Is This Film the First True Live-Action Virtual Reality? by Peter Rubin


THE AGE OF the “live-action virtual reality experience” hasn’t been long, but it’s been busy. From the New York Times to the Sundance Film Festival, from the UN to the NBA, there’s no shortage of offerings—and that’s not even counting Facebook and YouTube, both of which are investing in VR video in a big way.

There’s just one problem: what’s being called “live-action VR” isn’t exactly that. It’s 360-degree video, and as such has one very key limitation: you can’t move inside it. You can swivel your head, and you can look up and down, but you can’t lean forward to change your perspective, or peek around an object. You have three “degrees of freedom” (what’s known as 3DOF), as opposed to the six that you have in computer-generated experiences like a videogame or an animated film. And despite a few companies that are digitizing people and placing them in 3-D environments, we have yet to see true live-action VR that places you in navigable space.

Until now.

Photography company Lytro, which early last year shifted from still cameras into the world of VR, has unveiled what it’s calling the first 6DOF 360-degree film. Moon lasts less than 45 seconds, but it shows a peek at what simply hasn’t been possible yet. It is, VP of engineering Tim Milliron says, Lytro’s “coming-out party.” “We’ve been working on the tech a long time,” he says, “and this is proof that you can do it.”

In the short, an astronaut standing on the surface of the moon delivers Neil Armstrong’s famous 1969 speech. “That’s one small step for man,” he says, the Earth hovering in the sky over his shoulder, “one giant step for mankind.” Oops.

“Cut!” a voice over your shoulder yells. The lights go up. You’re not on the moon at all—you’re on a soundstage, and when you turn around, Stanley Kubrick is sitting in a director’s chair looking pissed. “I’m an actor, not an astronaut,” the guy in the space suit says. It’s quick, but it’s cute. (And if you’re still hungry for the-moon-landing-is-a-Kubrick-filmed-hoax conspiracy theories, we can happily recommend Room 238 and Operation Avalanche.)

Read More: