The sixth season of “American Horror Story” debuts on Sept. 14, but FX has kept the storyline so deeply under wraps that the team marketing the show had to devise a fan experience that would excite returning devotes and lure new viewers even as it remained spoiler-free.
FX Networks VP of integrated promotions Kenya Hardaway told outside producers to focus their promo pitches on a work of virtual reality. And after reviewing many bids, she decided to go with a concept presented by Swedish-American design firm North Kingdom that featured scenes inducing vertigo and claustrophobia, and included masked faces along with characters from the show’s past.
“They understood the spirit of what we were looking for,” she says.
The VR event had its premiere run at Comic-Con in July, where FX constructed an immersive experience for fans inside a dark, ominous-looking silo. Unlike most virtual reality rides, which are a solitary experience, this one was communal, accommodating several viewers simultaneously.
“We were able to build [in] connectivity,” says North Kingdom executive creative director Daniel Ilic.
|“In general, VR is an individual experience, but we were able to build [in] connectivity.”|
|North Kingdom’s Daniel Ilic|
The Comic-Con room included five black “beds” arranged in the shape of a pentagon. Each participant was asked to lie down, and hospital sheets were placed over their bodies, masking identifiable features. The prone adventurers wore VR headsets that received signals from hidden computers, transporting them into a terrifying, immersive five-minute-long horror show — a journey that took them among some of the series’ creepiest characters and scariest moments.
To create those moments, Ilic and his team opted for a photo-realistic presentation, instead of using live-action images; elements of the show’s production design, such as a medical laboratory or hotel corridor, were integrated into CG settings. For the introduction of such icons as Twisty the Clown and the nun from “Coven,” actors were dressed in the authentic costumes of those characters and captured in a full 3D scan. Those scans were then converted into models and animated.
During the testing phase, Ilic and his team tracked subjects as they interacted with the CG environment, allowing those controlling the experience to make real-time adjustments to everything from color palette to visual cues in order to direct viewers’ attention to key focal points. They relied on common phobias to trick participants into feeling such sensations “as heat and vertigo.
“That’s the beauty of VR,” says Ilic. “Everything takes place in the mind.”