Developer Nick Pittom has spent the last few weeks recreating a small scene from Spirited Away, one of Japan’s most successful films. From the outset, Pittom wanted to produce a faithful recreation of this beloved film for enjoyment in the Oculus Rift. Road to VR is pleased to be the first to share this excellent demo.
For those unfamiliar, Spirited Away is one of Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki’s many instant classics. Released in 2001, the animated film went on to become the top grossing Japanese film of all time. In Japan, Studio Ghibli, the company responsible for the film, is equated with the same status and prestige as Disney is in the U.S. In fact, as a sure sign of their admiration, Disney has acted as the publisher for several Ghibli films in the U.S.
I’ve seen a number of Miyazaki films and I’m always amazed at his imaginative worlds and skillful use of atmosphere, the combination of which draw me into the fictional world like so many of today’s movies fail to. I remember the first time I watched Spirited Away—I felt like I didn’t want the story to end, I wanted to keep experiencing that world.
For me, there’s a very interesting parallel between film and virtual reality. Directors want more than anything to immerse the audience in their world and story. Virtual reality with a VR headset like the Oculus Rift makes immersion—at least on the visual level—almost trivial.
For that reason (and perhaps my immense appreciation for Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli) I reached out to developer Nick Pittom as soon as I heard of his project to recreate a pivotal scene from the film: the boiler room.
Pittom, who is no stranger to the world of film, 3D modeling, and animation, was kind enough to keep me in the loop as his development on the virtual reality Spirited Away boiler room progressed. Today he’s ready to reveal the project to the public:
Cymatic Bruce Visit’s the Spirited Away Boiler Room
From the outset, Pittom wanted to produce a faithful recreation of the scene. That meant taking a painted texture approach to mimic the painted backgrounds of the film. The characters, which Pittom modeled, rigged, and animated himself, are cel shaded to match yet further.
I’m absolutely blown away at how well he nailed the scene. You could easily mistake still screenshots from Pittom’s VR experience as hand-painted 2D backgrounds:
It was until the final build that I got to see the scene from within the Oculus Rift, and I’m amazed at the perspective it gave me on the character.
For those who haven’t seen Spirited Away, the film follows Chihiro, a 10 year old who is disappointed that she’s leaving her school and friends behind as she moves to a new town with her parents. Along the way, she becomes lost in the spirit world. It’s a rather terrifying place filled with all manner of spirits, demons, and monstrous creatures.
In the boiler room scene, Chihiro is dumbstruck by what she finds. A towering coal-powered boiler controller by Kamaji, a six-legged spider spirit, and soot sprites that shuttle coal to the boiler.
When I stepped into Chihiro’s shoes thanks to the Oculus Rift, the scene literally and figuratively tuned me in to her perspective. Inside Pittoms VR boiler room, the boiler is massive. It has a scale to it that wasn’t conveyed in the film or in the non-Oculus builds of the experience that I played.
The sprites are an absolute joy to watch scurry around on the floor; I only wish we had positional tracking so I could lean down and see them up close!
And then there’s Kamaji. He’s equally large compared to the 10 year old Chihiro. You can climb up the ladder next to him and you feel quite dwarfed by his size and extra arms. You can almost feel the fear and trepidation that Chihiro experienced during the scene—that’s saying something when considering that we’re talking about a fictional animated character.
Pittom’s boiler room demo has reaffirmed to me that the Oculus Rift and other virtual reality systems are going to be a major fixture in the future of film and storytelling. After stepping into her shoes, I only wish I could experience the entire film through Chihiro’s eyes.
Be sure to visit Pittom’s VR Projects page where you can donate to help support his continued work in virtual reality!