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Fox Bows 'Alien: Covenant' VR Experience

26 Apr, 2017 By: Stephanie Prange

Now movie fans can have the experience of playing the creature in one of the most terrifying birth scenes in film history.

Twentieth Century Fox, FoxNext VR Studio and partners have launched the Alien: Covenant — In Utero VR experience on the Oculus platform.

The April 26 launch coincided with “Alien Day,” which includes a variety of fan-focused festivities counting down to director Ridley Scott's new chapter in the sci-fi thriller franchise, Alien: Covenant, due in theaters May 19 in the United States. It is available at no charge in the Oculus Video app on the Oculus Rift or the Samsung Gear VR, powered by Oculus. The experience will be available on other platforms May 10, as will a 360-degree trailer of the experience on Facebook.

The studio collaborated with RSA VR; MPC VR, a Technicolor company; Mach1; and technology partners AMD Radeon and Dell on the VR experience, which casts viewers as an alien Neomorph emerging from its human host body. The VR project is produced by Scott and directed by David Karlak.

“With the In Utero experience, audience participation is taken to a whole new level,” said Scott in a statement. “You get to be a Neomorph, exploring what’s happening around you and within you.”

Karlak and others who worked on the project gathered April 25 at Technicolor to talk about the VR experience.

“I thought, well, if this was being told from the point of a Neomorph, well then how would a Neomorph perceive the world … and how would a creature that was designed to hunt perceive the world,” said Karlak, who noted Scott showed him footage of crocodiles and of inside the womb to evoke the Neomorph experience.

Karlak noted how creating a VR experience differs from making a film.

“If you want to create a moment of scare, instead of having to engineer a jump scare like you would in a movie, you orchestrate it the same way you scare a friend in real life or the way you would engineer a scare in a haunted house,” he said. “So directional sound is a big element in VR.”

In Utero incorporates a heartbeat of the alien to increase the tension.

“We realized in VR less is more,” Karlak said. “Instead of a rising string orchestra to sort of build the tension, we built it very naturally, building it using sounds like the heartbeat that becomes more rapid, building it in a more natural way.”

“Our view has always been, audio is 50% of the experience,” added Brendan Handler from the FoxNext VR Studio.

Karlak also compared the job of directing the VR viewer to directing an actor, referencing the first “Alien” movie.

“When the actors did that last supper scene in Alien, Ridley was telling me that when the alien came out of the chest the actors were completely surprised by that moment,” he said. “They were kept in another room while they were preparing that scene. That scene — where the alien came out of the chest — that was an actual shock to the actors. I feel like the future of VR storytelling is directing your audience the same way you direct actors.”

Producer Jen Dennis, of RSA VR, also worked with Scott on Fox’s The Martian VR experience, the production of which she described as “making the airplane while we were flying.”

“You’d be surprised how quickly he saw this as an instrument to the future and how he took to it,” she said. “I know that Ridley’s incredibly proud of all of this.”

Matthias Whittmann, of Technicolor’s MPC VR, noted that MPC being involved in the making of the film’s special effects was a big help.

“Our VR crew went to the set while shooting and took a lot of photographs and scanned a lot of sets,” he noted.

Roy Taylor, of AMD Radeon, said demonstrations of the experiences would be rolling out at 15 Regal Cinemas to increase interest in VR.

“Interest in the movies is so great that people will try VR that perhaps wouldn’t have tried it if it was just for games,” he said, crediting Hollywood for forwarding the medium.

“Hollywood has embraced VR in a way that is greater than the games industry,” he said. “Every major studio has an interest in VR. Not every major games publisher has jumped on VR. And I think Hollywood should take a pat on the back for that.”

“There’s going to be a lot of change very, very quickly in this medium,” added Fox’s Ted Schilowitz. “This is just the beginning of something that’s going to be very, very powerful.”

Likewise, the In Utero experience is only a taste of what’s to come in “Alien” VR, noted Karlak, teasing an upcoming project.

“The next one’s going to be interactive,” he said. “It’s going to be a stand-alone story, and it’s going to be really scary.”


About the Author: Stephanie Prange

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