In 2015, Oculus Story Studio created a virtual reality film called “Henry.” In it, they brought to life the story of Henry the hedgehog, who loves hugs but finds himself alone on the day of his birthday because his prickly exterior makes others run. Described as a “movie” on the Oculus website, it is the second virtual reality film produced by the studio. Henry runs for about ten minutes and can be viewed via the Oculus Rift headset, a piece of headgear equipped with headphones that places a digital screen right in front of the viewer’s eyes. It was directed by animation supervisor Ramiro Lopez Dau and narrated by Elijah Wood. In 2016 at the 68th Emmy Awards, “Henry” received an Emmy for Outstanding Original Interactive Program.
In the initial trailer, the creators of “Henry” talk about the amazing potential virtual reality has for telling stories and creating a world where viewers can empathize with the characters and even feel like a kid again:
Virtual reality gives viewers the opportunity to be in the same room as a character and truly occupy the same space as them. There isn’t a screen of separation anymore. Viewers feel empathy toward him because he is right next to them and they feel like he is real.
Because Henry is so spiky, people get hurt when he tries to hug them. On the day of his birthday, Henry bakes himself a cake and wishes for a friend. Through magic, the balloon animals in his room come to life and they celebrate together, until Henry makes the mistake of hugging one of them and it pops. The other balloon animals flee in fear, wrecking Henry’s house. Henry finally gives up trying to befriend the balloons and lets them leave. Lonely and tired, Henry starts to clean up the mess, but the balloons rush back in, carrying a turtle hidden in its shell. The balloons introduce Henry to the turtle, and Henry realizes he can hug the other without hurting him. They happily hug and the story ends telling of their budding friendship.
It may sound like an immature story meant for kids, but virtual reality allows “Henry” to draw you into an immersive world like no other. Before you dismiss it, let us show you just what “Henry” can do.” Even if you don’t have a VR system to experience “Henry” fully, you can watch someone play here and get a sense of the immersive experience:
As you can see at the beginning of the video, it starts with two dimensional photographs of Henry, with a voice over narration explaining his predicament, and then moves into the fully immersive world. This shift serves to heighten the viewer’s awareness, making them more focused on the all-encompassing space that “Henry” provides. It also shows how the the viewer can look around at will, choosing what elements of the story to focus on.
Our website aims to analyze “Henry” and what makes it special, ranging from analysis of the VR film via reputable scholars, found under “Scholarly Critique” to our own personal experiences and reactions to the film, found under “Personal Critique.”
Ekos VR Experiences. Henry a VR Experience – Oculus Story Studio – Oculus Rift, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUY2yI5F16U
“Meet Henry.” Oculus Story Studio. Oculus. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.