by Skye Von

As part of The Antarctica Series, The New York Times takes you on, above and below the Antarctic ice in four virtual-reality films. The one that stands out is Under A Cracked Sky

It premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival where it was praised widely and stood out from most other virtual-reality experiences there, even though it did not feature any elaborate 3D environments, special effects or any interactivity. Under A Cracked Sky is a simple linear narrative documentary experience. No frills about it. And it does not need them. Because it has a good story and a worthy reason to be told in 360. 

Under A Cracked Sky lets you dive under the sea ice of the Antarctic, where the clearest water on Earth lies, with two research divers at McMurdo Station, one of whom has more experience under the ice than anyone else on the planet. The divers narrate as they take you on a journey to encounter seals, explore ice caves, glide past stalactites of frozen seawater and swim over a rocky black seabed crawling with life.

When I took the journey under the ice, I was struck not only by the beauty of this underwater world but also by how much the experience simulated the feeling of being under water in my body. I am a certified diver, but not a very experienced one yet, and still, every time get the feeling of feeling like a fish out of water (yes pun intended) when I go underwater. I got that same exact feeling when I was in Under A Cracked Sky. Just like I need to do in real life, I had to tell my body that it was ok and I had to steady my breathing. 

Of course, some of you might ask why anyone would want to put themselves in an uncomfortable experience like this. As any other divers will tell you, the reward of being underwater is worth the discomfort because of the underwater beauty and euphoric and rejuvenating sensation that comes from having to calm your body to remain safe.

But to get back to the experience, it is the VR creators ability to create this immensely powerful visceral experience that makes Under A Cracked Sky a real success. Of course, the story in context with the state of our environment and the sheer uniqueness of the access also add to it. And of course the unbelievable beauty of the world below. 

Under A Cracked Sky proofs that a great VR experience does not rely on gimmicks, technology or gamification, but that relies as all mediums do on great storytelling, great characters and subjects, and great environments that call for a 360 coverage.

Under A Cracked Sky has now been released on NYT VR website and app. Download the NYT VR app for a fully immersive experience, which I recommend, or watch it below: 

To see the other experience in The Antarctica Series go here: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/climate/antarctica-virtual-reality.html