Seeing Green in Green-screen Concepts
Center of Attention
Vanessa Holderness knows one thing for sure about people: Deep down, they love being the center of attention. Turning that knowledge into a retail store, last November Holderness launched Sleigh Ride, a holiday inline that gave shoppers the chance to use green-screen technology to play Santa Claus, in their own unique ways, by going on virtual sleigh rides.
Shoppers in the Myrtle Beach Mall in Myrtle Beach, SC were only too eager to hold the reigns of a virtual sleigh, Holderness says. “People really took to it,” she says. “They’d never seen anything like it. They’d never had the opportunity to be in a movie.”
At the store, prominent signage told shoppers they were invited to sample a virtual sleigh ride for free. Holderness then gave riders tips on how to ham it up a bit by waving to imaginary crowds below or pretending they’re flying by the North Pole where virtual elves toss them more presents. (Props were carefully thrown to riders at key intervals to match up with scenes in the virtual movie.) Before long, customers were laughing and relaxed, mugging for the camera.
Riders then got to see their final movie in all it’s glory-starring them flying Santa’s sleigh, surrounded by virtual animated elves and children, swooping into the streets below to bestow gifts on one and all.
The laughter was usually contagious and the sale of the take-home DVD wasn’t far behind.
The store was a definite mood-lifter for shoppers, Holderness says. After the experience of flying a virtual sleigh, “Everyone leaves laughing. People think it’s hysterical to see themselves in a movie.”
Shoppers “loved the Sleigh Ride concept,” agrees Kim Dayvault, the mall’s specialty leasing manager. “It sells itself after you watch how much fun it is to make one.” The concept also gave the mall a boost, adding “an additional form of entertainment for our customers. It just gives them one more reason to visit Myrtle Beach Mall.”
She would “absolutely” want to see more green-screen entertainment options for shoppers, seasonal or year-round. “Being a tourist destination, we see visitors 365 days a year, not just during the summer months,” Dayvault says, adding that the concept is also very appealing to locals. “We strive to make the shopping experience memorable for all of our customers, local and visiting.” Making your own movie playing Santa during the holidays and taking home the DVD to show to friends and family definitely fits into the memorable-experience category for Dayvault and Holderness. And they’re not alone.
Make it personal
Headquartered in Nova, OH, My Very Own Adventure creates short adventure-themed cartoons that allow kids to become part of the action, doing everything from fearlessly fighting a cartoon ninja cat to valiantly saving the earth from marauding alien invaders.
The company has eight cartoon adventures from which wannabe stars can choose. One that appeals to boys includes fast cars and a racing theme, while another for girls features fairy warriors. For younger children, the adventure involves a friendly dragon and a helpful dog. Birthday themes are also available for that one-of-a-kind birthday keepsake.
A freestanding kiosk that matches the fantasy feel of the videos serves as the studio. Castle-themed kiosks are located in family fun centers in Vancouver, Phoenix and Delphos, OH, with another set to open soon in Conyers, GA.
Rob Robertson, vice president of marketing and technology, says MVOA’s expansion plans go well beyond fun centers, although they are natural locations for the concept since the target customers are already there en masse. But the company also hopes to expand the concept to malls and other high-traffic retail venues where families gather. They’re in the process of scouting locations and developing new content designed for teens and adults. Robertson says that the concept behind the green-screen video product is a strong one for the mall market on several levels.
“Personalization is big across the board, no matter what the product,” he says. “But My Very Own Adventure takes it one step further. You are the star of your own cartoon. There have been other concepts like this on the market: You can get a still shot of yourself with Elvis in Vegas or you can have your head dancing around the screen. But we wanted to find a way to do this so that you would have the entire person in the screen.
“The kids are so excited that they are on a DVD, they like to watch themselves over and over again,” he says. “We did testing and found out that the kids watch it an average of seven times that first day they get it home. It’s cool to be part of a cartoon. I think it hits the kid in all of us.”
Make ’em laugh
Chris Hampton is thrilled that so many people want to act goofy, even among strangers. Consumers’ desire to lighten up and laugh has propelled his business, Chattanooga, TN-based Surprise Movie, to grow significantly over the last few years. He has two green-screen concepts, Boogie Heads and Magic Carpet Ride. The Magic Carpet Ride is similar to the Sleigh Ride concept, except that customers ride a magic carpet instead of a sleigh.
In fact, before opening the virtual Sleigh Ride, Holderness ran a Magic Carpet Ride business in Myrtle Beach, which allowed customers to ride a virtual flying carpet past well-known beach attractions. The concept was a hit with tourists who wanted to take home a unique souvenir, and locals enjoyed it, too, for the pure-fun element. Holderness worked again with Surprise Movie on the Sleigh Ride concept.
Boogie Heads is a bit different, though. It allows customers to see their own heads superimposed on the body of an animated person dancing in a music video, to create a decidedly goofy custom DVD. Often called “karaoke on steroids,” the concept gives customers the chance to choose from 106 music videos and about 40 popular songs.
“It’s funny stuff,” Hampton says. “People take to it no matter who they are. Old, young, it doesn’t matter. For any demographic, you can bowl them over with this.”
With technology improving every day, more unique green-screen concepts are on the way. Boogie Heads recently starting giving its retailers a Flying Superhero video add-on they can use to transform kids (or adults) into the flying superheroes they always dreamed of being. Testing so far indicates the concept has a lot of potential.
“We’ve had it out for a few months and the feedback is great,” Hampton says. “Kids love it.”
Hampton sells the necessary green-screen equipment to independent entrepreneurs who set up at malls, resorts and other high-traffic retail venues or use it for their own private party, entertainment or photography/video businesses. The full setup costs $15,000 to $18,000, which includes monitors, lights, screens, stools and other items that can be set up as a freestanding kiosk or in an inline space. So far, Boogie Heads locations are in six malls.
Tim Frechette, owner of Downeast Digital Cinema, based in Biddeford, ME, launched a Boogie Heads Maine inline last November and ran it through the holidays in The Maine Mall in South Portland. A photographer and videographer by trade, the store was a way to generate additional revenues and possibly generate some future business for Downeast.
He says he wanted a mall location to “garner a large audience over a very short period of time. We knew the future outlook for the ’08 shopping season was projected to be difficult, but we knew we could bring something positive with a touch of Las Vegas and New York all rolled into one.”
Kids loved the store so much they wouldn’t hesitate to walk right in and bring their parents or friends along. “They would often come back two or three times over a two-week period,” Frechette says. He would chat with the adults who liked to watch the kids “boogie.” After a while, the adults wanted in. “Then they often ended up spending additional time recording three or sometimes four songs.”
On other occasions, mom and dad would be shopping with the kids, only to have one of the parents peel off from the group and show up at Boogie Heads Maine to secretly record their video as a family gift. “It was a great way for them to create a unique gift in a very easy fashion due to our location in the mall.”
Across the board, “the response was overwhelmingly positive,” he says. Customers told him their Boogie Heads DVD would be “the best present under the tree” or was the “the best money I spent” on holiday gifts.
“We believe our idea was so unique that people felt compelled to spend additional money on Boogie Heads Maine because it was something no one else had,” he says. Mall management “played a big part in our success. They were very, very good to work with because they saw a totally new and unique gift-giving idea.”
The store also held private parties and team-building exercises for local companies. The events “were a great success and we found ourselves having to balance the walk-in traffic with rented blocks of time,” Frechette says. “Our customers have been sold on Boogie Heads Maine and have been a great referral source.” Depending on space availability and other considerations, he hopes to open again for the coming
Make it at the mall
“Malls that get a lot of one-time tourist visitors are a great choice” for green-screen concepts, Hampton of Boogie Heads says. “People go to malls not just to shop for things, but to have a good time, to have an entertainment experience. Some people are more practical. They’re at the mall to buy jeans, get their makeup and leave. But other people are there to have a thrill. They’re looking for things that are fun.”
Holderness adds that “People watch TV and movies all the time, but they don’t know how it works. They got a little of that in our [Sleigh Ride] store. We got nothing but good feedback.” Her product is so flexible that there are any number of holiday- or non-holiday-themed concepts she could pursue for 2009. Virtual motorcycle or surfboard rides are two considerations. Her goal is to open a new virtual ride in Myrtle Beach Mall in ’09, then perhaps expand other malls.
Today’s green-screen technology has given entrepreneurs the boost they needed to apply it to a mass audience for customization, Hampton says. The green-screen products of 2009 are far more polished than were their prior incarnations.
“Green screen has been around a long time, but the technology behind it is really coming along now,” he says. “With smaller, lighter and more mobile equipment, you can really do a lot with this” in the retail sector. Companies like his have spent years refining their products. “You’ve seen it become a turnkey business for a lot of entrepreneurs and entertainers.”
That’s a trend he expects to continue as green screen technology, retail entrepreneurs and malls evolve to offer shoppers entertaining ways to make their own memories at the mall.
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Green Screen On the Horizon
Enterprising retail entrepreneurs always want to know what’s on the horizon. Here are a few green-screen-type products that might pique your interest and generate ideas for a new retail venture in 2009.
4 At the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show in January, Yoostar announced a new agreement with the NBA to include game footage from all NBA teams for use in The Yoostar System available late spring 2009 ($149.95 MSRP). The system will include “all the tools to turn a home or office into a broadcast studio” so users can replace NBA play-by-play announcers and analysts with their own images to give the game commentary they always dreamed of delivering. Fans can also take their turn as NBA Commissioner, announcing the top picks in the NBA draft, and share their videos with others online. The company also has a host of non-sports products, including clips from hundreds of movies into which users can insert themselves (including “The Godfather,” for an offer you can’t refuse).
Also announced at CES, some of Casio’s newest Exilim cameras due out in the spring will have advanced “Dynamic Photo” functionality that “allows the photographer to cut out the main subject of interest in an image that has just been captured and combine it with another image to form the background.” Users can also cut and paste several rapid-succession images to create a moving subject on a still background.
“This function makes it easy for users to create composite scenes from an image juxtaposition that exists only in virtual reality.‚Ä¶[for] whole new avenues of enjoyment that go far beyond mere picture-taking, delivering greater creative and viewing pleasure.”
Inspiration can also be found in past projects. In 2007, holiday shoppers at The Mall at Short Hills in Short Hills, NJ were able to visit the North Pole, at least in the virtual sense, at the Fred Claus Interactive Snow Globe Exhibit (part of the Fred Claus movie released for the 2007 holidays). Part of the exhibit was a walk-through 28-foot holiday tree where guests were “transported into Santa’s workshop” via green-screen to have their pictures taken with Fred Claus characters (along with the traditional visit and lap-top photo with the jolly man dressed in red). The movie’s release over the holiday season gave the mall a one-time chance to showcase the Fred Claus exhibit, but our guess is that you’ll see more of these types of uses going forward as the technology becomes more access-ible to retail entrepreneurs and malls explore new ways to wow shoppers.
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