Oculus Rift: Gravity

In mid October 2013, I went to see Cuarón's film "Gravity".

I had been very much looking forward to seeing it since the first trailer hit the web. It appeals to so many things I want in a movie: limited cast, troublesome circumstances, bleak environment, and space. The scene where Sandra Bullock's character first goes off structure was one of the most intense experiences I have had in a movie theater.


A couple weeks later, I borrowed a friend's Oculus Rift to work on some Cinder experiments. I decided I wanted to try and simulate that experience from "Gravity". I already had been working on a real-time Earth and Sun simulation. All I needed to do was use the Cinderblock for the Oculus which adds a stereo camera to your Cinder project. Once I sorted out all the nuances with rendering from two points of view every frame (one render per eye), I added a rotation matrix that I lovingly called the SandraBullockMatrix. This makes the in-app stereo camera flip about along whatever axes I prefer.


I had to make some creative compromises along the way. Firstly, I couldn't reproduce the experience at the same implied altitude as in the movie. The texture maps I have access to just aren't high resolution enough to allow me to put the camera in low-Earth orbit (note, the textures from the Visible Earth project at NASA are much higher resolution, but for this project, I was using 16k textures from Shaded Relief). I also originally intended to add some debris but the low-resolution screen of the first generation Oculus Rift caused these floating bits to flicker in and out as they passed from one pixel to the next. For this reason, I also had to subdue the background stars for they too tend to flicker as you look around.


Ultimately, the experience is quite nauseating. The Oculus Rift itself has been known to cause motion sickness even after limited use so it was no surprise that I can only stomach the Gravity simulation for a couple minutes before I can feel the familiar sensations of motion sickness kick in.


I want to eventually incorporate a moon for better looking lighting on the dark side of the Earth. Once the Oculus screen has more pixels, I will revisit the debris field and use a better starry background texture. Im also tempted to add dynamic lens-flares but that could easily go wrong. I will experiment to see if it adds anything to the experience.

The Oculus is a personal experience so it is a little awkward to document. If I end up filming someone using this Oculus app, I will be sure to add the video. For now, all I have is a render straight from the Cinder app.