Exactly one week before handing over the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, President Obama is inviting you to join him on a tour of the White House. And you don’t have to travel to Washington, D.C. to make the visit.
Today, Facebook-owned Oculus is releasing “The People’s House,” a 360-degree video featuring President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Shot by well-known virtual reality production company Felix & Paul Studios, the eight-minute Facebook 360 video brings viewers along for the ride as the outgoing president waxes philosophical about the White House, what it means to him–and the American people–and some of his favorite memories there.
The video, filmed in November and December, but in the works for months, was intended to be released before President-elect Donald Trump moves into the White House. Oculus will also release a 15-to-20-minute virtual reality version of the video sometime later in the year.
For Felix & Paul Studios, and Oculus, this is wasn’t the first time working with Obama and VR. They had all come together last summer on “Through the Ages,” a VR experience celebrating the National Parks Service’s centennial. Ryan Horrigan, Felix & Paul’s chief content officer, told me that the White House project had originally been planned for much earlier in the year, but was delayed by the opportunity to work on the National Parks video.
The idea for “The People’s House” was for the video to be part historical document and part Obama’s personal narrative, explained Colum Slevin, Oculus’s head of experiences. The Obama administration has made an effort to open the White House to the public–and hundreds of thousands of people from all across the country, and the world, have been able to explore the famous building. As well, the rooms on the public tour are visible in Google Street View. The Facebook 360 video and subsequent VR film are the latest ways for the public to explore the mansion.
From the beginning, you’re taken into the White House, where you have a 360-degree view of the building’s interior, with President Obama narrating as you move from one location to another, East Room to the Situation Room to the Oval Office.
“Michelle and I always joke, ‘we’re just renters here,’” Obama says early in the video of the house he and his wife have lived in for the past eight years, and where their two daughters have more or less grown up. “The owners are the American people and all those invested in creating this amazing place with so much history.”
And indeed, the video is meant to share some of that history, whether it be Obama recalling being in the Situation Room while the operation to capture Osama bin Laden was underway, or Michelle Obama talking about a portrait of George Washington that Dolly Madison saved from a fire set by the British Army.
All told, the production team shot 25 scenes in nine White House rooms–though not all of those are featured in the shorter 360 video released today. The VR experience will include much more of Obama himself, as well as more of the West Wing and the residence, but the 360 video still gives a rich sense of what it’s like to be there.
Given that the project was coordinated with Obama and his people, it was obviously essential that Felix & Paul be able to be on site at the White House prior to Trump’s inauguration. Horrigan recalled that he and his team were able to be on site for about five total days–during which they had the president for part of one day and the First Lady for part of another. But they hadn’t known until shortly before production began when they would be invited.
“You could wait and not know what’s happening, Horrigan joked, “but when they call and say ‘Do you want to do this next week,’ you have to be there.”