Simpsons lead TV series pack with virtual reality

The virtual-reality version of opening gag Planet Of The Couches can be experienced on a mobile device and a cardboard viewer.
The virtual-reality version of opening gag Planet Of The Couches can be experienced on a mobile device and a cardboard viewer.PHOTO: FOX TV AND GOOGLE

WASHINGTON • First Pikachu, now Homer Simpson. Could SpongeBob SquarePants or a Minion be next? Because iconic yellow cartoon characters will apparently be highly visible guides into people's techno- entertainment future.

On Sunday night, just several months after virtual Pokemon took the real world by storm, people were treated to another step of cartoon trailblazing from the realm of virtual reality (VR).

The Simpsons celebrated its 600th episode on Sunday - a prime-time run second only to Gunsmoke in TV series history - and the show made the occasion especially memorable by opening with a couch gag that can be viewed in 360-degree virtual reality.

Powered partly by Google, the VR version of Planet Of The Couches - an opening gag that is a spin-off from Planet Of The Apes - can be experienced on a mobile device and a US$5 (S$7) cardboard viewer. (Or as The Simpsons writers say: "Brought to you by the inevitable marriage of computers and cardboard.")

"We had this couch gag planned and then we were approached by Google," said the show's David Silverman, who directed the gag.

He says it was tricky to try to adapt this opening to the needs of VR immersion, but that Team Google - including Jan Pikaba and Karen Dufilho - helped put it all together, including the technical "scaffolding".

Google uses its trailblazing Spotlight Stories mobile experience to allow the viewer to scan the entire 360-degree scenes for visual jokes.

In this case, it is a land where humans are the enslaved, couches are the puffy overlords - and Homer is our Charlton Heston, right down to the famed climax of a beach scene.

Silverman notes that this marriage of technology and parody seems fitting, as Planet Of The Apes itself felt like an effects breakthrough when it landed in 1968. That era's 2001: A Space Odyssey has also inspired Simpsons writers.

The Simpsons VR project certainly feels like a forerunner.

Given the creative possibilities, TV series should flock to offer virtual-reality experiences - with animation neatly positioned to make the most of all the immersive potential.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2016, with the headline 'Simpsons lead TV series pack with virtual reality'. Print Edition | Subscribe