If you think flying on a dragon can only happen in a fantasy world, think again.
As a promotion for the film “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” a team at DreamWorks Animation’s DreamLab created a virtual reality journey in which people can fly over the island of Berk on Toothless the dragon.
Using a virtual reality headset called the Oculus Rift, anyone can ride a dragon -- even me, a semi-tech-savvy cub reporter.
The animated film, set five years after the events of the 2010 “How to Train Your Dragon,” follows Viking Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) and his dragon Toothless as they navigate the skies to protect their kinds from power-hungry warlord Drago (voiced by Djimon Hounsou).
Shiraz Akmal, head of business and product development for DreamLab, said the virtual reality flying experience enables people to immerse themselves by becoming Hiccup and flying on Toothless.
“We wanted to focus on helping people understand what it feels like to fly,” Akmal said at the media event for the film at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills on Friday.
Though the Oculus Rift headset is only available to developers and filmmakers (for now), Akmal said the team at DreamWorks spent several months last year developing the immersive experience to help promote the film.
“One of the best things about the DreamLab is that we work on creating interactive experiences to tell the story,” he said. “A lot of the animation -- like of the dragons and the world of Berk -- is actually from the movie.”
In addition to having the virtual reality simulator at the media event, DreamWorks also set up the experience in Times Square on Friday.
“This is kind of the first thing we are able to share publicly,” Akmal said. “So far, everyone across the board has really enjoyed it.”
So how does the virtual dragon riding experience work?
As I prepared to embark on my flight, Akmal told me to raise my hand if I felt nauseous at any point. The health warning posted on a sign inside the room also advised: “This experience and technology is capable of eliciting disorientation, strong emotional and psychological responses that can last for some time after taking off the headset.” Reassuring.
Step 1: Sit and put your knees on a padded area below your chair/stool.
Step 2: Place headphones and Oculus Rift on your head.
Step 3: Clutch the controller.
Step 4: Fly!
The moment I grabbed the joystick, I felt a breeze hit my face, as if I were by the ocean. Later I found out the breeze was a fan in front of me (all part of the virtual reality experience).
I then felt a jolt on my knees as I moved forward on the dragon, whose wings were flopping at my sides on screen. When I moved my head from side to side, the Rift headset gave me a sky-high 360-degree view of the world of the isle of Berk.
At first, I felt a little dizzy. But once I got the hang of dragon wings and occasional jolts, I started to enjoy my flying freedom. Before I knew it, my 80 seconds were up.
“You’re a pro dragon flier,” Akmal said, after my flying experience came to an end.
That’s something I never thought I’d ever hear someone say to me; I took it as a compliment.
Saba Hamedy: Full-time journalist, part-time dragon flier.