Last month, TIME and Felix & Paul Studios launched VR cameras to the International Space Station (ISS) in a new project to bring viewers an intimate look aboard one of the most exclusive places in human existence.
Dubbed The ISS Experience, over the course of the next year VR cameras will provide what the makers call “unprecedented access to a participatory experience—one that will culminate with the first-ever filming of a spacewalk in cinematic virtual reality.”
The year-long project was announced at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah this weekend. The project’s first VR scene was filmed on Friday, January 25th.
“We will take audiences inside and outside of the space station through the immersive and experiential power of virtual reality,” said Felix & Paul creative director Félix Lajeunesse in a statement obtained by Collect Space. “We’re going to look at the research, the science and the work that is done on the International Space Station. And we’re also going to look closely at the reality and challenges of learning to live in space.”
“Most of what we will film is going to be captured inside of the space station over a period of about nine months. But as the story builds up, it’s going to gradually ramp up to a spacewalk, where we will take audiences outside the space station, alongside the astronauts, to capture the first ever cinematic VR spacewalk. We’re pretty excited,” said Lajeunesse.
The team launched two VR camera systems on board a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft last month. The cameras, which provide a 3D 360-degree view, are an array of Z CAMs and custom-built, made-for-space motorized rig that’s anchored to specific places on the station.
“A very vital thing to virtual reality storytelling is where you actually place the camera, and in our practice at the studio, we like to think of the virtual reality camera as if it were a person. We generally want to place that VR camera where a person could actually physically be or stand, and that’s a massive factor in building a sense of immersion for audiences,” said Lajeunesse.
“That’s good on Earth, but when you bring that philosophy to the space station, then it brings a lot of problems, because the space is not that big on the station and there’s some pretty critical operations being done by the astronauts in space where a big camera could be in the way,” he continued.
The team behind The ISS Experience collaborated with NASA to map out ideal locations for the cameras, and what times they could film within a maximum “184 hours of crew time” that NASA set aside for the project.
Two more VR cameras are said to arrive to the ISS later this year which will be specially built to not only withstand microgravity, but to undergo what the creators claim will be the “first-ever extravehicular activity (EVA, or spacewalk) in cinematic virtual reality.”
It’s still uncertain where the cameras will be anchored too, be it the Canadarm2 robotic arm, the Japanese robotic arm that is mounted at the end of the Kibo module or on Dextre, a two-armed manipulator.
Filming is slated to finish in late 2019, and afterwards The ISS Experience will be available via AR, VR and “other immersive platforms.”
Felix & Paul is an Emmy Award-winning studio which has overseen the creation of many original VR films including MIYUBI, the Nomads series, Strangers, The Confessional, and the Space Explorers series. Felix & Paul have also created several productions for existing franchises such as Jurassic World, Cirque du Soleil, Wild, and Isle of Dogs. High-profile collaborations have seen VR experiences created for NASA, SpaceX, President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, LeBron James, President Bill Clinton, Wes Anderson, Brie Larson, Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Murray to name a few.