Yosemite and President Obama Head Into Virtual Reality

In a new project with National Geographic, Barack Obama becomes the first sitting U.S. president to project himself into virtual reality -- in this case, a 360-degree representation of Yosemite National Park.

The 11-minute VR video, narrated by Obama, is one part paean to the wonders of America's national parks and one part warning of the threat posed by climate change. It's also a testament to how powerful VR can be when done right.

National Geographic joined Facebook's Oculus Studios and VR specialists Felix & Paul Studios to produce the free video, which came out Thursday to mark the centennial of the National Park Service. It's available on Samsung's Gear VR headset and through Facebook's 360-degree video service. It's coming soon to the Oculus Rift headset.

The Message

Although the video advocates visitation and preservation, the experience is mostly an opportunity to marvel at Yosemite's natural wonders, from the giant El Capitan rock formation that opens the video to the tall sequoia trees filling Mariposa Grove and the Merced River rushing through Yosemite Valley. You can almost touch the surrounding tall grass; later in the video, it feels as though you're floating in a real canoe.

Crews captured Obama's June visit to the California park with his family. In the video, Obama addresses an audience on climate change, with the 2,424-foot-tall Yosemite Falls as a backdrop. In a more intimate setting, surrounded by trees, Obama speaks with Yosemite Superintendent Don Neubacher on the importance of exposing kids to national parks . The video concludes with Obama urging viewers in a voice-over to take action on the environment in light of threats such as wildfires and melting glaciers.

"We hope people emotionally connect to this story, to these environments, and we hope that it elicits within them a desire to visit national parks," said Felix Lajeunesse, the...

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