An insight into Framestore VR's 'Field Trip to Mars'

An ordinary school bus trip transforms into an incredible space journey

This story is part of a mini series in partnership with our friends at Squarespace. You lucky lot can save 10% on your new website, online store or custom domain with the code: THEDOTS.
Framestore needs little introduction – just think Gravity, Fantastic Beasts, the reincarnation of Audrey Hepburn in that Galaxy ad and you quickly understand the calibre of talent that we’re talking about.
Their relentless curiosity for innovation and technology has won them too many awards to mention and led them to become a leader in World Class Virtual Reality experiences all over the world for clients such as Marvel, Samsung, The New York Times and Volvo.
With an acute understanding of the value of creating a powerful first impression and engaging interaction Framestore VR Studio use Squarespace and The Dots to showcase their latest and greatest work. You can view their Squarespace website here, but first take a journey into space with Theo Jones, CG Supervisor at Framestore, who talks us through one of their most exciting and transformative projects: The Field Trip to Mars.
Working on a brief from advertising agency McCann, for Lockheed Martin, Framestore VR Studio collaborated to transport young students to the surface of mars, in a school bus, without them realizing what was about to happen.
With the first manned mission to Mars slated to occur within the next two decades, equipping students with the skills to pursue STEM education is more important than ever. It became apparent that something must be done to help inspire their sense of possibility and ignite their passion for the critical skills needed to get humans to deep space. But how do you go about inspiring a new generation of interplanetary explorers?
Using first-of-its-kind-technology and innovative VR to create an inspiring immersive experience, Framestore VR reached out to those future scientists, explorers, and pioneers—elementary and middle school students—and showed them, their parents and teachers, and the world just how close our future on Mars really is.
Here’s what Theo had to say…

What were the biggest challenges in bringing the idea to life?
There was almost nothing straightforward about this project. Every aspect of it required innovation, either in the technology itself or in the way in which it was being used. From a practical point of view, the logistics of prototyping the screen technology for the bus windows and having them custom made and delivered within the schedule represented an enormous challenge. But from an innovation standpoint, I think developing the system to track the bus in realtime with almost zero lag, and to an accuracy of centimeters represented the biggest challenge.
What aspect of the project are you most proud of?
For me, the proudest moment was seeing the reaction of the kids when we flicked the switch and the streets of Washington DC were replaced by the surface of Mars. On a project like this the team spends a lot of time obsessing over the visual and technical details to ensure success, and so it is easy to forget about the magic of what it is you are actually trying to achieve. They went nuts! The shrieks of delight were fantastic to hear. Being on the bus when the kids saw it for the first time made all the effort worthwhile, and made me very proud of what the Framestore team had accomplished.
What do you feel is most exciting about the opportunity to share in VR experiences with others, instead of being a solo experience?
The wonderful thing about it being a group VR experience is that they could share that delight with each other. They could point things out to their friends, and talk to each other about what was happening and what might happen next. There is no doubt the group VR aspect greatly amplified the impact of the experience.
You had to use custom-built switchable electric glass screens - do you often have to innovate within your projects?
There is very frequently an aspect of innovation to our projects. However, I can safely say that I’ve never worked on a project that had to innovate in so many different areas in such a short space of time. Everything from the custom built screens through to the proprietary software and hardware combination for tracking the bus in realtime, to the custom networking code and the innovative techniques required to build a virtual Mars that covered hundreds of square kilometers and incorporated the street layout of Washington DC; almost every aspect of this project required innovation.
What did it mean to you to win the Innovation Lion at the 2016 Festival for the project? (Not to mention the other 18 Lions won too).
It was a wonderful recognition of the enormous effort put in by the team both at Framestore and McCann to make this project successful. This job really did require the expertise of numerous different departments within Framestore, all coming together to find innovative solutions to challenges they had never faced before, and delivering those solutions on a very tight deadline. When we were working on the project all we were thinking about was that first journey with the kids and making it a successful launch, so for it to have received the huge recognition it has since then has been a fantastic credit to the people involved.
What is the most unexpected response you’ve had to the project?
What has really surprised me is the strong response the project has elicited from people who have no great interest in VR and do not follow the industry. This speaks to the strength of the concept that McCann originally came to us with. It’s a simple idea to explain to people, “taking kids on a virtual bus trip to Mars”. And you don’t need to know, or be interested, in all the technical difficulties to have your imagination fired by that idea.
What excites you most about the VR industry and what can we expect to see in the future?
I am far more excited about where VR is going than where it is now. Currently VR is almost exclusively seen as a solo experience, but we are above all social creatures, and if this project has shown anything it is the power of a shared VR experience. But VR, and increasingly AR (Augmented Reality), have only had their current level of attention for a few years and it’s already leading to an incredibly rapid pace of innovation. I am excited to see over the next few years how VR can be turned into a social experience, and a tool for communication and shared knowledge.
Squarespace help people and companies to host their work in the digital space, including Framestore VR. How important is it for creatives to have a strong online presence?
Online is everything these days. If anybody hears the name of your company, or one of the projects you have been involved in, the first thing they will do is search for you online. And so your website is most likely the first real interaction a client, customer, or even potential employee is going to have with you - and that first impression is vital.

See how Framestore VR Studio showcase The Field Trip to Mars and all their other incredible VR work using Squarespace here.
Bring your ideas to life and strengthen your online presence with the help of Squarespace - from custom domains, to beautiful websites and online stores. Get 10% off your first purchase using the code: THEDOTS

Words editted by: Annie Ly

Team Credits

Project Tags


  • Squarespace


    • Technology
  • Framestore


    • Animation & VFX

Inspired by this project? Showcase projects you’ve worked on and inspire other people.

The Dots - Tips & Insights
articles, interviews, advice & top creative events
Annie Ly
Partnerships Manager