Director Mark Kudsi’s work on The Art of Patrón Virtual Reality Experience, via production company White Label S/R Product and agency Firstborn, involves a blend of virtual reality technology, drone filming and photoreal CG designed to transport participants to Patron’s hacienda and experience its handcrafted process as guided by the brand’s “Bee.”
The virtual reality experience is a centerpiece of Art of Patrón events being held around the country. An interactive, 360-degree web version can be viewed here.
When did you get involved with the project?
Firstborn approached me to collaborate on the project early in the process of production. We traveled to the Hacienda Patrón distillery in Jalisco, Mexico, and investigated elements we could bring to the screen that would dramatically and authentically translate the Patrón bespoke process. There’s no roadmap for this kind of work — not yet — so we conducted four weeks of R&D, testing and previs to develop the methodology to bring this world to life. Nothing had been done exactly like this before so the investigative phase was vital.
What was particularly exciting for me was pushing into this new technology because it serves this story. It transports, entertains and provides a deeper understanding of the art and craft of Patrón. It’s a window to a world people wouldn’t otherwise experience.
What were some of the steps involved in the production?
One of the first things we needed to do was to further develop the story and plan how we would connect all the different processes of the production of tequila. Once we traveled to the hacienda, took a tour and tasted for ourselves, I was able to propose some ideas of how we would seamlessly connect the parts together.
We then boarded out all the shots, put together a comprehensive previs in a 3D 360-degree VR space, so we could meticulously plan out the shots and transitions. Simultaneously the team went to work on the camera system, developing rigs for the shots, which specifically included outfitting an aerial drone as well as a land drone.
There were also many technical and logistic hurtles to plan for since the camera rig comprised seven cameras that filmed 360 degrees. To name a few, we needed to figure out how to light scenes, direct talent and to view what the camera was recording, all without being seen in the frame.
Some of the tour was impossible to film — how was CGI used here?
Photoreal CGI was crafted and integrated by the teams at Firstborn and Legend 3D to create smooth transitions, which can otherwise be jarring in virtual space, and to take the viewers through areas the camera could not travel, like through a keyhole.
So Firstborn is an agency and they have in-house digital artists?
Yes, it is a unique situation — and a new experience for me — but one that worked seamlessly. The communication between the creatives and technical teams was in realtime, which made it possible to problem-solve any and all of the issues that had come up on the shoot and though post. Since we were pushing the existing technology, and going into uncharted areas of production, it was imperative that we all worked together.
How did Legend 3D become involved on the project? Have you worked with them before?
I had not worked with them in the past as a company, but I had worked with Jared Sandrew, the chief creative officer, during my post days. I have always wanted to reconnect with Jared and his team at Legend 3D, and for this one the stars lined up.
Coincidentally, before I was approached by Firstborn, Jared had talked to me about the work he was doing in the VR space and was excited about how his team at Legend was ushering in a new approach on how to tackle some of the challenges of shooting and posting for the 3D 360-degree virtual space. I made him and his team part of my pitch to the team at Firstborn, and it made sense for us to collaborate together since there was no roadmap for what we were trying to achieve. Legend’s Matt Ackey and Justin Denton worked on the project’s stereo conversion.
Any advice you’d give to people who want to create an immersive experience like this one?
This area is so new… it is like the Wild West out there, so I would say plan as much as possible. There will always be challenges that pop up on any project, but for this type of experience, the problems are exponentially more difficult to solve for. The best thing to do is to R&D and, probably more important, surround yourself with as many talented, problem-solving, positive people — like I was fortunate enough to do — to help you achieve something special.
Your work often blends live-action directing and design — what are some other projects you’ve directed that people will recognize?
I began as a designer and was one of the original creatives at Motion Theory. I have had the good fortune to work with a wide variety of executional styles for different types of brands and artists. My goal is to find ways to communicate human stories so the approach is a driver of story rather than just spectacle — though that can be fun too. Some of my past projects include the Apple iMac with Retina display, Fiat’s North American launch and the launch of Nintendo’s Wii U gaming console. On the music video side, I designed and directed The Black Eyed Peas’ Boom Boom Pow and Katy Perry’s Roar.
How important is it for today’s creatives to be able to work in various mediums?
The traditional form of the way people consume media is changing, and so are the mediums. For this reason, it is important to stay on top of technology and how to create content that can reach your audience in an effective way. I think it is important to remember these are all tools, so the great thing is that the same principles apply to telling great stories and taking people on memorable experiences. The key is to understand how to use these tools to your advantage and help them elevate the story you are trying to tell.