Source: PC Magazine.
A documentary about computer code might not sound like much of a thriller, but the 2016 Alex Gibney-directed “Zero Days” is just that. Now, the team behind some of the film’s visual effects has developed a 20-minute VR adaptation of the two-hour film, and it’s just as enthralling.
“Zero Days” recounts the discovery by two Symantec engineers of Stuxnet—a computer virus created by the United States and Israel to destroy centrifuges at Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz. Yasmin Elayat, creative director at media studio Scatter, said the team decided to tell the VR version of the story from the perspective of the virus itself. After all, “the lead character is code,” Gibney explains in his documentary.
One of the reasons this approach works so well is because the Stuxnet code is so elegant. “As much as it is a destructive weapon, there is this quality to it when the people start to talk about how it leaves behind no evidence, it was perfect,” said Elie Zananiri, technology director of “Zero Days VR.” “It’s a hero and an anti-hero at the same time, and it was kind of fun to play with that idea and also do Stuxnet proud to write code that was actually worth representing this thing.”
“Zero Days VR” gives viewers a chance to experience things they might not otherwise be able to, like exploring an Iranian nuclear facility and seeing what a cyber army looks like. The latter takes the form of a composite NSA whistleblower who narrates part of the virtual experience. The character is rendered by video firm DepthKit and appears in Gibney’s documentary as well.
When making “Zero Days,” Gibney had several anonymous testimonials from NSA employees, and he struggled with how best to represent them on film without revealing their identity. He approached DepthKit CEO James George, also a partner at Scatter, which helped him render these sources as a holographic-looking human “who would essentially be a mouthpiece for all these leaks from the government,” George said.
George then pitched the idea of a VR experience to Gibney and his production company Jigsaw. “They were really excited about it and kind of gave us the go-ahead to say, ‘Hey, if you can make this happen we’ll support it,’” he said.
Scatter and DepthKit are already veterans of the festival circuit. This year, their VR experience “Blackout” was one of the standouts at the Tribeca Film Festival’s Immersive program.
George sees a future where VR will be viewed in the same light as traditional film. “Filmmakers are discovering the ways that immersive media like VR can expand the world of a story,” he said.
“Zero Days VR” is now available for free on the Oculus Store and can be experienced with either an Oculus Rift or Samsung Gear VR.