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Responses by Michael Brechtel, managing partner, Berlin Communications; David Landreth, creative director, Berlin Communications; Matt Janzen, digital producer and design director, Overhaul Media; and Vincent Smuda, lead developer, Overhaul Media.

Background: “The site is part of a larger, ongoing campaign to educate Albertans on our sustainable forest management practices and help them learn more about the forests and the people responsible for their stewardship,” says Michael Brechtel. “When COVID hit, it was clear that we wouldn’t be doing our normal in-person community engagement tour around the province. When we considered how else we could engage folks, this project emerged quickly as a great option. The site enables us to provide resources, education and give Albertans a new way to spend time in the forest—with a remarkable tour guide, Nathan Fillion.”

Design core: “The site’s core features are the full-screen, 360-degree video and the audio narration,” says David Landreth. “The UI’s minimalist design aesthetic is intended to feel like a head-up display for a first-person video game, so the UI is functional and maximizes the user’s viewing area.”

Favorite details: “Driven by Nathan’s great voice work and our scripting of a persona for him, the experience enables the tour to flow, letting the user focus on the content and not on how to move from one screen to the next.,” says Brechtel. “The interface is smooth enough that it gets out of the way of the information and delivery.”

“I like that we use descending drone footage for the loading screens,” says Landreth. “It primes the user for the immersive experience and makes the [short] load time useful.”

Challenges: “Streaming the high-quality video footage,” says Landreth. “It never looked as good as we intended, so we tried multiple solutions in development to improve its quality. We learned later that the issue wasn’t the technology but the source video capture: we recorded at 4K but hadn’t considered what happens to the resolution when the software wraps the video into 360 degrees, so we ended up with standard HD quality.”

Time constraints: “We began concepting in June intending to launch a digital product in just four months,” says Landreth. “There were other, even more interactive concepts that couldn’t be [completed] within the time constraints. Second, once we learned of the issue with the video capture, we did not have time to reshoot it. By then, it was also the wrong time of year to get pretty shots of the forest.”

Divergent paths: “The biggest thing I would do differently is capture the footage at a lot higher resolution than 4K,” Landreth says. “Also, I would have captured alternate pathways so that the experience was less of a railroad adventure and more of a choose your own adventure.”

“[I would] give users more control over the resolution with an HD/SD toggle,” says Matt Janzen, “[and] make a 3-D topographic map of Alberta to use on the main screen that would show more information to the user—and just be more visually interesting.”

New lessons: “It is safe to say that agencies in Edmonton never cast A-list talent,” says Landreth. “I was determined to make that happen on this project because we knew it was necessary to make this sometimes complex content as attractive as possible. Since no one had any experience casting talent from Hollywood, I did a lot of research and interviewed a few talent agents and casting directors outside our market before I ever picked up the phone to call Beverly Hills. By the time I did call one major talent agency, we were prepared and appeared as seasoned pros.”

“We learned about 360-degree video res,” says Janzen. “It’s not as simple as one would think. Also, we learned a lot about our beautiful Alberta forests and forest management.”

Special navigation features: “The Easter egg/bonus location was a cool feature,” says Janzen. “The captions being displayed in real time as the user progresses through made it much more accessible and engaging. Also, we think the initial map is a special piece that sets the stage for the experience while educating the user.”

Technology: “A statically generated single-page application was created using Nuxt.js as the framework, and Video.js and three.js help with the 360-degree videos,” says Vincent Smuda. “A dynamic audio switcher allows us to switch between different audio sources during various scenarios, whether it be within the menu’s forest selection, paused within a walking video or exploring the map.”


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