Montreal-based virtual reality (VR) studio Felix & Paul debuted the first episode of its new “Space Explorers” documentary at Sundance as part of the festival’s New Frontier selection Friday, showing off one of the studio’s longest and most ambitious productions thus far.
“Space Explorers: A New Dawn” chronicles Nasa’s revived space travel ambitions, with interviews with astronauts-in-training who prepare for trips to the International Space Station, and a look at the space agency’s plans to venture to Mars in less than two decades.
“Space exploration has always appealed to us,” said Felix Lajeunesse during an interview with Variety this week, explaining that the studio has always been looking for stories that lend themselves to be told in immersive media. “It’s something that we wanted to do for a while,” he said.
The 19-minute video is the first of two parts, which are scheduled to be released simultaneously once Facebook starts selling its Oculus Go headset. A second episode, which won’t be shown at Sundance, focuses on collaboration between Nasa and commercial space travel companies as well as U.S. space travel and foreign efforts.
Shooting and producing the videos was a significant endeavor for Felix & Paul; the studio began production of “Space Explorers” in October of 2016, and only finished two weeks ago.
During the process, the team had to continuously tweak its production technology. One of the scenes takes the viewer along as astronauts fly in a fighter jet to get used to operating in a spacecraft-like environment. However, getting a 360 camera working in a jet in mid-air wasn’t easy, recalled Paul Raphaël. “We collaborated with Nasa’s engineers to secure and stabilize that shot.”
Another challenge came up during shots for the second episode, which captured rocket launches from an Eastern European launchpad up close. “One of our cameras half-melted,” said Lajeunesse.
‘Space Explorers” will be exclusive to Oculus at launch, but Sundance visitors actually get to experience the videos in motion-enhanced Voyager chairs from Positron, which promise to add some extra sensory input to the experience.
“It makes the whole experience a little more physically engaging,” said Lajeunesse. However, he promised that the studio didn’t go overboard with the use of the chairs. “We designed a very mild and subtle ride.” Felix & Paul may distribute the experience to location-based VR centers with similar chairs after the Oculus-exclusive window passes, he added.