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A Virtual Reality Sleigh Ride to Santa’s Workshop

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Forget sitting on Santa’s lap at your local department store and telling him that all you want for Christmas is a VR headset.

This year JC Penney is flipping the holiday tradition and taking customers straight to Santa’s workshop in the North Pole instead of Santa coming to you. And you get your VR headset wish too, at least for a moment.

Dubbed “Twas the Flight Before Christmas,” the JC Penney virtual reality experience is being showcased inside 4 mall locations – Springfield, VA, Glendale, AZ, Columbus, OH, and Bronx, NY.

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Physical installation at select malls

The Experience

Shoppers who come across the physical installation will find a large monitor and Santa’s sled surrounded by JCP merchandise. The user sits in the sled, dons an Oculus Rift DK2 headset, and begins their adventure to the North Pole as an audience looks on in amusement.

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Flying high above the clouds and coming in for a landing at the North Pole, users are greeted with an interactive gaming experience to win gifts based on choosing different adventures in Santa’s Workshop. The usual crew of elves, reindeer, snowman, and even an arctic yeti accompanies the different game adventures.

The entire experience lasts about 6 minutes and the participant can win JC Penney gift cards. The audience watching is also allowed to play along with the experience to win coupons after each experience.

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How It Was Created

To put together this unique experience, JC Penney teamed up with the virtual reality division of Reel FX. In what looks to be a virtual reality first, Reel FX merged a 180-degree CGI North Pole environment with 180-degree live action footage of Santa’s workshop to create a stereoscopic 360 3D world.

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Merging 180-degree CGI with 180-degree live action footage

When it comes to filming live action VR, the majority of footage is captured in 2D with GoPro 360 camera rigs. However in this case, Reel FX needed 180-degrees of seamless stereoscopic footage, so they utilized two Flare4k cameras to capture both right and left eyes simultaneously, in realtime, that required no stitching afterwards.

When speaking with the team, one of the other challenges that Reel FX successfully took on during the post process was to create a multiplayer experience that could mirror the Oculus Rift content on a separate monitor, yet diverge at a specific point to an “audience” experience with original content.  This concept was meant to hide the reveal from the audience, and entice them to partake in the experience. Nobody likes a spoiler.

Kudos to JC Penney for not just building another virtual reality ride that the audience just watches on a monitor. “Twas the Flight Before Christmas” not only adds game experiences for the user to win a prize, but also brings the audience in as active participants to win a little something as well.

And honestly this sounds way more fun then sitting on Santa’s lap and painfully waiting for an adult to snap that “perfect” holiday card photo.

About the Scout

Jonathan Nafarrete

Jonathan Nafarrete is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of VRScout.

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