Coco VR, Pixar’s first-ever VR experience, has a pretty specific goal in mind; getting you to see the film in theaters when it opens next week. That’s at least the mindset I had before putting on my Rift, a result of a malaise that comes from playing nearly every ‘brand engagement’ tie-in ever produced for VR (they’re free after all). Popping into the experience and putting me face-to-face with the main character Miguel, it became clear that Coco VR was going to be different.
Initially teased at Oculus Connect 4, Coco VR can be experienced in either single or multiplayer mode, the later of which lets you pick up to 3 other players from your Oculus friends list.
Entering the experience, you’re transported to the house of twelve year-old Miguel. Standing in front of the family’s ofrenda, Miguel explains the candle-lit altar commemorates his passed family members. Called away by his mom to help with dinner, you drift off into a dreamlike state, led by an infectiously cute alebrije, or a mythical creature central to Mexican folk art. This was the moment when it dawned on me that Pixar had effectively created one of the best-looking VR experiences to date, movie tie-in or otherwise.
Dropped in the Tienda de Ropa (clothing store) where Ceci, a motherly skeleton, gives you free rein to try on a few different outfits, I start customizing my avatar. Placing a pair of pants and a stripped shirt on a tiny mannequin, I see the clothes appear on me in the mirror.
Besides locomotion and object interaction, the game’s instructions aren’t thrown in your face, encouraging exploration instead of forcing you to complete objectives. Rustling through a random drawer, I find a small map and a checklist of things to do and explore.
The film’s otherworldly ‘Land of the Dead’, populated with a cast of skeleton characters decorated in the style of the traditional Mexican holiday Día de Muertos, is ridiculously charming.
Teleporting around the main Plaza, you can do a number of activities, probably the leastinteresting of which is to watch the movie’s trailer at the open-air cinema, a near-constant focal point in these sorts of experiences. The meat of the experience is in the other activities, all of them well refined exemplars.
You can go on a Disney-style ride around the village, travel up an outdoor elevator, take selfies with silly hats and mustaches, listen to a skeleton band perform music, and even dance around on stage yourself – replete with a crowd of adoring fans that clap and mimic your movements. My favorite was the Estudio de Arte, an art studio jam-packed with concept art from the film as well as other works. Buttons placed in front of the studio’s sculptures, paintings and sketches activate an explanation behind each work, and even teach you a little about the tradition behind the calaca, the skeleton figures featured in Día de Muertos.
Pixar’s Coco VR could have easily been just a good-looking 5 minute experience, or even a 360 video (groan), but the company has clearly invested the time in understanding the medium for what it is: interactive, explorable, social, and shareable.
According to an Oculus blogpost, the team behind the actual film worked closely with their VR counterparts to create assets and animations that stayed true to the movie. Magnopus, the team behind Blade Runner 2049: Memory Lab, brought the art to life in VR, adding social and interactive layers. Oculus collaborated with both teams, providing creative and technical feedback from early development through to completion.
And this likely isn’t the last we’ve seen from Pixar either. According to Disney-Pixar’s Coco VR Producer and Academy Award-winner Marc Sondheimer, “VR is the natural next step in our evolution, letting people experience these worlds in living color.” We can’t wait to see what’s next.
And yes, you can also play in Spanish. ¡Qué suerte!