The purpose of the ad produced by Oculus Studios is deceptively simple: It's an 84-second piece for Asbury University's master's degree program in communication arts.
Could be pretty dry stuff until you start watching. Then it grabs you like the first breathtaking dip in a roller coaster ride.
The spot plays like a series of mini-movies that nearly reach off the screen: It opens on a young woman in battle garb shooting a stream of destruction at some mechanical creatures who far outnumber her and are up to no good (you can tell because they are in military rows and have glowing red eyes like Cylons).
In the next sequence, we see the woman, this time in casual clothes, manipulating action on a computer; then again, on a sound board.
We see her anchor a newscast in which she has completed an Olympics interview, then the camera scans back into the other workers in the studio. The woman shows her completed film to some friends on a smartphone in a student lounge, as the camera zooms back from Asbury into the space above Earth, making a circle of light around the Earth that morphs into the Asbury logo.
That's a lot of sophisticated imagery in less than two minutes.
The idea was not initially a slam-dunk with Asbury officials.
"We pitched it to Asbury and all but got laughed out of the room," Oculus Studios owner Whit Bussey said.
No hard feelings for their alma mater, though, co- owner Brock Smith said: "It was totally worth it. The product is really great."
Oculus Studios is a marketing and advertising agency that was founded and is owned by the Asbury University grads, who are lifetime friends. Named for the oculus, which was first used by the Romans as a window to the outside world, its goal is to "be an oculus through which people see the amazing businesses that we have the honor of working with," whether that be in video, print, digital, web or on the radio.
The commercial for Asbury's program in communication arts is one of four Oculus Studios nominees for best commercial in the Ohio Valley Regional Emmy Awards, to be handed out Saturday at Keeneland.
These are not the first Emmy nominations for the business. In 2014, Smith and Bussey were multiple winners, in the commercial category for Commonwealth Credit Union's membership animation. Bussey also won in short form writing and musical composition, while Smith won for audio for another Commonwealth Credit Union commercial.
And that's just the Emmys.
Oculus also won 42 Telly Awards in 2014. Founded in 1979, the Telly Awards honor outstanding local, regional and cable TV commercial and programs; video and film productions; and online commercials, videos and films.
If you don't know Oculus Studios by its awards, you surely have seen its work.
Oculus is the agency behind Commonwealth Credit Union's "Hey Karen" campaign, which made Karen Harbin, president/CEO of the credit union, a regional media star. She posed with her legs — and some killer chic heels — on her desk for a billboard. The piece said she personally answered email questions about banking. She even got a hashtag, #heykaren.
Andrea Hayes, marketing director of Commonwealth Credit Union in Frankfort, said Commonwealth "had originally chosen them because of their unique flair ... that we wanted to implement into all our materials."
Commonwealth and Oculus have worked together for three years.
Hayes described the creative process between the two: "We have a thought. We have an idea. It's just a matter of sitting and brainstorming with them, and they build a campaign around that."
Hayes credits Oculus with helping Commonwealth build a presence in Central Kentucky. Now, she said, "Our presence is definitely known in the Central Kentucky area, for sure."
Oculus' Emmy-nominated spot for Kenney Orthopedics was created on behalf of the Wounded Warrior Project. Wordless and accompanied only by simple piano music, the viewer sees a veteran returning home. He hugs his mother, his wife, his daughter, then turns his eyes to his father, who is in a wheelchair. But the father has an artificial leg, and rises to salute his son, who solemnly returns his salute.
Smith said the piece drives home "the idea that Kenney Orthopedics has enabled him to stand up and properly salute his son."
Oculus Studios isn't just about the commercials and ad campaigns, though. Oculus also has made a documentary in partnership with producer/writer Greg Bandy about 19th-century poet Francis Thompson and his The Hound of Heaven. Thompson's life story was unique in its challenges and triumphs: Forced to study medicine by his parents, he wound up in London, where he was homeless, addicted to opium and selling matches to stay alive.
Unexpectedly, the deprivations of his life nurtured his creative output, and his poems, including The Hound of Heaven, were published in 1893.
For the Oculus Studios team — where the motto is "Your business, out loud" — work like this is what they love.
"We figure out what you are, who you are and shout it from the rooftops," Smith said.
Oculus Studios is on Manchester Street in what was once an auto garage. Today, the floors are an epoxied opalescent dark concrete that looks like the surface of an elegant planet, the office design a mixture of loft and tech and minimalism.
"We liked the idea of being in a district with historic heritage," Bussey said.
He and Smith have known each other since the two were in kindergarten at Lexington Christian Academy, from which they graduated in 2004. Both attended Asbury, where they majored in film studies, and graduated in 2008.
While at Asbury, Smith got to go to Beijing to film the Olympics. Bussey worked at Warner Brothers in script development. The last Warner Brothers movie he worked on was the well-regarded and highly profitable The Lego Movie.
The friends compliment the other's skills: Bussey praises Smith for "national-grade animation work"; Smith lauds Bussey for his musical composition skills.
Smith and Bussey enjoy the rapidly revitalizing Manchester Street district, which they say melds well with their corporate culture of doing fine work while having fun, such as getting some Ethereal Brewing beer and having Mario Kart tournaments.
And did we mention the company owns a drone that helps them get those enchanting shots which take the viewer flying over the Bluegrass?
Bussey's father told him that if he was going to be in the office all the time, he'd better build a workplace he loved.
"Our office culture is about doing great work and having a great time," Bussey said.