He Wanted to Be a History Professor but He’s Making it Instead: Meet The Mill’s E.P. of Emerging Technology Dan Phillips

In his youth Dan Phillips imagined he would grow up to be a history professor, but as fate would have it, he’s making history instead. Dan, who’s currently the executive producer of emerging technology for internationally renowned production company The Mill, has spent the past decade or so concocting wildly creative concepts that utilize innovative technologies to help prominent brands stand out. 

As a producer, he has been key in bringing talented artists, tech geniuses and big name clients together to create unforgettable campaigns that have revolutionized the way brands tell stories and connect with their audience. 

Dan says, “Technology will advance whether we like it or not. I like how it intersects with the human experience. I like helping people to recognise and navigate these changes, to look over the brow of the hill and see what may be coming. Purview and perspective are key. We overestimate the change that may happen in a year, but always underestimate the change that will take place over 10.”

Dan Phillips (left) behind the scenes of the Sony Spacial Reality Display with The Mill’s Andrew Proctor (right)– Photography by Caleb Slain

Over the years Dan has been a key contributor to numerous industry-altering campaigns, such as the Guinness VR “A Sip For The Senses,” the first commercial VR experience to target all 5 senses, McDonalds’ “Reindeer Ready” Christmas campaign, their first use of Snapchat as a platform for gaming, and the Balmain “My City Of Lights” installation, which was the fashion house’s first use of VR and the first time that Oculus had allowed external design to be applied to their headset, and countless others. 

Another project that Dan was behind, which revolutionized the industry, was the joint effort to bring Mirage from the hit video game Apex Legends to life on stage during the 2019 Game Awards. The campaign was so successful that it was recently awarded the Gold Award from the 2021 Campaign Experience Awards in the Brand Experience B2C category. Some of the other awards Dan has earned for the projects he’s worked on include numerous Cannes Lions and Golden Ciclopes, the most prestigious in the industry, as well as the APA IDEAS Award for Best Mobile App, the Drum MOMA Award for Brand Awareness, the Silver Campaign Creative Tech Award for Audience Engagement, as well as 

One of the most exciting and industry changing projects Dan recently worked on for The Mill was the film that helped launch the new Sony Spacial Reality Display, which was named an Innovation Awards Honoree at CES 2021. A huge step forward in terms of 3D technology, the Sony Spatial Reality Display allows for a truly immersive and multi-dimensional viewing experience, which gives artists, architects and other creators the power to see their creation in three dimensions while they are crafting it.  

Dan explains, “With the power of Sony’s high-speed vision sensors and face tracking technology, the monitor responds to the movement of the viewer in real-time, creating a 3D imaging effect not possible on typical 2D screens and displays.” 

With the goal being to demonstrate the power of the new technology, Dan and his team at The Mill got together to create a complex and captivating CG scene powered by Unity’s game engine technology, which allowed creators to see just how far they could take this unique new tool. 

There’s no question that the Sony Spatial Display Monitor is a huge leap forward for the industry, and as the producer of the project responsible for revealing its power to the masses, Dan was key in coming up with not only the concept, but also overseeing the team that made it a reality. In fact, his role was so integral to the release campaign, that he was actually featured in the profile video that launched the campaign, which garnered nearly 300k views and counting on YouTube.

“As executive producer I not only pitched the creative to win the job alongside our creative director, but I also helped the internal team to understand the potential use of real-time CG to craft the story that we would tell within this unique new piece of display technology,” explains Dan. 

“I ensured the right artistic and developer skill set was assigned to the job to execute on the creative concept, and also acted as client lead for our agency and Sony partners, helping them to understand also the parameters for creative and visual storytelling within this new type of display.”

Having been referred to as an ‘evangelist for emerging technology,’ Dan’s role as an executive producer in the industry is quite unique. His work at The Mill has led to the development of new company-wide technology initiatives, such as the development of new pipelines for AR, VR, game engine development, virtual characters, virtual production, real-time VFX, volume and motion capture. What’s so interesting though, considering the way his work has utilized technology in a way that has forged the industry ahead, is the fact that he’s not a computer nerd– he’s a people person who knows a strong vision when he sees one.

He admits, “I am not an expert in coding or in 3d design, or in hardware and software, but I know how to see trends and how to get things made and how to bring people together effectively, and how to sell visions. They are my main attributes.”

While he may not be a coding expert, he is ahead of his time when it comes to identifying trends in the market, predicting future developments and understanding how to draw upon these to develop new and original content that will wow audiences and impact the industry on a massive scale. 

“Although it is technology and people can find that alienating, it enables us to do very human things. Ultimately I am interested in engagement and experience. I think that it is fascinating how modes of behaviour and communication that have taken such long time frames to evolve and settle in, are now moving at an incredible pace. So much so that we almost can’t keep up or reflect on it,” says Dan. 

“Think of how new media, e.g. radio, or tv or even home computing, took decades to settle in, generations, and now we have behaviours and modes of connecting and existing day to day that are commonplace in the space of months. And so it is dizzying, and yet it is still rooted in human behaviour and need.”

Dan’s fascination with human behavior, societal trends and culture in general have all underpinned his success in the field; and they’re also what almost led him to become a history professor. 

Though he was born in London, Dan spent his early life growing up in Kuwait followed by several years in Brunei, before returning to the UK to spend his teens in a small village in the Cambridgeshire countryside. 

“My dad was a developer driving the first wave of computerisation for global companies and so I was always aware of tech advances, but other than computer gaming, which was only ever a casual interest, I wasn’t really geeky or techy. I was more academic and old school into books, sports and music,” says Dan. 

“I always thought I would move into some kind of academia… I wanted to be a professor of history when I was at university completing  my Bachelors and Masters degrees.”

After university Dan spent a few years working in civil service where he oversaw the arts curriculum and museum/gallery engagement in UK schools, which occurred at a particularly poignant time in history as it coincided with free entry being granted to many of the UK’s national collections and there was a widespread push to begin digitizing collections and pushing online engagement. 

“I started to be interested in how people were using the internet and new technologies for access and interpretation to museums collections and art, and managed a load of funding programmes that were supporting these efforts in museums and galleries around the country.”

Shortly after Dan became the director of the Their Past Your Future (TPYF) programme funded by the National Lottery, which was housed in the Imperial War Museum in the UK; and he played a huge role in creating the exhibitions and digital programs that were unveiled during TYYF’s commemoration of the 60th anniversary of WWII. 

He recalls, “We developed all sorts of digitisation programs, online exhibitions, overseas visits for schools, teachers and veterans, learning resources, and there were strong threads of content production, audience engagement and virtual learning that evolved and emanated from there… When that finished in 2010 we had created a huge amount of digital material, and I wanted to try working outside of the public sector and in the agency and communication marketing space.”

After moving out of the public sector, and spending some time working with production companies in London’s digital and brand advertising industry, Dan was invited to take on a massive role at Moving Picture Company (MPC), an Academy and BAFTA Award winning VFX company. As MPC’s Head of Digital, Interactive and Immersive Media, Dan was tasked with building their digital and interactive offers, which gave him the power to help define what a digital, interactive and immersive adjunct to the company would even look like. 

He recalls, “It coincided with what I would call the 2nd wave of interactive advertising, the move from web and digital banners and flash, into mobiles and apps, and interactive screens and tech-driven experiential. Much of this has 3D or real-time tech at its heart and so it was a serendipitously ripe time to build that within a VFX studio that was master of these tools, and of the visual fidelity of assets of all types.”

Leading a division focused on experiences built for film, tv, brands, entertainment, music, art and social causes, Dan spent the next six years at MPC where he was responsible for coming up with new ways of storytelling that utilized technology. With his work being directly responsible for forging ahead the technological evolution in the fields of creative marketing and entertainment, it’s not at all surprising that MPC named him as their Global Head of Innovation across all studios. 

From helping museums make the transition into the modern age by digitizing their collections and making exhibitions like TPYF’s commemoration of the 60th anniversary of WWII more intriguing to the public, to forging new ways of storytelling by crossing technology, art and branding, there’s no questions that Dan Phillips has had a significant impact on history in his chosen professional fields. And perhaps, someday history professors will be speaking about him.

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