Creator: Penrose Studios

Year of production 2016

Platform: Oculus Rift

Viewing System: Oculus Rift

Allumette is currently the longest fully animated VR experience, totalling 20 minutes. Penrose Studios, a company of “artists, engineers, and story-tellers” based in San Francisco that is “pushing the boundaries of virtual and augmented reality”, created this experience in 2016 and Eugene Chung, who used to work at Oculus VR, directed it.

Allumette starts off in a totally dark environment with windows popping up and disappearing all around, above, and below you. Through the candlelight windows, I saw silhouettes of characters doing mundane tasks and living their ordinary lives. But the story begins after the darkness and windows fade. At this point, I was transported into the sky where a city peacefully resides in the clouds. It was in this city where the majority of this very charming, and, by the end, tragic yet still heartfelt tale unfolds.

At this point I felt as though I were an audience member in a theater and this city in the clouds was the stage whose actors just happened to be animated characters. In this city you not only see the main characters, a young girl and her mother interacting, but also a lot of other motion. I turned around and saw flying machines floating, and I looked down to find characters gathering in the city center on the clouds below. This town truly felt alive. And all of it was very well crafted from the individual bricks that made up the walls and roofs on the buildings to the texture in the characters’ clothes. Being totally immersed in this world was a very pleasant and natural experience.

The immersion of it was the extent of the interactivity of this experience. But the fact that it wasn’t as interactive as other VR games or experiences really did not take away from the experience. The beauty of Allumette, at least to me, was the story.

The story explores the relationship between a mother and daughter, the sacrifices the mother makes for the greater good, loss, and memories. I found the story a little bit difficult to follow at times, primarily because the characters didn’t speak; rather they made a mix of humming and sighing noises. But I feel like with a few more watches, which I would want to do anyways because it was just so visually stunning, I would understand it more.

The only other and my main critique is the ending of the story. Without giving away too much, I thought it was very sad. It’s not that I don’t like sad stories; it’s just that I thought there was a very fast and sudden change in mood from heartfelt and charming to tragic. With that said, I feel like this was in part a result of the fact that it was only around a 20 minute story, which even though is the longest in the context of VR, is very short in the context of animated films.

Overall however, I really enjoyed this experience. The Allumette thumbnail in the Oculus Store, which was really the only piece of prior information I had coming into this experience, evoked a sense of curiosity and magic that drew me in. I really hoped the actual experience would feel that way. I can confidently say that I took off my headset with my mind still in the sky and eyes still filled with wonder, tears as well, but primarily wonder.