If you’ve never had the pleasure of exploring a VR experience at one of The Void’s many locations, if you ever get the chance to remedy that, do. If you’re sitting here wondering, Wtf is The Void?, fear not, for I shall enlighten you. The Void is an interactive, immersive VR experience with locations dotted all over the country. They’ve done some really cool experiences in the last few years, including ones based in the Star Wars universe and the Ghostbusters franchise.
Recently, Atom was invited to the VR experience for Ralph Breaks the Internet and spoke with some of the brilliant brains behind it. And what an experience it was! Walking through the installation is like being dropped into a video game, which is to say it’s like being dropped into the movie itself. The cityscape of the internet is recreated in loving detail as you enter the world, a breathtaking sweep that makes you feel like you’re really with Ralph and Vanellope on their internet adventures. The walkthrough is split up into three separate games: First, you enter in teams of two to battle each other in a Space Invaders-style blaster game (complete with a neat little Star Wars Easter egg for those who are paying attention). If you’ve ever wanted to know what it might feel like to be inside an old school video arcade game, this is it.
Then you’re shuttled into the scene of the Pancakes & Milkshakes mobile game from the movie, except the adorable kitties and bunnies have gone insane. By this time, you see, the antivirus program of the internet has recorded you and your companions as “viruses,” and seeks to eject you by any means necessary, including a multiplying avalanche of animated bunnies and kittens that you must take out with your blasters, set to splatter them with pancakes or milkshakes.
Finally, you fight your way out of the candy-coated diner now in chaos and escape to the wider world of the internet – only to find the antivirus protocol has deployed drones on top of more swarming kitties and bunnies. It culminates in a high-flying (literally) city battle where you chase after Vanellope to the escape pod while blasting away at your enemies – and hopefully saving Ralph in the process.
Fun? Definitely. Eye-popping? Of course. A monumental project to put together? Absolutely. While The Void recommends the Ralph Breaks the Internet VR experience is for ages 10 and up, and there is a minimum height requirement of 48 inches (there are, after all, somewhat heavy harnesses and helmets to wear), it is truly their most all-ages interactive experience yet. Still, it was a happy challenge to build the experience at the same time as the movie itself, revealed writer Pam Ribon: “It changed, just like making the film. We were writing them at the same time.”
It’s kind of a marvel to see the story quite literally coming to life around you, but it does make you wonder if there’s anything they weren’t able to do or ways in which current technology held them back from telling the story they wanted to tell. Surprisingly, the answer to that is “not really.” As ILMxLAB producer Shereif Fattoush explained
“It really is a marriage. It’s not one before the other. It’s making sure that the content creators and storytellers understand what the technology is able to do, but one of the things that The Void has been so awesome about is really being cognizant of pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with technology to accommodate what we want to do creatively…It’s exciting to drive the technology from a story perspective. It’s always about, what is going to tell a better story? What is going to make a great experience?”
‘They actually inspire each other,” chimed in Director of Story for the Void Tracy Hickman. “We’ll get something from the technology side or we’ll walk the stage and see things…that we may not have come up with before.” In fact, it works both ways. He went on to explain, “And sometimes we’ll go in with the story and ask, ‘Can we do this?’ and the technology side says, ‘Wow, we’ve never really thought about it before but yeah, we can probably do it.'”
“Although,” interjected Ribon, “sometimes you do see a twitch,” she laughed, pantomiming a developer having a momentary mental stroke. “But they always say they can.”
Putting together such a sensory experience isn’t easy, but the partnership between The Void, Disney, and ILM has already made magic together, and Ralph Breaks the Internet is the latest on that list. It’s just downright fun, and fans can look forward to more Void VR experiences with Disney properties in the next few years – could we soon be swinging over a city with Spider-Man or in the Toy Story toybox? The possibilities are endless.
After all, as Hickman says, “For us, it’s not a question of limits. It’s really a question of inspiration.”
(Header image: Disney/The Void)
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