Pixar released its first-ever virtual reality experience with ‘Coco VR’ Wednesday, giving users of Facebook’s Oculus Rift an early behind-the-scenes look at its next big animated movie. With its use of social elements, the experience is also a first for Oculus.
“Coco VR” takes participants into the land of the dead, where they can explore the world of “Coco” with a skeleton avatar — or skeletar, as Pixar producer Marc Sondheimer jokingly called it during a recent interview with Variety. “Our primary goal was to let people go on an adventure,” he said.
In this case, the adventure includes customizing your own “skeletar” with a variety of outfits and hats, taking selfies, throwing paper planes over a vast outdoor plaza, visiting a gallery to explore both the history of Mexican art and concept art for the film, listening to music on a virtual record player and a number of other activities. What’s more, all of this can be done together with up to three friends, who can join “Coco VR” as a social experience to explore the world of the film together.
Oculus started to talk to the Pixar team 9 months ago, and both sides were immediately excited about cooperating on an experience for “Coco.” That’s in part because magical places like the land of the dead are such a great fit for VR. But the project also seemed a great way to pioneer social VR in the context of a major movie franchise.
“We thought of it like a theme park for your headset,” said Sondheimer. A theme park that you would visit together with your friends, one might add. “We are really proud of the social aspect,” said Oculus head of experiences Colum Slevin.
‘Coco VR” is an Oculus exclusive, and will come to Samsung’s Gear VR headset next week, just in time for the movie premiere. Producing it was a lot of fun, said Sondheimer, but he stopped short of committing to any additional VR projects from the studio. “There is a good business case to be made for it,” he admitted, even if the goal was just to promote a movie franchise.
For Oculus, “Coco VR” could also be a key title to promote the idea of social VR beyond multi-player gaming. Facebook introduced its own social VR app Spaces earlier this year, but hasn’t really given people a good reason yet as for why they should meet each other in VR — and Mark Zuckerberg high-fiving another avatar in front of a 360-degree video of hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico didn’t exactly help this cause either.
“Coco VR” on the other hand lets people explore a fantasy world together, and offers a lot of fun along the way. That alone may not change the game for social VR over-night, but it could be a big step in the right direction.
Said Slevin: “Tipping points just accumulate over time.” And despite neither being a narrative VR piece with a deeply engaging story nor a groundbreakin game that keeps you busy for hours, “Coco VR” may just be one of those tipping points.