Directors Murray Butler and David Mellor of Framestore Pictures have unearthed the humour in VR for the latest Chick-Fil-A ad campaign, ‘Cowz VR.’ The duo co-directed three TV spots and a VR experience featuring Chick-Fil-A’s iconic brand mascots, the Cowz, and their message to ‘Eat Mor Chikin.’ The campaign was concepted with ad agency McCann New York, and sees the Cowz attempting to latch onto the current industry buzz of VR and capitalise on it to promote their agenda.
“This medium is taken oh-so-seriously. There's a lot of hype and bluster around it, so to turn that on its head and do something completely irreverent was refreshing.”Murray Butler - Director, Framestore Pictures
As virtual reality reaches a zenith in popular culture, the Chick-Fil-A campaign works to poke fun at the hype using various tropes on VR and physical comedy gags. The TV ads suggest there is something inherently undignified, even perhaps a little ridiculous, about people standing around in headsets. These are purely visual gags that work very quickly, and have that right brand of humor—it’s about unconscious gestures that go wrong, so performance and body language is critical. Butler and Mellor liked the idea these have a believable side to them—that they have just put them on at the wrong time and become engrossed.
The first ad 'Pasture' was helped by some unexpected performances from the cows themselves. The cows could see out of giant headsets specifically 3D printed to fit their heads so as they looked around it appears they are enjoying their own VR experience.
"Working with the cows was a pleasure. Such gentle giants. Their performance was stellar, especially as I'd never considered a cow could be trained to drop a VR headset on command."David Mellor - Director, Framestore Pictures
The second ad ‘The Delivery’ features The Starting Line’s hit single ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.’ The spot opens with exchanges between the Cowz and unwitting humans: slightly awkward situations, with ample humour and unexpected warmth.
The third ad shows a split-screen view of the user’s experience in-set and their unwitting physical reactions.
The Cowz have discovered 360 stock footage. In an attempt to capitalize on the recent interest in VR they have cobbled together their own “VR experience” using whatever stock footage they can lay their hooves on.
We use ambisonic audio to create the illusion of direction. It’s an immersive soundscape for the random “moos” that you hear whooshing around you. As the 360 YouTube experience progresses the scenarios the Cowz insert themselves in become more extreme such as skydiving, race car driving, hot air ballooning and skiing all while wearing signs to ‘Eat Mor Chikin.’
It could be their slightly low budget technology for creating the experience, the decision making in how to send the message or simply the edit points that push the current ‘rules’ of VR to their limits. Perhaps it’s actually pure genius, that kind of unknown stumbled upon childlike genius.
“It became a bit of a ‘Where's Waldo’ gag where we find ever more silly and outlandish ways to get these cows spreading the message.”Murray Butler - Director, Framestore Pictures
Butler and Murray have previously co-directed, on the award-winning TV commercial ‘Coming Soon’ for Qualcomm’s launch of its Snapdragon processor. The film was awarded a Clio Award, an AEAF Award and reached two shortlists at Cannes Lion, including Best Direction. Murray also runs the creative helm of Framestore’s New York office as Executive Creative Director, and Mellor as the office’s Creative Director.
“The animation team gave us great performances from these cows. They sold they physics of where the cows were be it a convincing swim cycle or the way the cows wobbled under wind resistance whilst free falling.”Murray Butler - Director, Framestore Pictures
Production and VFX
Framestore Pictures supported all elements of production and post-production across the TV and VR campaign. Using an Odyssey 360 camera the team shot the fields of cows to bookend the stock footage of the VR experience. Cows were modeled in CG and placed over the live-action stock footage. Animation support came through Framestore’s base in London, with the New York team carrying out extensive user experience design and testing, tilting, tracking and compositing of CG and live-action assets. Colour grade finish was provided by Framestore’s Senior Colourist Beau Leon out of the Framestore LA office.
"We've both directed live action VR for great, more serious, experiences. But in this instance the opportunity to poke fun at the ridiculousness of watching a person in a VR headset, something we see everyday at the studio, couldn't be passed up!"David Mellor - Director, Framestore Pictures