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Faith Holland
Courtesy of Nick Melillo/Badoink

This tech allows you to have sex with a porn star

We get to grips with the virtual reality that lets you get intimate without leaving the comfort of your Oculus Rift

A virtual reality porn shoot is mostly no different from any other film production. There’s the crew, the stars, the location and gear. The final product is, like any motion picture, about creating a temporary vessel for a fantasy or dream.

I got to see this sexual dream-weaving in motion after VR porn studio Badoink invited me to one of their shoots in L.A. (where else?) back in October. Take a look at the inner-workings of VR porn below (it's SFW, don't worry) it's viewable on desktop or mobile, but best experienced with a VR headset, which can be had for free at Free VR Googles.

Like any VR experience, it’s about tricking the viewer’s mind (as much as this can be) into believing that it’s part of the story. With porn, the VR headset becomes, like the dildo, a piece of erotic technology or accessory charged. Artist Faith Holland’s exhibition Technophilia recently suggested this with different type of sexual energy than adult theaters, smut DVDs and regular internet porn. More than these other subsets of media, VR offers viewers a new set of eyes for the sexual experience, like an XXX version of Being John Malkovich.

Creating VR porn isn’t for the amateurs at least for now.  It actually takes some fairly geeky technical skill as well as the filmmaker’s ability to rehearse. At this VR film shoot, helmed by porn veteran Nick Melillo and directing participants Christie Stevens and Isiah Maxwell, things go smoothly. But preparation was key.

As Badoink’s Todd Glider says: “You can’t just write down, ‘Pizza delivery man knocks on door. Lonely housewife answers and, upon discovering that she is short on money, suggests an alternative payment method.’ There is a lot of choreography involved, which requires rehearsal.”

This is because VR camera rigs can vary from 360-degree setups to virtually recreate a full interior or exterior, or alternatively 180-degree systems that create a half-dome dividing the visible scene from the black void behind the viewer. The full rig requires natural and practical lighting (lamps or light fixtures) and nothing on set but actors and the camera. The 180-degree rig, on the other hand, allows the cinematographer to light the scene and the filmmakers to be close up to the action.

“In dealing with VR porn you must first look at your idea and formulate a script and shooting strategy,” says Melillo. “You do not want to make the viewer sick by moving cameras and shooting many different angles that might make the viewer to become dizzy. So a simple script and idea is the best. Our scripts have dealt with stories that can be told with two camera angles.”

Melillo says it’s best to open the experience with the camera in POV position – then have the actors tell the story. The plot of this VR porn has Maxwell playing a vacuum cleaner salesmen selling his unit (wink, wink) to a housewife played by Stevens. In filming, Melillo had to make sure that Maxwell reacted to Stevens’ dialogue without moving the camera. This differs from traditional film where viewers see both sides of the conversation. It's not the case with VR porn as it's almost exclusively seen through the eyes of one character...typically male.

“Rehearsal is important because you need to do it in one or two takes, (so) have them set the situation then cut to the action position and transition into the story with the dialogue,” Melillo explains. “A steady camera is very important. Editing is simple since there should only be one or two cuts in the movie and pacing is important so that we can do the scene in one take.”

“I believe this makes the film more real,” he adds. “I also am a strong supporter of dialogue throughout the film so the viewer believes this is possible.”

Melillo says the actors also need to prepare to pace themselves to do a scene in one continuous take. 30 minutes of uninterrupted sex is not how porn has traditionally been shot, but this is what VR filmmaking demands. And it requires camera and video playback gear that works without any major glitches.

The company that sets up the VR camera system and films for Badoink, Euclid Virtual Reality Systems, have spent two years researching and developing the best way of shooting VR. Founded by the duo of Sam Burton and Robert Sledd, Euclid even 3D-prints the storage that holds the 360-degree array of GoPro Hero cameras and the 180-degree rig, which features two Sony A7rii cameras with Rokinon 8mm lenses.

“It took us the better part of two years to be able to shoot and render scenes with consistent quality,” Burton says. “I would also say that post production is the really complex part of creating VR. It's almost like producing something that's very special effects heavy; not as easy as buying a couple of cameras and hitting the record button.”

For Badoink’s film, Burton and Sledd went with the 180-degree rig, ensuring that colour and scale of the performers were all on point. Unlike traditional film, they also had to make sure the performers are the right size and that no-one gets too close to the camera – which screws up the perspective. But Sledd says the real magic happens in editing. With either rig, the cameras’ footage has to be stitched together to create as seamless a whole as possible, though it won’t be as perfect or as immersive as viewers want...just yet.

While Burton thinks VR has a major future in porn, he also thinks augmented reality and holographic technology will also help create seriously exciting porn in the coming years.

“I think that each of these technologies will find their own applications in entertainment and other areas of our lives,” he says. “If the advancements we've seen in the past year with VR are an indication of the progress we can expect in the coming years, then we're in for some very exciting stuff.”

Glider echoes Burton’s sentiment. On the other hand, Melillo is still a bit on the fence about the future of VR porn...

“Will the viewer want to wear this headgear to watch it?” he wonders. “Fear of getting caught while wearing the headgear while immersed in the experience is a limiting one. Also a lot of couples enjoy watching porn together, so this takes that out of the equation.”

Melillo pointed to the big push for 3D-porn which failed, perhaps because home technology wasn’t ready for it. Likewise, most people don’t currently own VR porn headsets. Though these are coming soon to online and mortar stores in 2016. When this happens, Melillo believes the key to successful virtual immersion will be found beyond mere visuals and will feature immersive audio and dialogue. In other words, performers will actually have to act in order to make viewers feel that they are there, experiencing sex through these new virtual eyes.