CALL in a FLYOVER
USAA's ultimate solute to the the Armed Forces
Call in your own at USAAFlyover.com
The tradition and grandeur of a stadium Flyover following the Nation Anthem is an American tradition and a legendary solute to service.
USAA wanted to bring something epic and innovative to their customers, and the entire armed forces, for their 2017 football season partnership.
When I was brought onto the project, the Sapient Razorfish USAA creative team had sold through a simple site experience: users could enter their own address, or nominate someone who's served to do so, and receive a virtual 'flyover', where aircraft fly at low altitude, typically over a stadium, in tight formation, at their address using Google Streetview. While this concept was, in itself, innovative and affecting, I wanted to help grow the experience to something more dramatic, grounded, and cinematic that would drive desire to share socially.
Charged with bidding out the project on a tight turnaround and hiring a top level, integrated production vendor for the lion's share of the work, I augmented the original pitch deck to contain:
- A Basic UX
- A Prelim Site Flow
- Style Frames
- Mood Boards
- A Custom Mood Video Edit
- A Prelim Script for Final Deliverable
In this new content I was given room to conceive and add the entire up-front filmic element, a dynamic voice element, and the addition of a Google Earth scene, as I laid out the breadth and effort of the execution.
"This is by far the largest budget we've ever had for a digital production in the history of USAA."
- Client Partner at USAA
The account ACD and I presented this new approach and were able to sell through the broader, much more ambitious vision, resulting in Flyover eliciting the largest single budget for a digital execution that USAA, a legacy, Fortune 500 company, had ever invested.
We engaged Tool of North America as our production partner and I was retained as the Motion Director on the project filling out a 3 person agency team with an ACD and Project Manager on the SRF side.
After leading the script revisions, storyboarding, logistics, and casting- negotiating the needs of both a layered client approval process and a meticulous production house- we scouted locations remotely with director Alec Helm and located a retired F-15 fighter jet that became the visual focal point of the video and eventually the entire experience. The client's uncompromising push for authenticity drove our decision to cast all retired military pilots, with a Top Gun graduate as our lead (all USAA members), and utilize a series of pre-pro and on site military consultants who helped us pick apart every detail of our script, wardrobe, props, aircraft, sets, and even the principal pilot's right-level-of-cocky-fighter-pilot-saunter, right down to wrap.
The shoot, on location in Chino, CA, took place on the tarmac of an active airfield to captured the kinetic energy and visceral anticipation needed to inject the experience with the excitement and emotional weight it needed.
Parallel to a dev team racing an aggressive delivery date, I oversaw the initial edit before moving on to the intensive, truncated post process. Working closely with LA's Shed, almost every shot required cinema quality CG and VFX work. Tasks like removing background elements, making worn military equipment look new, adding 3D fighter jets to some scenes, and manufacturing other scenes from the ground up had to take place in line with curve-balls and edit tweaks trickling in from the large review team. Woven into this process was the audio work cycle, composing the score to iterative changes before final sound design, VO sessions, and mix.
I managed the entire process from a creatively critical standpoint, providing visual direction, references, animatics, and countless rounds of notes and revisions as we crafted the story and finessed the visuals and audio to optimal form. During this process I liaised between Tool, agency producers, and various levels of USAA clients, managing information flow, presenting work iteratively to our client partners and distilling their feedback into the process digestibly for the creatives.
Call in a Flyover launched in late 2017 to praise across press and social media. Offered up to the wide USAA community through direct e-mail before wider distribution, an extensive media campaign followed driving over 700k visitors to the site in the first week alone and generating tribute videos for tens of thousands of the military members it was made for.
This project was one of the most complex and demanding I've ever had the honor of working on, and I hope it brings joy to some of the men and women who deserve it the most.
But, the filmic aspect of this project is only the stage set for the real player: never before seen innovation. The video post ran in tandem to the site experience and the programatic elements, all of which had to be R&D'd on a parallel path for integration near the end of the project, and one of which didn't make it to the final product.
- The original concept called for a generative voice technology that would speak the name of the nominee seamlessly in the VO. To do this, a proprietary software was designed to record a set of hundreds of syllables with our lead voice actor that could be pieced together to make any name a suer might enter. Unfortunately, after months of diligent work and testing, the feature was scrapped because it just wasn't quite seamless enough to not take the viewer out of the experience.
- One of the generative vignettes, a birds eye view of the F-15's flyover over the user's city, posed a few hurdles. Integrating alpha channel animation over live Google Earth 3D, and determining the locations with the most visual interest near users.
- The final, titular flyover was a surprising beast. After many, many iteration, problems, solutions, experiments, and explorations, the final vision sees the camera panning up to a full-screen takeover so that the jets can be presented in their uncompromised glory.
While I was more focused on the video and tech assets, and their integration into one another, I was peripheral to the site design process on a daily basis. We reviewed many internal UX and design revs as the breadth of the experience grew, and the SRF team found ourselves focused on one key factor: simplicity. For maximum usability and share-ability, the end user needed to have the fewest steps possible before they could see their video.
After initial explorations and having honed the style somewhat, we took the design out of house to expedite development and integration with the remote production house. The final product is a dynamic, impactful, and versatile design that marks the beginning of bringing a new, edgier style to USAA content.