The Obama White House is fond of scoring firsts: the first president on Twitter, the first one to set foot in the Arctic while in office, the first president to visit Cuba in 88 years, and so on.
On Thursday, he added to the list by starring as the first president in a virtual reality film. As part of the administration’s celebration of the National Park Service’s centennial, the White House collaborated with Facebook’s Oculus team and National Geographic to produce an unabashed 11-minute paean, “Through the Ages: President Obama Celebrates America’s National Parks.”
The video, which was done by Felix & Paul Studios and features 3D, 360-degree time lapse photography, provides an immersive experience of Obama’s trip to Yosemite National Park over Father’s Day weekend when viewed with Oculus Gear VR.
Depending on how the viewer is positioned, the film depicts everything from the inside of the canoe Obama rides in with Yosemite National Park superintendent Don Neubacher perched in back to the water rushing down El Capitan and the crowns of redwood arching above Obama and Neubacher’s heads while they discuss the legacy of John Muir.
(Filmmakers Félix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphaël took plenty of artistic license when it came to the clouds, however, making it look like they constantly whiz overhead in that particular part of the world.)
It also captures members of the White House press corps trailing Obama through the site, including those perched filming at his feet as he extols his administration’s environmental record, and a moment where first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha join the president to view of Vernal Falls from a footbridge.
“As filmmakers, we wanted to use cinematic virtual reality’s unique transportive power to bring audiences into a journey with President Obama where they could experience firsthand the vertiginous, lyrical and timeless beauty of Yosemite,” said Lajeunesse, co-founder and creative director of Felix & Paul Studios.
National Geographic posted the video on its Facebook page Thursday, while Obama did a Facebook post of his own, describing how “awestruck” he was by the park’s natural beauty.
“Today, I get to share that experience with you — in a 360 degree view. Thanks to some high-tech virtual reality cameras, you can stand amid Yosemite’s giant sequoia groves or float on Mirror Lake in a canoe. I checked this out for the first time yesterday. It was pretty surreal, like being transported back into the park,” he wrote, adding that Americans should consider watching the video and visiting a park themselves. “Park admission is free until Sunday, and I promise, it’s worth it.”
The White House also handed over its Instagram account Thursday to a mix of nature photographers, athletes and of course, celebrities, to celebrate the centennial. Photographer Chris Burkard posted an image of a mist-shrouded Yosemite and the rock climber Sarah DiGiulian put one up as well. Still to come? One from the rapper Common, who came to the White House earlier this month to celebrate the president’s 55th birthday, though it is unclear which park he plans to celebrate.