Ahead of the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Deluxe VR partnered with LIFE VR, HTC VIVE and AMD to create a VR experience to commemorate the momentous event. Deluxe VR was chosen to create the project based on their empathy-driven approach to the topic, which diverged from the more commonly depicted themes of violence and trauma. Set in December 1941, the experience conveys the immediate and ripple effects of the attack, following the story of veteran Lt. James Downing, 103, who is the second-oldest known living American veteran to have survived that day. Downing served as postmaster on the U.S.S. West Virginia and played a key role in notifying his comrades’ families about their fates.
“From the thoughtful concept to the technical execution, Deluxe VR was a wonderful partner throughout this project and helped us create a powerful experience that we hope will educate viewers on a deeper level than a textbook or video,” said Mia Tramz, Managing Editor at LIFE VR. “From sharing in the fear of a missing soldier’s family, seeing the aftermath and hearing Lt. Downing’s story, Deluxe VR captured the human element of the Pearl Harbor story in a profound way.”
The experience unfolds within the living room of a family awaiting word on their enlisted son’s safety, before taking users to a smoldering scene at the Pearl Harbor naval base. In each location viewers can interact with objects to learn about current events and Downing’s role. Deluxe VR worked closely with Downing, LIFE VR and the National World War II Museum to ensure the historical accuracy of the story as well as all scene elements and environments. Through archival video and photographs—from sources including the Library of Congress and the LIFE Picture Collection—users see real history within the virtual world. Award-winning author Craig Nelson (Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness) served as the project’s historical adviser, and the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, an official resource partner.
“Drawing from the extensive holdings of the LIFE archive, we were able to feature original issues of LIFE magazine that would have been in the homes of Americans at the time, and photos by the staff photographers throughout the experience,” said Liz Ronk, Photo Editor, LIFE + TIME HISTORY.
Deluxe VR was able to deliver the exceptional piece through creative freedom afforded by proprietary pipeline tools that integrated tightly with the game engine. The increased efficiency through the toolset allowed the team to refine the experience’s look and story, and ensure the deepest level of immersion. “It was important to us to make sure our approach was respectful,” explained Alexander Stein, Creative Director at Deluxe VR. “Our aim was to transport viewers to an important moment in history, allowing people to feel the emotional weight of the events.”
Through Deluxe VR’s partnership with AMD, the application was optimized for Radeon™ RX 480 graphics cards for a vivid and immersive experience. It is available now exclusively for VIVE at Viveport
and will also be available in select museums and schools across the country. A full 360° version of the experience will be available on the LIFE VR app for Google Cardboard later in December. In addition to the VIVE app, TIME-LIFE and HTC have collaborated on bringing “Remembering Pearl Harbor” to exhibits commemorating the 75th anniversary of the attack. The VR experience will be on exhibit December 5-11 at the Newseum in Washington D.C., and December 6-7 at the Intrepid Museum in New York City. Go behind the scenes to see how this experience was made on HTC's website.