Take Flight with New York Times’ Virtual Reality Short Film


Last month, the New York Times launched their virtual reality app alongside distributing a million plus Google Cardboard viewers with their Sunday newspaper delivery. It was a huge deal. And since the launch, NYT VR unleashed a couple of very powerful documentary-style virtual reality experiences.

The Displaced was the publication’s first virtual reality film, taking viewers inside the lives of three children who had been displaced by the global refugee crisis. The New York Times followed up with a second documentary project that immersed viewers in the streets immediately after the November 13th Paris terrorist attacks in Vigils of Paris.

The NYT VR app was the most successful app launch ever in its first week for the publication and showed millions how virtual reality can be the ultimate immersive storytelling tool. And in the case of these two documentary VR projects, really allowing viewers to connect with people and places they would never be able to experience on their own.

But virtual reality is well suited for a range of subject matter. So when it came time for the New York Times to release their annual Great Performers portfolio, which celebrates the best performers of the year in photos and videos, what better way to connect readers for the first time then in virtual reality.

In their latest experience titled “Take Flight,” viewers get to fly towards the moon and float above the clouds alongside star actors like Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Rooney Mara, Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy. For example, in one segment of the 360-degree film, Lily Tomlin pedals on a floating bike as she re-enacts the famous scene from “E.T.”


Take Flight pays homage to the many moments in film history when actors are airborne and the film shows the spectrum of content that the New York Times can create. The virtual reality experience was shot by director-photographer Daniel Askill (director of singer-songwriter Sia’s videos) during three trips to Los Angeles and one to London.

As part of the Great Performers portfolio, each actor was shot over two hours resulting in 10 photo portraits and 10 short videos, enough material to put together the virtual reality experience. In postproduction, the New York Times again tapped Vrse for help to create a CGI night sky environment to bring all the elements together for the final piece.

“Take Flight” is a captivating experience and I loved being jettisoned off the streets of downtown Los Angeles towards the night sky. This is high quality VR content and it keeps you watching until the end.

It’s sticky and since the launch of NYT VR, there have been over 1 million video views, with the average session of each viewer running around eight minutes. Whether or not it’s a heartfelt documentary-style virtual reality experience or a fictional cinematic film, it is all good storytelling – and that’s why we are excited about virtual reality.

Image Credit: New York Times YouTube

About the Scout

Jonathan Nafarrete

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

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