President Obama has become the first sitting U.S. president to project himself into virtual reality (VR) — in this case, a 360-degree representation of Yosemite National Park.
The 11-minute VR video, narrated by Obama, is one part paean to the wonders of America’s national parks and one part warning of the threat posed by climate change. It also shows how powerful VR can be when done right.
National Geographic joined Facebook’s Oculus Studios and VR specialists Felix & Paul Studios to produce the free video, which arrived on August 25 to mark the centennial of the National Park Service. It’s available on Samsung’s Gear VR headset and through Facebook’s 360-degree video service. It’s coming soon to the Oculus Rift headset.
The video affords viewers a chance to marvel at Yosemite’s natural wonders, from the giant El Capitan rock formation that opens the video to the tall sequoia trees filling Mariposa Grove and the Merced River rushing through Yosemite Valley. You can almost touch the surrounding tall grass; later in the video, it feels as though you’re floating in a real canoe.
Crews captured Obama’s June visit to the California park with his family. In the video, Obama addresses an audience on climate change, with the 739-meter Yosemite Falls as a backdrop. In a more intimate setting, surrounded by trees, Obama speaks with Yosemite Superintendent Don Neubacher on the importance of exposing kids to national parks. The video concludes with Obama urging viewers to address threats to wildlife like wildfires and melting glaciers.
“This is the next frontier,” said Rajiv Mody, National Geographic’s vice president for social media. The VR technology, he said, can take people “to experiences they aren’t able to necessarily experience on their own.”