Save Every Breath: The Dunkirk VR Experience for HTC Vive


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The top movies these days are increasingly coming along with a VR experience. In Christopher Nolan’s action thriller Dunkirk, based on the true story of 400,000 Allied soldiers trapped on the beach of Dunkirk, France, with their backs to the sea as the enemy closes in.

The Dunkirk VR experience will submerge you underwater, take you into the skies, piloting an RAF Spitfire; and finally onto the beach, one of the hundreds of thousands of trapped Allied soldiers awaiting their fate.

Save Every Breath: The Dunkirk VR Experience is available now for free as part of Vive Video.

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Dunkirk VR: Q&A

We asked Matthew Lewis of Practical Magic about the process of bringing Dunkirk into VR.

Hello Matthew! To start with, does your involvement start in a project like this – at script stage, during production or later?

When we’re creating a cinematic VR experience tied to a major motion picture, we typically get involved during the production phase, once a look and feel have been established, so the work we do in VR can stay true the movie. On Dunkirk, the scope of Christopher Nolan’s vision for the film was simply tremendous, and based on the schedule, we would only have a few months before the release of the film to work on the VR experience.

How closely did you work with the film’s production team? Did you utilize assets used in the film?

We were able to use costumes and props from the film, as well as shooting on location at Dunkirk beach in France to make sure that the environment was completely authentic, down to the color of the sand beneath your feet.

What tools and systems did you use to develop Dunkirk VR?

Instead of using 360-degree cameras, which aren’t quite ready for this type of work, we utilized robotic motion control systems and cinema-quality cameras to shoot each live action scene one angle at a time. It’s technically complicated and requires a lot of extra work, but this meant we were able to capture much higher resolution images than would otherwise be possible. Once we had those images, we used compositing software called Nuke to put the shots together in the computer, and a lot of other software to create the visual effects. We also partnered with Double Negative in London to provide critical visual effects using assets from the film itself, for maximum authenticity.

What can viewers expect from the Dunkirk VR experience? What will they see, hear?

Viewers will get an early taste of the world Christopher Nolan has created for the film, including a cinematic sound mix that actually moves with your VR headset. It’s an immersive experience you can only have in VR, just as the film is an experience you can only have in a theater. Dunkirk is a massive, beautifully shot film that truly needs to be seen in on the big screen.

The promotional value of an app like this is obvious. What do you feel about VR’s usage as an educational tool considering the subject matter for Dunkirk VR?

We’ll all look back on these early days and have a good laugh as to how limited our thinking was in the applications of virtual reality. VR and moreover AR (augmented reality) will factor into our lives in ways we have yet to even conceptualize, and to your point, the very nature of education will surely be transformed by the ability to put yourself in another place, at another time, learning new information through the use of all of your senses. Entertainment is just the beginning.