Virtual Reality -- the ability to strap on a headset and interact with a digital story in a lifelike way -- is a medium that’s moving beyond the fringes of the tech world and starting to be embraced by world-renowned creators. Here are the most intriguing ones produced so far.
Also Read: Why Hollywood Studios Are Slow to Embrace Virtual Reality
"Gnomes & Goblins"
Wevr's experience is the preeminent example of Hollywood and virtual reality joining forces. Directed by Jon Favreau of "Iron Man" and "The Jungle Book" fame, it transports you into a mystical forest where you interact with an enigmatic gnome, look inside his treehouse, throw him walnuts and follow him as he runs through the tall grass all around you. The experience was produced by Clint Kisker and Gigi Pritzker of Madison Wells Media, in conjunction with WeVR.
"Life of Us"
This eight-minute production from VR guru Chris Milk and Within VR races you through millions of years of evolution -- from swimming in the ocean to crawling on land to running away from dinosaurs -- before you ultimately arrive as a modern businessman (or businesswoman). What sets "Life of Us" apart is that you can interact with your friends in the experience -- even if they're on the other side of the globe. You can not only talk but "pick up" objects and pass them back and forth as you're being chased by a T-Rex.
"Batman: Arkham VR"
If you felt you could pull off the bat-suit better than Ben Affleck, this experience lets you become The Dark Knight himself. Throw on the mask and start fighting The Joker with Robin at your side in this crossover between video games and VR. After an initial launch on Playstation 4, it's now available on both Oculus and HTC Vive as well.
Save for marine biologists and shipwrecked sailors, this is the closest most people will come to being up close and personal with a massive blue whale. The VR experience allows you to explore a sunken ship while manta rays, angler fish and yes, an 80-foot whale swim right alongside you. "TheBlu" was prominently featured at the National History Museum in L.A. for several months, but is available to anyone with an HTC Vive headset.
This adventure takes viewers into the heart of the Congo's Garamba National Park as rangers fight against elephant poachers. The 10-minute vehicle -- spearheaded by National Geographic and "Zero Dark Thirty" director Kathryn Bigelow -- places you in the tall grass of Central Africa as rangers look to stop the ivory poachers from getting to the park's remaining 1,300 elephants.
"NextVR NBA League Pass"
Hoops fans are now able to enjoy hammer dunks from LeBron James and 30-foot three-pointers from Steph Curry thanks to NextVR, an Orange County-based company that specializes in live content, and has partnered with the NBA to bring its "League Pass" members action in VR all season long. Viewers strap on their headsets and are able to watch the action from the viewpoint of a courtside seat, without having to pay Jack Nicholson-prices.
Missed your favorite band when they came to town? No problem. NextVR is changing how we experience concerts after partnering with Live Nation to bring Samsung Gear users a myriad of top acts, from Lady Antebellum to Third Eye Blind. Viewers are put right in the pit and surrounded by hundreds of fans, as for this recent Imagine Dragons show in L.A.
WeVR and director Tyler Hurd show the synergy between music videos and VR in easily one of the trippiest experiences the genre has produced. A dancing conductor leads his band of minions to "Old Friend" by synth-rock stars Future Islands. The colors and shapes of the virtual musicians constantly change, from vibrant purple to green to red. If you feel like dancing, too -- and it's hard to resist -- you'll catch your limbs sticking like wiggling pool noodles. Expect to see more bands experiment with VR as an immersive way to share music.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
"Carne y Arena" (Meat and Sand)
This is one of the more intense VR productions in the medium's history. The six-minute experience puts the viewer in the shoes of an immigrant crossing the Mexico-U.S. border, where you're confronted by border patrol agents with guns pointed at your face. "Birdman" and "The Revenant" director Alejandro Iñárritu said he wants the experience to put the viewer "into the hearts" of those looking to cross the border. "Carne y Arena" was first screened at the Cannes Film Festival and is currently being presented at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
This is another example of how advocate groups can harness the empathy of VR, giving viewers a look at the cruel conditions dairy cows are subjected to in several countries. Produced by Animal Equality, an animal rights group, the trio of experiences shows how many cows never set foot on grass and are confined to tight cages before ultimately being slaughtered. The series is narrated by Evanna Lynch ("Harry Potter") and is available on Samsung VR.
Twentieth Century Fox / FoxNext
"Alien Covenant: In Utero"
You know VR is coming into its own when Hollywood heavyweights like Ridley Scott are making content for it. "In Utero" was produced by Scott and launched alongside the latest "Alien," allowing fans to experience life from the alien’s perspective as it emerges from inside a human body before bursting through the chest. It's pretty extreme stuff.
UCCVR Experience Lab
Before Elon Musk colonizes the Red Planet, check it out first by trying this VR experience that lets you land on Mars and rove the terrain.
"The Recall VR Abduction"
This is the perfect VR experience for anyone who's been dying to hunt aliens alongside Wesley Snipes. The 2017 release lets you fight off an alien invasion through the eyes of “Breaking Bad” alum R.J. Mitte, who co-stars in the film, while working alongside Snipes’ character “The Hunter.” And in a feature that is becoming more common in VR, viewers are able to follow a path toward multiple different endings.
The Virtual Reality Company
"Raising a Rukus"
A rare example of VR for kids. The series -- produced by The Virtual Reality Company -- follows two siblings and their playful dog, Rukus, as they explore several fantasy worlds. The 12-minute episodes -- which remind some viewers of Pixar movies -- have been featured at several movie theaters in the U.S. and Canada, as well as on Samsung Gear.
Within's project is the definition of an "immersive" VR experience. Viewers are greeted by composer Bobby Halvorson singing Leonard Cohen's classic song in full 360 degrees -- with Halvorson performing six different aspects of "Hallelujah" as you turn. As the song reaches its crescendo, a chorus and beaming cathedral are revealed to the viewer (something that's pretty cool for even the most irreligious). The experience was lauded at Tribeca and Cannes in 2017 and will be coming to headsets later this year.