Creator: WEVR, Jake Rowell

Year of production: April 5th, 2016

Platform: Oculus Rift

Viewing System: Oculus Rift

TheBlu is a room-scale VR experience that enables viewers to travel to a tropical coral reef, the wreckage of a ship and the depths of the ocean’s deepest caverns.

The experience opens in the clear, blue water of a shallow ocean floor. I reach out, wondering if I can swim, but the scene isn’t navigable. Three images float before me, each representing one of the project’s three scenes: Reef Migration, Whale Encounter, and Luminous Abyss. I was obsessed with whales as a kid, so my first scene selection was obvious: the blue whale that drew me to this experience in the first place.

The Whale Encounter scene - the shortest of the three - opens on the wooden bow of a sunken ship. Diffuse sunlight shines from above, illuminating the details of the rotting, rusted battleship. Schools of fish swim overhead, occasionally blocking the sun’s rays. I look around, wondering if there’s anything I should be doing here, when a shape emerges from my left.

Small at first, a blue whale approaches. It’s enormous bulk swims forward until it hovers before me, so close I could nearly touch it’s barnacle-encrusted skin. It pauses to look at me with one giant eye before moving on. A final flourish of the whale’s tale sends a shockwave through the scene, dispersing the fish and rattling the creaking iron of the ship’s cables and anchors. The scene fades.

The Luminous Abyss scene begins differently. A small cave, partially illuminated from within, sits in a pool of complete darkness. An anglerfish (the creepiest fish in existence, in my

opinion), emerges. The light is coming from an antenna that protrudes from the anglerfish’s head and hovers before it’s gaping jaws. I realize I can click a button on the controller to shine a light on the area, but I turn it off; the light is limited to only small space and I don’t understand it’s purpose.

The anglerfish is hiding out of sight in its cave and I realize I can stand up for a better vantage point. After about a minute the fish finally emerges, revealing more of my surrounding with the light of its strange antenna. Other luminescent, deep-sea creatures begin to appear, illuminating even more of my surroundings. The outline of tall spikes and a few giant vertebrae reveal that what I thought was a cave is in fact the skull of a long-deceased whale; I’m standing inside its ribcage. The scene becomes brighter as more jellyfish descend and I see that I am at the bottom of a vast, deep-ocean valley. Craggy mountains tower over the whale’s eerie

skeleton (I can now see its teeth as well). The entire scene sparkles with life.

Suddenly, the fish vanish. The water becomes silent. In a flash, the massive form of a giant squid emerges from the darkness. It hovers directly above me and spreads its tentacles,

revealing the threatening opening of its mouth, before turning to its side again. In a burst, it is gone. The scene fades The final Reef Migration scene is both the brightest and the slowest. Bright rays shine down from the blinding orb of the sun. The water above appears more like sky than ocean. Colorful life overwhelms the scene. Coral of every shape and color - purple flowers, towar. Fish swim in spirals as a sea turtle strikes a leisurely pace through the scene. Manta rays pass by in the distance. After a few minutes orange jellyfish begin to appear, slowly taking over the scene.

Silhouetted by the light of the sun, they look like aliens floating through a blue sky. In the center of their school are giant jellyfish, at least one-hundred-times the size of their smaller cousins. Slowly, they retreat, leaving room for the other fish and the turtle to reappear. Then the final scene fades.

The audio in all three of these scenes consists of a powerfully meditative mix of natural ocean sounds and gentle instrumental music. Despite it’s occasionally creepy cast of characters, the experience is deeply relaxing. Overall, the WEVR team created a stunning portrayal of the occasionally frightening grandeur of underwater life. If scuba diving isn’t your thing, check out this experience for the next-best option.