See Original, Exclusive Star Wars Artwork in VR

Linden Lab opens VR exhibit in Sansar to coincide with The Last Jedi movie release.

Can you feel it? There’s an unbearable frisson of anticipation among the legions of Star Wars fans this holiday season alongside the release of The Last Jedi. But apart from having to handle this excruciating wait, fans are also forced to put up with the endless marketing tie-ins as everyone tries to piggyback off the franchise’s popularity.

Especially at Christmas, as I walk around the shops and stare at all the random products leeching off the Star Wars brand, I’m constantly reminded of the scene in Spaceballs where Yogurt pimps his merchandise.

Sometimes, though, you come across a genuinely awesome tie-in that reminds you of why you fell in love with Star Wars in the first place. And Sansar’s VR exhibition of exclusive historic production art at The Hollywood Art Museum (HWAM) does that.

HWAM’s first exhibition is a unique collection of Star Wars production pieces, including the very first drawings made for the film franchise and never-before-seen production art from the original trilogy by Lucasfilm alum Joe Johnston, Ralph McQuarrie, Phil Tippett, Drew Struzan, Colin Cantwell, and more.

The museum’s creator Greg Aronowitz, is a director, designer, writer, producer, and practical effects professional whose credits over the past 30 years or so include Terminator 2, Jurassic Park: Lost World, X-Files and Saving Private Ryan.

Aronowitz is also an avid collector who has amassed an incredible collection of Hollywood production art, from storyboards to costume sketches, concept drawings, models, and more. The pieces give you a glimpse of the creative process of making these iconic films, from Citizen Kane to Tranformers, which he’s always been keen to share.

But although there are plans to eventually build a real-world version of the museum, so far the objects didn’t really have a home where they could be accessible to the general public.

As the HWAM exhibition opened on Dec. 9, they also simultaneously hosted a pop-up gallery at one of Los Angeles’s oldest art supply stores, where George Lucas’s visual effects company, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), acquired many of the supplies the artists used to create early Star Wars works in the mid-seventies. The event featured both some of the physical art and VR stations where attendees viewed the Sansar experience.

You can access the experience on the Sansar desktop site via Windows PC (be warned, it does take a while to load, but it’s the price you pay for having such polished visuals) or with a VR Headset such as the HTC Vive or Oculus.

This being social VR you’re also welcome to mingle with other fans, although I did get accosted by a persistently annoying troll that wanted me to hug her as I was looking at some of the gorgeous pen and ink sketches on the wall. You can just mute them out and get back to your geeking though, so it didn’t really spoil it for me. And if socializing is your thing, there are a several social events and parties planned in the museum to coincide with the movie release. 

The beauty of having such an exhibit in Sansar is that the graphics are good enough to do the objects and drawings justice. I spent several happy minutes marvelling at the details of obscure blueprints, sculptures and storyboards.

At various points as you walk your avatar around the rooms you also trigger helpful audio information which tells you the story behind some of the objects. And just like in a regular museum you can just read the plaques next to the exhibits.

But what isn’t like a regular museum experience is that with a lot of the physical objects—basically anything sitting on a plinth—you can just pick them up…and not get told off. Play with stuff to your heart’s content and it will just find its way back to where it belongs, undamaged and ready for the next fan to have a go.

And of course that is just the beginning. Sansar is a very young platform indeed, only recently out of Beta, so we’re yet to see some of its crazier possibilities realized by the creator community. With something like this though, it is easy to picture how next time around I’d be given the choice to dress up my Avatar in Star Wars costumes like at Comic-Con or even have the entire exhibit hosted in, say Tatooine.

There is huge scope to have fun with this sort of content and experience, and I’d be amazed if Sansar’s creative community doesn’t step up to that plate soon, much as they did when creating the Halloween competition experiences I helped judge in October. In the meantime, it’s not a bad taster of what’s in store for VR fans.

About the Scout

Alice Bonasio

Alice Bonasio runs the Tech Trends blog and contributes to Ars Technica, Quartz, Newsweek, The Next Web, and others. She is also writing VRgins, a book about sex and relationships in the virtual age. She lives in the UK.

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