A man-shaped thing and a dog-shaped thing trundle along a wooded path, sticking out from their surroundings like the sorest of thumbs. While the green trees, soft brown earth, and twittering birds around them occur naturally, it's clear that the "man" and "dog's" metallic frames were made in a lab. Jiro Dreams of Sushi director David Gelb tours that lab in the first episode of VR studio Within's new film series, The Possible, released this morning.
Each episode of The Possible provides an immersive look at a center for technological innovation. Episode one, Hello, Robot, is the first instance of virtual reality cameras capturing the Boston Dynamics' lab at work. The robotic innovators' creations rise to the challenge of entertaining in virtual reality. Gelb often surrounds the viewer with a ring of mechanical choreography, in one case demonstrating the company's "build it, break it, fix it" approach to design by allowing a malfunctioning quadraped to careen into the camera and knock it over. Being able to look the robots up and down gives the viewer an appreciation for their size and scale.
Known for their videos of humiliating robots, one of the most interesting moments in the documentary is when CEO Marc Raibert defends his staff's tendancy to strike the robots and knock them over in demo videos. "One of the things we do routinely with our robots is we show their ability to balance," Raibert says. "Someone would go up to it and kick it with their foot. But people felt we were being mean to the robot. Everybody's got their own idea of what the robot is thinking and they imagine much more than what is going on in the robot's head." Case in point, a video from Mr. King racked up more than a million views by dubbing curses over a Boston Dynamics demonstration of the bipedal Atlas robot.
Within, founded by Chris Milk, is the virtual reality studio responsible for some of the biggest moments in the medium's normalization. When the New York Times sent over a million Google Cardboards to their subscribers, it was to display films developed by Within. When Mr. Robot's Sam Esmail directed the first VR simulcast, it was distributed through the Within app and produced with help from sister company, Here Be Dragons. The app also hosts some of the best VR films available on a smartphone: Sundance and Tribeca favorite Notes on Blindness, Ethan Hawke's animated short Invasion, One Republic's heartwarming video for "Kids," and serene underwater documentaries The Click Effect and Valen's Reef.
The Possible is Within's first original series, co-written with Gelb produced in partnership with Here Be Dragons and the Sloan Foundation, presented by Mashable, and financed by GE. "We like to think of The Possible as the first time people are going to start 'tuning in' to VR," a Within representative tells The Creators Project. "That matters because as 'series' VR develops, it opens up a community for talking about shows together, as episodes or seasons air. Just like TV."