The ISS Experience Will be the First Immersive Space Documentary in VR

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Living aboard the International Space Station is a unique experience that very few people will ever get to enjoy. Astronauts returning home from the ISS always do their best to share their amazing voyage with the rest of us but stories and videos are not nearly enough to convey the true wonders of space travel. Virtual reality, on the other hand, might be. Thanks to an upcoming documentary called The ISS Experience, anyone will soon be able to see what an astronaut sees on board and around the International Space Station.

The ISS Experience is a very ambitious new documentary series currently in the works at TIME and Felix & Paul Studios. Between them, the two organizations have plenty of experience when it comes to creating space documentaries. TIME brought us ‘A Year in Space’ a while back, a six-part series that follows Scott Kelly as he attempts (and eventually succeeds) to break the record for the most consecutive days spent in space by a US astronaut. Meanwhile, Felix & Paul Studios are the same folks that brought us the VR series Space Explorers along with a number of other immersive experiences that incorporate virtual reality.

The ISS Experience Will Even Include a Spacewalk

While there are other documentaries that focus on the ISS, this one is quite unique because of the VR aspect. Creating an immersive experience aboard the station is a massive challenge in and of itself, but the producers want to take it even further. In addition to giving viewers a first-person look at life on the station, The ISS Experience will also follow astronauts during a spacewalk.

“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 Creative Director Felix Lajeunesse.

Special Challenges Require Special Solutions

Capturing footage for The ISS Experience poses unique challenges and requires specialized equipment. In fact, the crew had to build their own custom 360-degree camera just for this project. The setup they ended up using is comprised of a series of modified 4K cinematic Z CAMs paired with a finely tuned motorized rig. The platform helps keep the camera stable and prevents it from floating around in the microgravity environment. Equally important as the setup itself is the camera placement, which has to be carefully considered in order to convey a realistic experience.

“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.

The camera systems that are being used to film The ISS Experience were sent to the station back in December aboard a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft. The crew shot the first scenes last week and plan to complete the filming process by late 2019.

Jason Moth

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