Christopher Nolan is a director who's all about reality. He shoots on film, not digital. He opts for practical effects over CGI. He shoots with a single camera and doesn't believe in 3D. For someone whose work has been so heavily influenced by film noir, none of this is much of a shock.
But it meant I was surprised when I heard that Warner Bros, Oculus Rift and Imax had come together to create a 100% virtual experience for the release of his latest movie, Interstellar. Using an Oculus DK2, a pair of headphones, a simulator chair, and a virtual replication of the interior of the Endurance ship (sans Matthew McConaughey) the experience lets participants explore one of the movie's central set pieces.
Sure, it's a promotional stunt, but it's a pretty damn cool one, so I couldn't resist taking it for a spin myself and confront the reality of interstellar travel. No stranger to the Oculus Rift DK 2, I knew what to expect in terms of visual quality. But every new experience with the Oculus still manages to impress me somehow, and while Interstellar in Oculus might not be nothing hugely above what I've seen so far, it's a great entry point for any Oculus first-timer.
The whole thing experience is on the rails, so for once I didn't need a keyboard, joystick or gamepad. All I had to do was sit back and observe the world (well, ship) around me. The chair reclined as I strapped on the familiar black headset, and I found myself observing one of the ship's many rooms with 360-degree vision. Soon I started floating down one of the many corridors, and it was a testament to the immersion of Oculus that when I was virtually upright I actually felt it, despite being sat at a 45 degree angle.
The highlight was when the artificial gravity was switched off completely, and I began floating freely through the air. I actually felt weightless for a moment, as my brain argued with itself over what was actually happening. This is exactly why the Oculus Rift is going to be a big deal. Sure, there were the usual gimmicks: I couldn't help but jerk my head to the side as a pencil floated slowly towards me - yet I knew it wasn't real. But however novel this experience was, it just goes to show how good VR has become.
Tomorrow, the general public will have the chance to experience life on the Endurance, as the BFI Imax is opening up the simulator free of charge. It'll be open 9am-11pm, while ananyone visiting the MCM Comic Con fair in London this weekend will also have an opportunity to try it out.
The organisers told me that Chris Nolan wants to come and try it out himself. It might be a departure from his more traditional methods, but like the "potentially habitable worlds right within our reach" that Doyle describes in Interstellar, Oculus continues to promise virtual escapism like nothing we've ever known before.
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