Wheelhouse Media wants to amp up a new indie-rock project and convert it into a growing virtual-reality portfolio. Starting now.
The Charlotte creative firm teamed up with California rockers Saint Motel on what they — and trade publication Billboard— have dubbed the first virtual reality album. Wheelhouse created an initial virtual reality video for Saint Motel that debuted on YouTube as part of SXSW (the name of the multimedia hipster festival in Austin) earlier this year. It was so well-received that the band asked for more virtual reality clips, with a new one being released every couple of weeks.
On June 28, the last of the album’s 10 virtual reality videos will be released (they can also be watched online, though the effect isn’t the same) and a Saint Motel app will be offered the same day with all of the content and songs available to fans for free.
The immersive videos feature performance clips, graphics, lyrics and all manner of Easter eggs for fans. Wheelhouse landed the gig, in part, because of a personal connection: Saint Motel’s manager, Hampton Howerton, grew up with Wheelhouse CEO Parker Williams in Greensboro. That helped with the first virtual reality clip, but the reaction from viewers and the band led to the decision to have Wheelhouse complete the album with accompanying videos.
AJ Jackson, Saint Motel’s singer, told CBJ that the Charlotte firm hit the right mix of illustrating the songs and providing extras without going overboard.
“A lot of virtual reality, there is too much going on,” he said. “Ours are not too overly ambitious. They’re basic, they’re not trying to be a roller-coaster. And you use your imagination. We like the idea of a consistent art form and we hope people keep exploring this.”
Williams and some of his partners — co-founder John Allred, business development chief Adam Colborne and 360 lead animator Dave Mason — discussed their push into virtual reality during a recent interview at Wheelhouse’s offices on Cedar Street, near Bank of America Stadium.
Investments in tech hardware last year to make VR production more feasible and several years’ worth of research with Silicon Valley firms helped Wheelhouse get a better sense of how to enter the crowded, confusing world of virtual reality. And, while the firm hopes to make it an increasingly significant part of its business, Williams and his partners remain committed to a range of digital and film creative work with clients including Bank of America, Belk and Bojangles’. (All of their clients do not have company names starting with a “B,” which is why Duke Energy and Ashley Furniture should be mentioned here.)
VR and 3-D imagery can work for brands as well as music videos, Wheelhouse principals believe. A recent demonstration for the Charlotte Hornets garnered positive reviews from the NBA team’s marketing executives and is likely to lead to future projects.
This year, Wheelhouse took on its first assignments with the Hornets, creating three graphics and animations packages used in what the team calls “takeover moments,” times when the main scoreboard, companion video screens in the four corners of the building and wraparound graphics screens along the seating bowls all pop with the same images.
“We’re competing against the second screen” for fans’ attention, Hornets senior vice president of marketing, entertainment and media Seth Bennett told me. “You’ve got to be able to introduce new bells and whistles. We’re pleased with the collaboration, it’s a very good fit in terms of culture.”
Williams and Colborne showed off 3-D programs that could be used by the Hornets in future years, including fan competitions using simulated graphics for on-court contests that also could promote corporate sponsors. It’s likely those types of campaigns will be unveiled as part of an expanded relationship expected to coincide with Charlotte hosting the 2019 NBA All-Star Game.
Wheelhouse hopes to land more sports clients as word gets around about the Hornets partnership. Nibbles have come from the NHL Carolina Hurricanes and the NBA Philadelphia 76ers in recent months, though neither franchise has yet hired the Charlotte firm.
Of VR and 3-D, Williams told CBJ, “We’re having to invest our own money. We wanted to figure this out on our own.”
With the Saint Motel and Hornets projects, the firm hopes to convince prospective clients that they don’t need to go to New York, Los Angeles or Silicon Valley for that kind of expertise. Then again, they may let New York slide, since the company opened a two-person satellite office there last year. Headquarters remains in Charlotte, where there are 14 employees, including the co-founders, Williams and Allred.
Wheelhouse has also worked with local ad agency BooneOakley on a number of projects, including campaigns for locally based fast-food chain Bojangles’.
VIA CHARLOTTE BUSINESS JOURNAL