To give fans the ultimate preview of its Stargate Universe television series, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) worked with Microsoft to create a three-dimensional virtual tour of the show’s set. The team used Microsoft® Photosynth™ to stitch together hundreds of digital images of the set and then embedded the synths in a rich Internet application built on Microsoft Silverlight™. Now, visitors to the Stargate Web site can virtually explore every corner of the 1,000-year-old spaceship Destiny, the backdrop for the upcoming series. MGM expects that the new application will strengthen its connection to existing fans and extend the reach of the series to new audiences.
For MGM Studios, the Stargate franchise has proven an extremely valuable asset. A spin-off of the successful 1994 motion picture of the same name, Stargate SG-1 is the longest-running science-fiction series in U.S. television history. During its highly acclaimed run, the show has earned eight prime-time Emmy Awards, including the award for Best Visual Effects.
The newest series, SGU, follows a band of soldiers, scientists, and civilians who must fend for themselves as they are forced through a Stargate when their hidden base comes under attack. The desperate survivors emerge aboard an ancient ship, the Destiny, which is locked on an unknown course and unable to return to Earth. Faced with meeting the most basic needs of food, water, and air, the group must unlock the secrets of the ship’s Stargate to survive. The danger, adventure, and hope they find on board the Destiny will reveal the heroes and villains among them.
The studio wanted to give visitors to stargate.mgm.com the opportunity to feel as if they were actually walking the ship’s corridors, entering its rooms, and inspecting its command center. “Our goal was to create a truly immersive experience,” says Thomas Hughes, Vice President of Worldwide Digital Media at MGM Studios. “We knew the content had to be visually compelling, but we also wanted people to interact with and explore every detail of the images in front of them.”
||This experience is going to offer Stargate fans just what they want to see in just the kind of detail that they like. It’s a unique opportunity for people to walk around the ship, virtually, on their computer—it’s phenomenal.
||Thomas Hughes, Vice President of Worldwide Digital Media, MGM Studios
Once MGM project leaders had a vision of the kind of experience they wanted to deliver, they set out to investigate the technologies capable of bringing this vision to life. Team leaders engaged Microsoft to learn more about Microsoft® Silverlight™. “We knew about Deep Zoom in Silverlight, and right away, that seemed like the perfect fit for our project,” says Hughes. “The ubiquity of Silverlight prompted us to take a closer look at its additional capabilities, as well as those of other innovative Microsoft technologies.”
Out-of-This-World Visitor Experience
To let Web site visitors see all of Destiny’s features in stunning detail throughout their virtual tour of the ship, the team used Microsoft Photosynth™. This technology stitches together hundreds of digital images to create a highly realistic three-dimensional (3-D) environment. Over the course of two days, a photographer snapped several hundred pictures of the ship. The team then uploaded these photos to the Photosynth tool. By using the Photosynth software, the team created more than a dozen 3-D panoramas, or “synths,” of the ship’s interior from its collection of “flat” photographs.
The team then embedded its synths of Destiny in a custom, Web-based viewer application built on Silverlight. By using Silverlight together with Microsoft Expression Blend™, the team easily merged user interface elements with application code to develop intuitive navigation controls with a distinctive look and feel. Native support in Photosynth for panning and zooming, combined with Deep Zoom, enables viewers to use these controls to explore the composite images in brilliant detail from a variety of angles.
Real-World Monetization Model
By using built-in tools in the solution, including Silverlight digital rights management (DRM), the team developed the Stargate viewer application to support an interstitial advertising model. The viewer application dynamically inserts advertising content as users move between images. Silverlight DRM ensures that advertiser assets remain fully encrypted until they are decompressed during playback, rather than only during transmission from server to player, as with some other, more limited encryption technologies.
With its application built on Silverlight and Photosynth technologies, MGM’s Web visitors can explore the world of the new Stargate television series before it hits prime time. In addition, the studio has achieved a significant promotional success.
“At MGM, we have the world’s largest modern film and television library that we work tirelessly to showcase on emerging platforms,” says Hughes. “We make carefully calculated decisions about the technology we match with our content. Silverlight gives our new online portal an added dimension and gives us a new way to engage and reengage viewers.”
Supports Rapid, Cost-Effective Development
By embedding Photosynth projects into Silverlight-based applications, the MGM project team reduced coding time, enabling developers and designers to focus on optimizing the user experience. The project team was able to collaborate more efficiently and ensure the highest levels of quality control throughout the project by using Expression Blend, which interoperates seamlessly with Microsoft developer tools. As a result, MGM deployed the Stargate viewer application months ahead of the scheduled launch of the show.
Strengthens Connection with Fans and Expands Audience Reach
With its new Stargate series, MGM is certainly targeting longtime fans of the franchise and aficionados of the military science-fiction genre. The Stargate viewer application gives the company a powerful tool for generating excitement and loyalty among established viewers. “This experience is going to offer Stargate fans just what they want to see in just the kind of detail that they like. It’s a unique opportunity for people to walk around the ship, virtually, on their computer—it’s phenomenal,” says Hughes. This application gives both fans and the uninitiated alike an exciting preview of the series, enabling them to experience life aboard Destiny and immerse themselves in the show’s plot.
“Page views on the site have increased 288 percent in the first month since the launch. We know that this is the most highly anticipated ship in the history of television, and fans of all types have been clamoring all over the Web to see it,” says Hughes. “With the help of Microsoft and Silverlight, fans can not only see the ship, they can experience it.”
Enhances Ability to Attract Advertisers
The Stargate viewer application provides a compelling vehicle for advertisers. “Our advertising sales depend on the engagement of the people who visit our site,” says Hughes. “By using Silverlight, we’ve created an online environment that beckons to be explored in great detail and that translates into extended time spent on our site. Our average user session length is up 126 percent in the first 20 days since launch as a direct result of the application.”
And, MGM can extend greater flexibility to prospective advertisers because the technology enables various in-stream advertising formats and supports multiple publishing frameworks. Furthermore, because Silverlight DRM provides enhanced encryption, MGM can ensure content owners that their media assets will remain protected and used only as intended to maximize brand integrity.
Microsoft Silverlight is a cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivering the next generation of .NET-based media experiences and rich interactive applications for the Web and mobile devices. Fully supported by Visual Studio and Expression Blend, Silverlight includes major media enhancements, out-of-browser support for Web applications on the desktop, smooth streaming capabilities, browser ubiquity, GPU acceleration, and support for 3D graphics and H.264 video.
This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.