Virtual-reality film pushes you into Cirque’s underwater world

If the “best tickets in the house” are out of reach, a new virtual-reality experience brings Cirque du Soleil’s synchronized-swimming nymphs close enough to touch … virtually.

CES 2017 brought non-badgeholders a chance to see the Cirque du Soleil shows “O” and “Ka” from new angles, in virtual-reality films made with 360-degree Oculus technology for a Cirque partnership with Samsung.

“Dreams of O” was released Thursday for CES as a follow-up to October’s “Ka The Battle Within.” Both are free downloads for Samsung Gear VR headset owners all year. But the “Ka” film can be viewed with loaner headsets in the MGM Grand hotel lobby through Sunday, and the “O” film in the Bellagio lobby through Thursday.

Both films were made by Francois Blouin with the proprietary technology of Felix & Paul Studios, a Montreal neighbor of Cirque. Footage released on Facebook lets you manipulate angles with your mouse to get the idea.

But it doesn’t offer the high-definition profile of sinister “O” emcee Le Vieux (Benedikt Negro) as he hovers in extreme close-up, or new action revealed as you swivel in your chair. Get too secure that swimmers’ knees and toes won’t hit you, and you might miss, in your peripheral vision, “The Thief” (Justice O’Rion) twirling fiery bolos in your face.

Cirque previously filmed its Las Vegas productions from immersive 3-D angles for the 2012 “World’s Away” feature release. “It’s something to have a different angle, but it’s another thing to go underwater with this type of equipment,” says Sebastien Oimet, who oversees content partnerships and distribution for Cirque.

“I believe we presented the essence of the show. And being underwater? For the VR world that’s something that hasn’t been done yet,” Oimet added.

The 12-minute “O” film took three days to shoot after a day of rehearsal, with the performers playing to a 360-degree camera in a submersible box operated remotely. A virtual-reality camera doesn’t zoom in and out, so the artist swims up to it.

Comcast and Twentieth Century Fox both recently announced partnerships with Felix & Paul, the studio that was an early pioneer of 360-degree VR filmmaking with tie-in work for films such as “Jurassic World” and “Wild.” Cirque first partnered with the studio for 2015’s “Inside the Box of Kurios.”

“It gives us an opportunity to produce content that complements the live show experience,” Oimet says. “You can have the best tickets in the house, but it’s another thing to experience the unique content.”

Read more from Mike Weatherford at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com and follow @Mikeweatherford on Twitter.

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