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Ultimate Reality
Augmented reality's next step, tested in a recent media campaign for History Channel's Vikings
by Nara Shin
on 16 April 2014
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If you live in New York City, you might have seen big ads for the History Channel's "Vikings" program on bus shelters and phone kiosks; if you've noticed fans waving their cellphones in front of them, it means you've also spotted bpg's "Ultimate Reality" in action. Working primarily with TV shows and film studios, the LA-based agency is behind integrated campaigns like an alternate reality journey for Showtime's "Homeland" and a website for the fictional company Omnicorp to promote the "Robocop" reboot. To promote the new season of "Vikings," bpg worked with photographer Nels Israelson to take augmented reality (AR) technology to the next level.

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AR technology—which has been around for some time now—can be used by smartphone apps to add another visual dimension to what the camera captures. In Google Sky Map, the app connects the constellations your smartphone sees in the sky; when reading a book or playing a board game, you could hover your phone and see animated characters pop out of thin air. "The reason why we had to call it something different [than AR]—we call it 'Ultimate Reality'—is because we really wanted to distinguish the new step in the technology versus what's out there right now," Steph Sebbag, President and Chief Creative Officer of bpg, tells CH. Traditionally the image that pops up in your device has been generated by 3D computer graphics, from scratch. Instead, Israelson wanted to make the AR experience even more "realistic" by incorporating humans through photography, which is a first.

Bpg made the trek to Ireland—where the show is filmed—and set up 63 8K-resolution digital cameras to capture every angle possible angle of the 10 different actors in Viking costumes. This 3D photograph is then turned into a 3D model, which allows it to have the AR possibility. By opening the Ultimate Reality app, fans can scan the flat image and then can take photos of themselves next to a 3D Viking or study the character up-close and in detail.

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Remarking on the decline of print, especially in advertising, Sebbag says, "One of the big questions, what is the bridge between print and interactive—how is print going to evolve in that way?" He offers a future scenario: a well-known actor will appear in a poster for an upcoming film; you hover your mobile device over the ad (using the app) and have the actor come to life, moving and speaking—perhaps even with a personalized message. "Right now, we have this three-dimensional static image," Sebbag says. "Having these characters come to life and talk and move is where this technology is going to head." This becomes an exciting space when thinking about how other industries, like fashion or sports, might also take advantage of this technology.

Experience the new technology by downloading the app (available for both Android and iOS), then visiting the Vikings' Ultimate Reality webpage to test it out. New episodes of "Vikings" premiere on the History Channel on Thursdays, 10/9C.

Screenshots courtesy of the History Channel, all other images courtesy of bpg

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