innovative way. They wanted to steer away from the traditional marketing they were familiar with and refresh their brand perception.

We immediately stated the most obvious ideas for 360/VR during our first brainstorming session, like going to the factory in 360 or exploring the product by flying inside it. After all, they would provide an immersive experience.

These ideas had been implemented by other agencies and companies, but we just couldn’t get excited about the same old approach. We needed to reach children, not business owners or government officials. The final project idea was inspired by Discovery Networks.

The concept:

Our idea was to create 360 video tours for exotic locations using Discovery’s media library. However, we couldn’t tell a compelling story without a proper narrator.

That’s how Talullah was created. It was a long process to decide on the host. We had multiple versions of animals. We began with a water buffalo and transitioned to a female lemur named Mika before settling on the tigress called Talullah.


An early sketch of Talullah

We initially created a 2D character who travels across the world to teach kids about animals. It took another three months to animate Talullah and make her a real part of the story.

An animated image of Talullah

The challenges:

One of the key challenges was to decide how to share VR content with the audience. A “magic window” view mode — to forego a VR headset and use consumer smartphones for 360 video instead — could work but sacrificed one of the main points of the campaign – impressiveness.

That’s why Nestle decided to acquire 100,000 cardboard VR sets and install application access QR codes. This guaranteed that every customer that bought Nido Fortigrow’s new package, gained access to exclusive content.

Another challenge was widespread internet access. The Philippines is known for having one of the slowest internet connections in APAC. The fastest mobile connection in Manila can be just 20% of what you expect in Singapore or Seoul.

VR videos are normally larger than standard 2D and require higher resolution to keep the same image quality for the entire sphere. In other words, an original quality video downloads in approximately two minutes in Singapore and ten minutes in Manila. This doesn’t factor in download drops and errors along the way.

We needed to upgrade the existing content delivery network and created a hybrid solution based on a combination of cloud service provider Akamai and Amazon web services, as well as by downscaling video quality of the clips. On average, these changes helped us reduce an initial waiting time of more than ten minutes to just two.

Our last problem involved smartphones. 80% of downloads from the Philippines are on various types of Android devices. The content needed to display clearly across all devices, alongside extra features like finger control. This way, the image would appear properly even if the technology did not have gyroscope support, as is typical in low-end Chinese brands. These variations in smartphone quality were factored into the VR application design.

A screenshot from the mobile app

The launch:

The launch was planned for mid October 2017. The associated TV ads reached more than 5.5 million people on YouTube and Facebook.

We dedicate a special support team to troubleshoot any app related problems during the first weeks of launch. Our efforts earned us an impressive rating of 4.5 stars on AppStore and 4.1 stars on GooglePlay.

The project idea wasn’t about creating expensive solutions to impress a few hundred VIPs. It was designed to change the perception of the youngest part of the Filipino nation. This strategy paired with skilful execution earned us Mumbrella’s 2018 Most Engaging 360 Video/Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality Work award.

Two of the most commonly used words by Mumbrella’s jury during our pitch in October were inspire and escape. Through virtual reality you can inspire younger people to learn, pursue better careers and live more fulfilling lives. During my first documentary about the poorest parts of Manila, I learned that escapism is equally important to inspiration for some parts of the youth population. While this project may not be a pure CSR activity, there is a deeper meaning within our campaign. We not only created experiences full of inspiration and escape, we also exposed communities without easy access to the latest technologies to cutting edge tools.

The results:

The app received over 15,000 downloads in the first six months of its launch. This may seems like a humble result, but this means it is the most downloaded VR application in ASEAN. Three additional 360-degree videos were commissioned following the project’s initial success, bringing the total number of videos to six.

Over 100,000 cardboard phone covers were distributed to Nestle consumers to simulate virtual reality headsets.

Nido VR became the largest animated VR project in SE Asia.

The collaboration with Nestle Philippines:

My last words are about the customer – Nestle Philippines.

They never pressed us to add more logos or brand messages within the experience. They simply wanted to create a story that kids love. You’ll note that Talullah never mentions the Nestle brand. She serves only to provide a pure storytelling experience.

This award was a signal that Mumbrella’s jury wanted to give to all brave creators and brands who wants to support them: Do good, have global ideas and use new technologies, like VR, to change lives.

Vitaliy Nechaev is the Founder and Principal Filmmaker for Singapore-based Vostok VR. 


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