Timberland and CONCEPTKICKS Drop Into Fortnite with Digital Metaboots
WORDS BY Chris Danforth
Timberland, Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, and CONCEPTKICKS explore entirely new methods of product design with a new partnership that blends physical and digital like never before. The team behind the initiative walk us through the concept, which brings four Timberland Metaboots to Fortnite, and how it came to be.
Three weeks back, the CONSTRUCT initiative invited a new roster of designers and innovators for a workshop at Timberland’s in-house innovation lab and maker space, where guest creators had the chance to participate in a special project that is focused on experimentation in both the physical and virtual realms. These guests included upcycling maestro Jaimus Tailor of Greater Goods, denim aficionados Everard Best aka Murder Bravado and Tela D’Amore from Who Decides War, self-taught footwear designer Aisha Kuijk, and conceptual artist Zixiong Wei.
Working with Timberland and Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, CONCEPTKICKS Creative Director Daniel Bailey is exploring new ways to mass-produce these purely conceptual footwear designs, but in an entirely digital sense, and Fortnite fans are now able to visit Timberland’s maker space, The Shed, which has been recreated in the game. (To visit the Timberland Shed in Fortnite, enter this code: Parkour Trails 4313-0063-0736)
Not only that, but the partnership introduces four Fortnite Metaboots – one replica of the iconic 6-inch yellow boot, plus three conceptual designs inspired by outdoor biomes – forest, mountain, and desert – created as part of a Petri dish-inspired island in Fortnite. Fortnite players can explore the three biomes and even collect the Metaboots in each biome to earn special biome effects.
"The future of product creation and innovation is as much physical as it's going to be digital. Who are we to say that physical boots are the only thing that people want to see?" – Drieke Leenknegt
Chief marketing officer for Timberland, Drieke Leenknegt explains why the brand needs to embrace this thinking: “The future of product creation and innovation is as much physical as it's going to be digital. Who are we to say that physical boots are the only thing that people want to see? Because we know that consumers want to interact with digital boots and Metaboots, as much as physical boots. So exploring and pushing boot innovation is non-negotiable.”
“For the desert biome, we took inspiration from the shape of sand dunes to create the lines of a boot”
To craft the Metaboots, Bailey and the other designers worked alongside the game’s creators to learn how to construct bespoke objects in the Fortnite world. "It’s pretty wild, they take objects in Fortnite and manipulate them to create new shapes. One of the Fortnite creators Macca created elements of a helicopter using a toilet. Then the blades were made out of something else, and so on. So that’s how we created these boots. For the desert biome, we took inspiration from the shape of sand dunes to create the lines of a boot. Or in the arctic biome, they looked at the shape of icicles to join them and create some kind of structure that looks like a boot outsole,” he says.
Using what Bailey describes as “digital bricks” in the Fortnite backend, the Metaboots were created this way, taking inspiration from each of the unique biomes. While it’s not the way he’s accustomed to creating, Bailey confesses that the Fortnite backend is a lot of fun and goes on to describe the Metaboots in a bit more detail. "In some of the boots we've integrated more obvious natural design inspirations, while also adding hidden objects and the occasional jumping fish or rubber duck."
The desert-biome Metaboot is inspired by the pleats of a cactus plant and the crested planes of sand dunes, the desert boot combines elements to create a multi-faceted concept grown directly from its surroundings. The anti-gravity arctic boot has been built up from frozen sculptures that have been manipulated to create its spiked sole unit and snow capped upper. Lastly, the forest Metaboot is part boot, part tree; it has been etched out of stone and combined with elements foraged from both flora and fauna.
The forest Metaboot was also recreated in high fidelity using Epic’s Unreal Engine, and is viewable in augmented reality and on the web through 3D modeling platform Sketchfab. Reimagining the forest Metaboot in Unreal Engine 5, Epic’s next-gen 3D creation tool, introduces an unprecedented level of richness and larger-than-life detail to the CONSTRUCT immersive experience, where photoreal visuals blend seamlessly with the real world via the AR overlay. Augmented reality versions of the Metaboot and physical prototypes give anyone with an internet connection access not only to the forest biome in the Fortnite Parkour Trails experience but also to the real-world CONSTRUCT boots.
The digital-physical dichotomy is one of the keystones of the partnership. In the future, not only could conceptual boots from the CONSTRUCT project find their way into Fortnite and other Unreal Engine-powered experiences, but some digital objects from these virtual spaces could also manifest their way into the real world. Bailey says, “At some point, it'll become so nuanced you won't even know what initially started as a digital concept or physical one.”
Head of brands for Epic Games' Unreal Engine, Raffaella Camera feels that younger generations distinguish between physical and virtual, but that doesn’t mean that digital products are not real to them. As consumers develop a bigger appetite for digital products, our perception of what is real begins to shift. Camera notes, “We're seeing players who are also consumers wanting to mimic, and wanting to get dressed in the physical world, the way that they look in virtual worlds. So the two things are crossing over. And that's why it's a new world that is comprised of both.”
But how does one acquire all four Metaboots exactly? The mechanism is a variation of Fortnite’s Deathrun maps. “These runs take you through the environments; you can unlock the assets of each shoe and bring them back to The Shed. So you have to finish each one of these runs to get the final assets from each boot and access the special effects.”
On your quest to collect the Metaboots, Fortnite players should be wary of a crafty Mr. Bailey, rocking digital Timbs. “You might catch me on there,” he hints.
To visit the Timberland Shed in Fortnite, enter this code: Parkour Trails 4313-0063-0736Play now