Nicole Kidman stars in a new film, but you won't have to go to theaters to see it. The Academy Award-winning actress plays a version of herself in a five-minute short for Etihad Airways, titled "Reimagine." The film is a 360-degree, fully immersive virtual reality story that takes viewers along for the ride.
Etihad is the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, and the purpose of its film is to immerse viewers in a fully experiential journey following Kidman through one of its new Airbus A380s flying non-stop between New York and Abu Dhabi. The airline collaborated with The Barbarian Group, a subsidiary of Cheil Worldwide, and the creative digital production company MediaMonks to produce the film. Husband and wife directing duo Anthony Atanasio and Valerie Martinez shot it using pioneering filming techniques to ensure a seamless production with no "warping" or "stitches."
See the film in YouTube 360 here:
"We were impressed by the way in which both organizations, along with MediaMonks, turned our vision into a reality," Shane O'Hare, svp of Marketing for Etihad, tells Adweek. "This campaign helps us to bring that narrative to a global audience, putting the viewer at the heart of our award-winning A380 experience. This VR film also sets a new benchmark in marketing, technology and innovation."
O'Hare says the inspiration came from a desire to give potential customers an immersive experience of what it's like to travel aboard Etihad's award-winning A380 aircraft.
"Some things need to be experienced, not explained," he says. "You don't explain the taste of a meal at a high-end restaurant or the feel of good linen in a five-star hotel bedroom. In the same way, our incredible A380 product cannot adequately be described by words alone, or by traditional film, or even by 3-D film alone. It has to be experienced. Virtual reality allowed us to make that experience real for viewers."
"360 VR is in a state of rapid evolution and growth right now, which presented us with a great opportunity to be first movers in high-quality, live-action VR," adds Adam Lau, creative director at The Barbarian Group. "Because Etihad is a brand that prides itself on product experience, 360 VR was a great fit for bringing this magical experience of being on board one of their planes to a broader audience."
Lau said the short film is part of a comprehensive campaign to promote the piece via social and digital display, with custom Google Cardboard headsets being distributed at conferences and other events.
The film brings to life the aircraft's unique passenger experience and hospitality by presenting the viewer with various sensory interactions on board the virtual 12-hour flight. Scenes are designed to stimulate the senses of light, sound, motion and conversation. The viewer is introduced to a number of characters besides Kidman, including a film director, an opera singer and even an Emirati guest with a falcon in first class. (Yes, Etihad allows falcons, part of UAE's culture, on its aircraft.)
Shots of a butler in The Residence, a luxurious private three-room cabin, an in-flight chef in first class, a food and beverage manager in business class and even a in-flight nanny are all part of the storyline.
The camera slowly moves along the cabin's luxurious interiors throughout the aircraft's two decks, before concluding with a focus on Kidman enjoying a relaxing moment in The Residence.
The airline underwent a complete upgrade in 2014 with the launch of its A380 fleet. The following year, Kidman starred in an Etihad ad campaign. The heralded actress continues to serve as the airline's brand ambassador.
Produced over six months, "Reimagine" was shot in Abu Dhabi, incorporating state-of-the-art VR technology. An actual Etihad A380 was used for three days and fully customized for filming. Overhead lockers, seats and other sections of the aircraft's interior were removed to allow for the installation of Red Dragon cameras. Hundreds of lights were installed to ensure smooth and uninterrupted shots by the roving cameras.
The film can be viewed on a dedicated website, vr.etihad.com, and will be followed by an updated version in stereoscopic sound today (June 17). Viewers can download the Oculus VR app on the airline's dedicated website and view the film using a virtual reality headset, such as Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard.
"Reimagine" also can be seen on YouTube (see embed above).
Etihad's O'Hare complimented the film's famous star, who juggles a busy acting career with family. "Given the success of our previous global advertising campaign work with her, she was the obvious choice for this project," he says. "She is an outstanding actor and was as keen as us to explore this opportunity to leverage an exciting new medium."
Following a global rollout in April with a teaser trailer (also in virtual reality and 360), the full "Reimagine" film was launched on May 27.
Etihad operates 48 flights weekly between Abu Dhabi and seven North American markets, including six destinations within the U.S. and one within Canada: Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Toronto, Washington, D.C. It is the only commercial carrier to operate direct, nonstop service between Abu Dhabi and the U.S.
"The most immediate opportunity we see within the U.S. is to further build out our current U.S. markets by adding additional frequencies," says O'Hare. "While we have no plans to add new destinations within the U.S., as we are happy with our current footprint, we are always looking at opportunities that make financial sense to further grow our network connectivity."