Take a visit to the tropics without ever getting on an airplane. Visual-effects firm Framestore has teamed up with Marriott Hotels to offer patrons a new virtual reality experience in the form of their latest project, the Teleporter.
"We wanted to be the first to jump out there. Marriott needed to build credibility with younger travelers,” said Michael Dail, Marriott's VP of global brand marketing.
Earlier this year, Framestore teamed up with marketing company Relevant Partners for Ascent the Wall, a VR experience that lets Game of Thrones fans ascend the television show's famed Wall. After seeing the project, Marriott approached Relevant to create the first VR travel experience.
"The tech has been there for a while, the application has been there, but now that it’s becoming accessible and mainstream, we wanted to be the first to jump out there,” Dail told Wired. “We wanted something more immersive, more experiential, that helps people connect with that feeling of what travel’s really about.”
After figuring out exactly what type of experience they wanted to offer, Marriott and Relevant went to Framestore.
First, Framestore paid a visit to the greatroom, a new take on hotel lobbies that encourages social experiences, at the Marriott Waterfront hotel in Baltimore to scan every aspect of it. “Every knife, plate, fork, cushion, screen, bottle, everything,” said Mike Woods, executive creative director at Framestore.
This information went into Unreal Engine 4, a game development suite. This basically turned the great room into a virtual and navigable environment, not unlike a videogame. However, this alone doesn't give users the full experience.
“People misunderstand what works in VR,” Woods said. “We’re still in the very early days of the technology — you’re a floating camera, so don’t try too much movement.”
That's where the Teleporter comes in. Because people can't move around the virtual greatroom, the Teleporter does the moving for them. It slowly moves you along a path and uses objects around the room as points of reference and to help prevent simulator sickness.
Next, Framestore has to capture two real-life locations to serve as destinations for users of the Teleporter — the black sand beach in Hawaii and a platform at the top of Tower 42, a skyscraper in London.
This process brought upon another issue — capturing the environments in the same way humans eyes do. The tiniest bit of visible stitching or tearing can ruin the entire experience.
"The way our head pivots on our neck and the way we take in the world — you can’t really simulate that by pointing a camera left, pointing a camera right, because those two lenses can’t get close enough to do what our head does.” said Woods. “We experimented with shooting all directions at once, but we were left with a slight sensation of a goldfish bowl.”
The Teleporter is also equipped with 4-D elements to make the experience as real as possible. There are pneumatic pumps in the flow, misting nozzles in the walls and heater blowers in the ceiling. There are also fans in the ceiling and floor, a scent dispenser, and a 100-watt amplifier in the rear cabinet. So, when you arrive on the black sand beach, the pumps in the floor give the illusion of a cushioned landing, the temperature will rise to 80 degrees, and you'll feel the sea breeze and ocean mist. When you stand at the edge of Tower 42, the floor of the Teleporter tilts to make you feel as though you are standing 400 feet high.
The entire experiences lasts for about 100 seconds, including 40 seconds of live video.
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