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What would boots look like in the metaverse? Better yet, what would they look like as part of the landscape of Fortnite?
We see the answers to these questions in the art created by Epic Games, Timberland, and a group of footwear designers and artists known as ConceptKicks. And some of that “metaboot” art was created inside Fortnite.
The companies partnered together to create a one-of-a-kind design innovation experience that blends the physical and virtual worlds to reimagine product design and engage consumers in the journey, said Drieke Leenknegt, chief marketing officer for Timberland, in an interview with GamesBeat.
Based in Stratham, New Hampshire, Timberland is known for its yellow work boot that it created in 1973 and it is now a well-known eco brand.
Timberland launched a program dubbed Construct: 10061, and this time it focused on virtual design.
“Footwear is in our blood and our DNA and we have a very industrial design lens,” Leenkneght said. “It’s about making footwear that works and at the heart. Construct is an expression of that. And so Construct is an initiative that started a couple of years ago as the ultimate ultimate expression of need for us as a footwear driven innovation company.”
The company invited players and footwear aficionados from around the world to enter the universe of design, creation and innovation — highlighted by an immersive playable experience in Fortnite.
“We choose carefully who we partner with. For us, it’s really important to partner with companies and entities that are flexible in their thinking, that are creative, and that really look at what is happening and go on a journey with us,” said Raffaella Camera, head of brands at Unreal Engine at Epic Games, in an interview with GamesBeat. “Working with Timberland has been fantastic for us and we were able to showcase how real-time 3D and our tools of libraries and technology can help transform the apparel and fashion industry from concept all the way to consumer.”
“This year, with the highs and the lows of COVID, it didn’t allow people physically to be together,” Leenkneght said. “We were prepping the new Construct workshop. And with this whole acceleration of 3D and digital design creation for footwear, we made this quantum leap because of COVID.”
Elements of the multi-faceted, multi-stakeholder project include:
- Timberland Design Lab and Maker Space, in Fortnite: You can get a rare glimpse into Timberland’s footwear innovation and design process by visiting the virtual design lab in Fortnite — a re-creation of the brand’s real-world innovation lab and maker space.
- Meta Design Workshop: Footwear innovators from Timberland’s Advanced Concepts & Energy (ACE) team, ConceptKicks and Construct: 10061 paired up with digital innovators from Fortnite creative studio BeyondCreative for a design workshop and build that took place entirely in the virtual Timberland Design Lab in Fortnite.
- The outcome was four spectacular Metaboots — including a replica of the iconic yellow boot, plus three original boots inspired by custom outdoor biomes created as part of the project.
- Timberland Parkour Trails: This immersive gaming experience takes place on a custom Fortnite island featuring Arctic, Desert and Forest biomes. After visiting the Design Lab, players take on challenges and obstacles in each of the biomes, unlocking special effects when they reach the Metaboots and bring the samples back to the lab.
- Metaboots, in AR: The Forest Metaboot was recreated in high fidelity using Unreal Engine and is viewable and accessible in AR through Sketchfab. The AR boot appears against backdrops modeled after the Forest biome and built using Unreal Engine’s Quixel Megascans.
- Prototype Boots, in AR: Eight physical prototypes from a recent IRL workshop have also been scanned and placed against biome-inspired backdrops using Unreal Engine-powered Twinmotion and Quixel Megascans. These are also accessible in AR through Sketchfab.
All of that seems a bit crazy, but it’s not so crazy if you believe the metaverse is just about to happen. We’re in a time of experimentation where imaginative projects like putting boots into the landscape of Fornite make perfect sense.
Here’s a code to view the Timberland Parkour Trails experience in Fortnite: GAME CODE: 4313-0063-0736.
“Timberland was built on a foundation of footwear innovation; our partnership with Epic Games’ Unreal Engine allows us to explore new dimensions as we envision the future of bootmaking and boot culture,” said Leenknegt. “We’ve brought the collaboration model into the metaverse by inviting innovators such as Daniel Bailey, Zixiong Wei and Aisha Kujk to co-create Metaboots with our own ACE designers, in Fortnite. At the same time, we’re inviting consumers into the world of design innovation within an amazing Fortnite experience. The possibilities to connect in the metaverse are endless.”
Leenknegt referred to Bailey as an expert on boot culture and sneaker culture.
The Construct: 10061 Fortnite experience is being launched at Timberland’s flagship Orefici11 store during Milan Design Week, where guests will check out physical prototypes, witness live game play and participate in real time as a fifth Metaboot is created in Fortnite.
“To push them in their thinking, we started Construct, and it’s about inviting external designers on an annual basis to come together with our innovators and to push design innovation forward,” Leenkneght said.
The brand has tapped Ali “SypherPK” Hassan, who began creating videos in 6th grade and has risen to be one of the most recognized and followed Fortnite players/creators in the world.
“Timberland has built a legacy around some of the most beloved products in footwear, in large part thanks to their innovative, forward-thinking mindset,” said Camera. “Through the usage of Unreal Engine-based tools and virtual worlds, brand enthusiasts have the chance to engage with Timberland ® boots in ways not possible today, while designers are able to create and collaborate in completely new ways, with the help of real-time 3D technology. It’s exciting to imagine where we can take this together.”
Started in 2018, each year Construct: 10061 brings together the best footwear innovators and creators from around the world to rethink and push the boundaries of bootmaking. For S22, Construct enters the metaverse for the first time.
The team took the metaboots concept gave it over to the sneaker and boot aficionados so they could participate and engage with the metaboots.
“By connecting artists and creatives from different industries, we challenge and learn from each other and often have ideas we’d never come up with by ourselves,” said Daniel Bailey, founder and creative director of ConceptKicks, in a statement. “This season we brought a completely different medium into the mix with Fortnite. It was fascinating to see how the builders from BeyondCreative would interpret and manipulate existing elements to try to create the footwear designers’ vision.”
The creative strategy in bringing Construct: 10061 into Fortnite was led by Metavision, a metaverse agency.
“For this project, we were really interested in capturing the design process and showing how the Metaboots came to life,” said Luke Price, creative director of Metavision, in a statement. “It has been a great pleasure to collaborate with creators from different disciplines at BeyondCreative and Construct, learn about each other’s styles and influences, and create some amazing things. Metavision is focused on finding new ways to engage with audiences and tell stories in the metaverse and it’s been fantastic to work with Timberland and partners who share this ethos.”
Leenknegt said it was important to bring fans into the process and the storytelling behind the brands and the highlighted prototypes and collectibles. She said the experience of this project was about design, and so the team didn’t work with non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
“For me, it’s about amazing storytelling and consumers want to be part of your storytelling,” Leenknegt said. “They want to co-create it with you.”
The designs will be shown off in stores. I asked if they would consider embedding the designs inside the world of Fortnite. But Leenknegt said this is what they have now and will be doing more in the future. Camera said it wasn’t the intention to put the designs into battle royale.
“We use the full suite of tools that we have from Unreal Engine itself to Quixel Megascans to Sketchfab and all the way into Fornite to help create the metaboots,” Camera said.
“The collaboration that we have with Epic and Unreal Engine is really from concept to consumer,”
Leenknegt said. “We saw the potential of working with Epic and Unreal Engine to really dimensionalize the design innovation process. That is what led us to this amazing collaboration.”