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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.