The Massive McDonald’s VR Experience at SXSW Was Built in Dallas

Few technologies are hotter than Virtual Reality (VR) right now, and this year’s South by Southwest Interactive event in Austin saw a number of brands bet on the technology as a major draw. And few were more successful than fast food king McDonald’s, which drew massive crowds at its McLoft studio where event-goers could try out the tech for themselves.

McDonald’s teamed up with Dallas-based studio Groove Jones in order to create its installation, where visitors were free to express their artistic talents by painting the inside of a “virtual happy meal” using a laser-guided color etcher, a paintball shooter, and a paintbrush designed to let artists render artwork in 3D.

“When I think of McDonald’s and fun, I think of a Happy Meal,” said Dale Carman, CCO at Groove Jones. “In my mind, then it was like ‘What if we were inside a Happy Meal? What’s inside a Happy Meal?’ And then it grew from there: We could be inside a Happy Meal. What could we do? And the idea of being at Southby led to this becoming a performance art piece and everyone gets to be a performer. Everyone can be an artist.”

Unlike with many 360-degree images or films that leave users feeling disconnected, those who tried out McDonald’s V-Artist experience at McLoft said they found themselves immersed in the virtual space, being able to literally walk through painted 3D ribbons. At the end of the experience, users were able to take a photo of their artistic renditions with a virtual camera, before printing a copy for themselves. Carman explained that this small addition to the experience serves to smooth user’s transition from the virtual world to the real world, something that new VR users often find uncomfortable.

Groove Jones’ success shines the spotlight on the massive VR presence in Dallas, which is home to Facebook-owned Oculus and Samsung Electronics America Mobile, which makes the Samsung Gear VR headset. Groove Jones’ partnership with McDonald’s comes after it recently helped Swiss chocolate brand Cailler Chocolate create a similar experience that lets consumers see how its chocolates are made in a super-cool VR setting.

And for those who missed out on the McLoft experience, you need not worry, for the company says it won’t be a one off.

“McDonald’s is already testing virtual experiences in some markets, like in Sweden, where customers can create their own Google cardboard VR headsets from recycled McDonald’s Happy Meal boxes,” the company said in a statement.

Mike Wheatley