The descent into rehab and back again sets the scene for an interactive 3D website in support of US rapper Eminem’s first album release in over four years.
Eminem has a global presence that generates huge media coverage around his life and performances – and his autobiographical style of music sees him draw on the darker elements of his life.
His first album in over four years, Relapse, sees Eminem tackle the impact of addiction on his life, and it needed a suitably dark interactive website to integrate into the promotional campaign.
The result, created by US creative and entertainment agency Omelet, is an experimental campaign that was developed and produced by Omelet, in collaboration with Eminem’s key team: his long-time manager Paul Rosenberg at Goliath Artists, Eminem’s marketing director Chris Clancy, Interscope records, and Robot Films’ directing collective Syndrome.
Initially called Popsomp Hills ( www.popsomphills.com), the campaign revolved around a faux-corporate website for a rehab centre.
This then transformed into a 3D, video-game-like website called The Relapse (www.therelapse.com) when the album was launched.
Other supporting material included banner ads promoting Popsomp Hills and Relapse, pill bottles distributed on the streets of major target cities, and even integration of aspects of the project into Eminem’s critically acclaimed 3 a.m. music video, directed by Syndrome.
“With collaboration from our client, we developed a story which included the Popsomp Hills Rehabilitation Center, an eerie web-based alternative reality experience that allowed fans to explore the twisted mind of Eminem by visiting the rehab facility he had been admitted to only a few days prior, enabling them to explore different rooms and find hidden objects to attempt to discover what happened,” says Shervin Samari, partner at Omelet.
The site uses fully interactive 3D environments, along with interactive 3D objects that can be stored and used in different locations in the virtual rehab centre.
Video of Eminem’s songs, as well as site-specific video, are also included, helping forge the backstory to the site. The biggest challenge was a lack of readily usable assets, and a tight timeframe, says Samari.
“Not having time to find and shoot an eerie rehab facility, we decided to create a virtual version of it in 3D. This gave us licence to create the exact look we wanted, but also posed its own problems.
"3D websites have been done very well in the past, but not with the level of richness and detail that we were going after, and not without sacrificing performance.”
Taking initial inspiration from a site for German artists KIZ (www.kiz-neuruppin.de), the team created the site concept and design created by hand.
The team also used Cinema 4D and BodyPaint 3D for 3D modelling work, and Flash CS4 for animation, along with Away 3D resources – Away 3D is an open source 3D engine for Flash. The team also used After Effects CS4 for creating video effects for Flash, and Soundbooth CS4 for audio editing.
Getting the look
The team set up a fairly tight pipeline for creating the 3D room environments, illustrating each environment by hand, and creating the basic room shape in 3D using Cinema 4D.
They exported this room model into 2D texture maps and pulled it into Photoshop, where they heavily modified the textures to create the illusion of bumps and imperfections.
An interactive 3D site posed some thorny production and performance challenges for Omelet – they found part of the solution in Away 3D.
“The Away 3D engine allows for some animated textures, but the more animation is added, the more the users’ processor is taxed, and the experience is degraded,” reveals Samari.
“To include video we created 10-frame animations in the 3D environment and, when the user clicks on a video element, we essentially switch to a 2D image that loads in a video file,” he continues.
To maintain the illusion of 3D, we warped the video plane to match the perspective of the surrounding television screen that the video is playing on.”
With local client performance nailed, bandwidth was the other bottleneck, and it came down to version 10 of the Flash plug-in to provide a solution, offering performance hikes when rendering 3D geometry and textures.
“Had it not been for these improvements, we would not have been able to achieve the performance levels on the site,” admits Samari.
“Also, things like the transparent windows in the lobby would have been impossible. One thing that helped keep files sizes down was that since we re-purposed the basic geometry for each of the four rooms, all we had to do was load new textures each time the user entered a new room, which allowed us to use richer, more detailed texture maps.”
Omelet also needed to deploy tricks to handle inventory items, and to sidestep loading-screen issues.
For inventory items, such as a dismembered finger needed for a fingerprint scanner, the finger object was created in Photoshop, exported as a PNG file into Flash, and then used as the cursor – automatically carrying the finger around across multiple scenes.
To mask any downloading, the team used transitions. “We needed a transition that worked as a distraction while the different elements of the site were loading as well as created the illusion of the user walking down a hallway from room to room,” says Samari.
“So, we combined the two items into one by creating the hallway. The lighting effect in the hallway was achieved by placing a feathered mask on top of the 3D geometry to create the illusion of a dimly lit hallway.
"We also added a scratched film grain texture on top of the whole site to roughen the look.”
The entire project took two and a half months, and a team of seven to complete. Omelet reckons the result has been a great success in terms of consumer buzz, site traffic, mobile opt-ins and – the most important metric – album sales.
“It’s a groundbreaking way to launch an album,” says Samari. “A fully integrated campaign where every touch-point tells a different part of the same story, and uses every medium for what it’s best suited for. The website has received tons of buzz and accolades for its immersiveness and innovative approach to 3D development in Flash.”
The site presents visitors with a rehab centre that Eminem has just been admitted to, and invites them to explore the centre to find out why the star is there.
To get the gloomy textures for the rooms right, the Omelet team used textures created from photos of realworld textures, which they then digitally painted over.
Project: Integrated campaign for Eminem’s The Relapse, including 3D website www.therelapse.com.
Client: Goliath Artist, Interscope Records
Studio: Omelet LA www.omeletla.com
Software: Adobe Flash CS4, Adobe Photoshop CS4, Adobe Soundbooth CS4, Adobe After Effects CS4, Maxon Cinema 4D, Away 3D