Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques setting up the VR camera for The ISS Experience investigation. Image: NASA

Filmmaker reveals what it’s like to film VR on the International Space Station

9 Dec 2020

Speaking at Future Human 2020, Félix Lajeunesse of Félix and Paul Studios told about how his company brought VR into orbit.

While virtual reality (VR) has been around for decades in some shape or form, the past 10 has seen its use skyrocket with the release of headsets such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Now, someone taking this technology to new heights – quite literally – is Félix Lajeunesse, co-founder and creative director at Félix & Paul Studios.

The Montréal-based company is an immersive entertainment studio focused on the creation of VR, mixed reality, augmented reality and narrative-driven experiences. With Emmy awards to its name, the company has worked on Hollywood blockbusters such as Jurassic World and Isle of Dogs, but also collaborated with not one, but two former US presidents in Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

But, as touched on earlier, the work of Lajeunesse and his company has literally skyrocketed up out of Earth’s atmosphere as part of a collaboration with NASA aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

VR spacewalk

Using 3D VR cameras, astronauts from all the different space agencies on board the ISS learned how to shoot footage to give those of us on Earth a VR tour of the enormous space station.

Called Space Explorers, the VR series has spanned two episodes filmed between 2016 and 2018. The first episode showed astronauts and cosmonauts in training filmed in 2016 which proved to be a hit with NASA. Lajeunesse said it opened the door to a second collaboration in space.

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In 2018 his company began working on a new camera system that was sent to the ISS and, in January 2019, began a two-year production cycle filming inside of the space station and life in space. Now, there are plans to shoot a spacewalk in VR in the coming months.

5G revolution

“We’re going to attach a vacuum-ready immersive camera … and we’re going to be filming a spacewalk from the moment the astronauts come out of the space station through the six hours of their work and when they come back,” Lajeunesse explained.

He added that the entire process over the past few years has included filming more than 200 hours of footage over two years, taking up more than 250 hours of astronaut crew time which is “completely unprecedented for any media project filmed in space”.

Looking to the future, Lajeunesse said that 5G connectivity will be “extremely important” in how the company’s content is seen by the world, particularly through mobile devices.

“[VR on smartphones is] not exactly the same as 3D, 360 virtual reality, but it is very immersive and the big advantage of that is that everybody has a cell phone or a tablet and so the content suddenly becomes that much more accessible,” he said.

“It’s a big game changer in terms of access and so we’re very excited about that.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic