Zero Days VR, which premiered earlier this year at Sundance, is now available in the Oculus Store. Adapted from Alex Gibney's feature documentary of the same title, and directed by Yasmin Elayat, the Zero Days VR tells the story of the Stuxnet computer virus, which was developed by the US and Isreal to destroy an Iranian nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz in 2010. The VR experience uses volumetric (holographic) characters and a three-dimensional visualization of the Stuxnet virus to illustrate how the infamous computer virus wrecks havoc on industrial systems. It is only a matter of time, the filmmakers warn, before Stuxnet or a similarly destructive computer virus, is used against us.
The story in VR is told on two levels, from the perspective of Stuxnet itself and from the view of computer scientists, represented here by a holographic NSA informant. “We set out to answer Gibney’s question: How can you make a documentary where the lead character is code?” said Director, Yasmin Elayat. “And by using custom tools we’ve been able to recreate the Stuxnet narrative in a new way, visualizing the invisible world of cyberwar with techniques native to the VR medium.”
Yasmin Elayat, director of Zero Days VR, an official selection of the New Frontier VR Experiences at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, created a by Brooklyn-based start-up, Scatter, Zero Days uses a volumetric method of capturing people in 3D developed by Depthkit, Their system enables VR creators to photograph someone from different angles simultaneously to create a 3D photo-realistic rendering of the subject, in this case, an actress who portrays a female scientist who is an amalgam of many characters in the Gibney film.
At AWE several weeks ago, I experienced a holographic Reggie Watts performance through the augmented reality created by Microsoft's Hololens. This kind of volumetric motion capture is critical to creating cinematic virtual reality experiences required to grow a mainstream entertainment audience for this new medium.
Zero Days VR, produced with the support of Oculus Story Studios, is free for the next month for the Oculus Store for Samsung GearVR and the Oculus Rift. As with any new platform, Oculus has had to seed content creation for their new platform until the economics are more favorable for producers. After a six month exclusive, the VR experience will be available on all the other VR platforms.
I first became aware of Scatter's work at the Tribeca Film Festival Interactive Vrcade in April, where they presented an astonishing location based work, Backout. Wearing a Vive headset and using its room scale roaming feature you can move around a real subway car. When you reach out for a pole you see in the digital world, you touch a real pole. It's a very cool, convincing illusion. In Blackout , there are six people in the subway car. They cannot see or hear you. Though you can move among them, you are a ghost. As you near the people in the car, you hear their thoughts, a stream of consciousness internal dialog recorded in thirty-minute interviews with the participants. The train doors open, and you get off on what appears to be a real platform. It is one of the most compelling MR - or VR - experiences I've ever had. Scatter is working on versions of Blackout for home VR platforms. Like Blackout, Zero Days VR illustrates how the hyper-realism of virtual reality lends itself to documentary storytelling.