Since its launch in 2001, Microsoft-owned Xbox has served as a global leader in gaming. The brand is known among its fans for channeling, improving and even exceeding the standard of expectation when it comes to gaming products and the quality of consumer experience. Simply put, Xbox technology has consistently defined the power of a console.
At the receiving end of every new product launch are millions of gamers, each one eager to try their hand at the latest release. While there’s certainly a broad spectrum when it comes to gamer classifications, many of them – particularly those of the hardcore variety – are unified by a common denominator: they demand technical excellence from their hardware.
Set for release in November 2017, the anticipated Xbox One X (also known as “Project Scorpio” in development) set out to meet that need. Described by Xbox as “The world’s most powerful console”, the new product would promote the highest possible level of visual fidelity at 60 frames per second, with 4K picture capable of high dynamic range. These, among others, were the features Microsoft wanted to highlight for its latest addition to the iconic Xbox One line.
Mill+ was approached to bring that demonstration to life by way of a 60-second, fully-CG experience to coincide with the Xbox One X launch. The idea behind the real-time demo was for users to easily experiment with the unique, cutting-edge features of the console by toggling between feature configurations for 4K Ultra HD, wide colour gamut, high dynamic range rendering and spatial audio, offering a close-up look at the granular level of detail within the content.
With all of the innovations and capabilities that set the Xbox One X apart, Microsoft sought to demonstrate all of its highlights to users in an effective, beautiful, uncomplicated, interactive way – in real-time.
In order to tie all of these features together in an engaging manner, the team developed a narrative featuring two ladybug characters. The users would be able to follow their vibrant journey while playing with the capabilities of the console, which even allowed them to alter the colour of flowers, the physicality of the ladybugs themselves, and even the time of day.
Led by Director Robert Sethi, Mill+ was afforded the opportunity to work closely with Microsoft throughout the development of the piece. Members of both teams worked together within The Mill’s Los Angeles studio, a hugely beneficial part of the process as artists and technologists were able to brainstorm and troubleshoot essential elements simultaneously.
Robert recalls, “The demo evolved from a purely technical showcase to a story with a gentle narrative through-line. This was something I pushed for; to elevate it beyond a collection of images showing detailed bugs and flowers. Storyboards and previs were a significant part of the process as we facilitated this narrative drive, as was the musical score that tracks with the story [composed by Technicolor’s Scott Gershin]. Ultimately it ends up feeling more cinematic and fun than documentary-style.”
Behind the Scenes
The demo was shipped to consumers pre-loaded onto the console just in time for the holiday season. After a successful H2 where Microsoft’s gaming revenue grew 8 percent largely driven by the Xbox One X launch, consumer reviews continued to marvel at the visual quality of ‘Insects’. Its reputation as an experience beyond that of a traditional demo has also been recognized by leading industry voices in the digital space, including the Webby Awards where it was named as a Finalist and Honoree.
“Our close collaboration with Microsoft was integral to the project’s success,” says Robert. “As one of the first 4K real-time tech demos, ‘Insects’ perfectly allows the audience to interact with the Xbox One X – while at the same time being fun to watch. Seeing it all come together from a directorial standpoint was incredibly exciting, especially as Mill+ continues to bolster its presence in the real-time world.”