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President Obama Goes Virtual Reality in Celebration of National Parks

Here’s one more thing for President Obama to cross off his in-office bucket list:  Obama just became the first sitting U.S. president to appear in a virtual reality (VR) experience. “Through the Ages,” which was released on Samsung’s Gear VR Thursday, shows Obama visiting Yosemite to celebrate the 100th birthday of the U.S. National Park Service.

The VR video was produced by Felix & Paul in cooperation with the White House, Oculus and National Geographic. It’s scheduled to arrive on the Oculus Rift headset soon, and parts of it will also make an appearance on Facebook as part of NatGeo’s Facebook 360 videos.

For the video, Obama was followed by the Felix & Paul team during a recent father’s day trip to Yosemite. The VR studio shot him with a customized camera setup that’s optimized to convey the sense of intimacy that Felix & Paul is known for. Chief Content Officer Ryan Horrigan told Variety this week that the studio has been continuously tweaking its technology in preparation for each of its projects.

This time around, the studio recorded a number of atmospheric nature shots as time-lapse videos, capturing sunrise and sunsets from some of the best vantage points of the park. Horrigan said that the studio tweaked its video capture algorithms as well as its data management to record these scenes and deal with all the resulting video data. “It’s the first VR time-lapse,” he said.

During those time-lapse shots, viewers get to hear Obama narrating the voice over, with him talking about the effects of climate change and the importance of the National Park System. At other times of the video, he is seen talking to Yosemite’s chief forrest ranger, hiking with Michelle and their two daughters through the park, and mingling with a bunch of 4th graders, who probably had the most memorable field trip of their lives.

Those 4th graders, who were in Yosemite as part of Obama’s “Every kid in the park” initiative, probably had the most memorable field trip of their lives. But what did the 44th president think about his virtual reality debut? Said Horrigan: “He was excited.”


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