In “Henry,” the second VR short from Oculus following its robotic Sundance premiere, “Lost,” we now experience a sense of intimacy and empathy by sitting next to a lonely yet huggable hedgehog, who lights up during his birthday celebration when balloon creatures deliver the best possible present: a companion. It’s an important baby step in the continuing evolution of Virtual Reality.
“The only way to do this is to build it from the ground up,” proclaimed Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey, who presided over Tuesday’s “Henry” premiere at the swanky Pantheon Mansion in Beverly Hills. He said it’s important to test the strengths and limitations of the medium as a proof-of-concept.
Which is why it’s not enough to merely provide the Oculus Rift headset and the rest of the hardware. Oculus also wants to help incubate VR content creation with its in-house Story Studio (located in San Francisco, where it can cherry-pick talent from Pixar and ILM).
The goal is to roll-out a new short every six months. For Saschka Unseld, who left Pixar after making “The Blue Umbrella” short to become creative director of Story Studio, he was looking to recapture “a sense of wonder and awe” that he finds lacking within the mainstream industry.
“Henry is aware of you in VR space — there’s joy and sadness and sharing,” Unseld said. “The closeness of Henry breaks the fourth wall…it’s the future of storytelling.”
Meanwhile, “Henry” director and animation supervisor Ramiro Lopez Dau was confronted with a very important decision: How active or passive should the experience be? He decided that we should get close enough to observe as an invited guest but have the action move left to right and leave the full 360-degree experience for later.
It’s a new kind of immersive experience that makes you a fly on the wall. I finally donned the Oculus Rift (not easy but doable with glasses) and sat down next to Henry. He smiled a few times and it was fun to get close to him, but after awhile I craved more interaction and tactile wonder. It’s all a matter of time on this ultimate journey toward a simulated reality that’s the next best thing to a “Star Trek” Holodeck experience.