VMworld Opener Films
VMware Cloud Academy
First Person partnered with VMware and Jack Morton Worldwide to create several films for live presentations at VMworld and to enhance their online content. The most important of these were the two films that played at the opening of the event before the keynote and before the sessions. Early on, VMware made it clear that they wanted something unique and entertaining that would grab the audience’s attention and generate some buzz. They didn’t want a typical cheerleading “technology anthem” video.
One of the big themes this year was that apps of all types are helped by the Unified Hybrid Cloud. After several long brainstorming sessions, we hit on the idea of portraying the apps as unruly children and the cloud as an elite prep school that they all attend. We called it the Cloud Academy and played with the analogies of public and private clouds and public/private schools. Then just for fun, we named the headmaster “Nigel McCloud” and gave him an actual cloud for a head.
Developing the Look
It’s one thing to say “let’s have a bunch of anthropomorphized app icons and a guy with a cloud for a head.” But what does that actually look like? We tried several different looks before we locked down how the apps would look, what their icons are, how they exist in the real world, and settled a million other questions (how tall are they? How do they move? How does gravity affect them?).
The real challenge was Nigel McCloud. Nigel’s cloud-head effect needed to be funny without becoming so ridiculous that it distracts from the overall message or hurts the brand. He had to come across as charming, not creepy, and the actor needed to be able to emote and react. But it also had to have the feel of a real cloud. It wouldn’t work if it were just a guy in a mask. We explored a lot of different looks, from purely practical to entirely CG. Some of the early tests came out really frightening and ridiculous, real nightmare stuff, but that helped steer us towards where we needed to be. Finally we settled on a methodology that worked well, a custom-built practical makeup rig enhanced with CG cloud wisps. The downside was that the actor had to sit through two hours of makeup every day.
Creative Director Ty Bardi directed his own script and oversaw animation and post-production. The films were shot in two days in two locations, one of which was a former 19th-century convent-turned-Catholic school. “It looked like Dumbledore from Harry Potter,” Bardi said. “We were scouting locations and I knew immediately that this was the place. I even rewrote the script a little to take advantage of the location. I wanted the characters to interact with this space, not just have it be a pretty setting in the background. Once it was shot, the team was in a race to the finish line with only about two weeks to complete animation and post -production. ” That’s the double-edged sword with live events. The deadline can’t move no matter what, which is good or bad, depending on the situation. There were some late nights and a lot of dinners at the desk, but it became a real labor of love working on something this cool.”
As scheduled, the final elements were delivered in time for the live event load-in and the web content was uploaded, and then we all went out for pancakes.
The films were hugely successful, generating an enormous amount of buzz for VMware and the VMworld conference. As we got closer to the big day, VMware realized they had their hands on a great piece of creative and decided to work the characters into the design of the entire conference. The apps were made into life-size mascots which wandered around the the show floor and appeared on stage during the keynote. Nigel McCloud was given his own twitter feed which continues to tweet relevant info and snarky comments in his voice. And in article after article, the tech press called out these films as one of the big highlights of VMworld 2015.