OAKHURST — Monday, July 11th, was opening day for VR Yosemite, a new virtual reality experience proudly provided to local community members and visitors alike by the owners of Yosemite Cinema. The cinema and the country’s only permanent Positron Virtual Reality Cinema found inside are located in Oakhurst CA just off of Highway 41; the main road leading to the South Gate entrance of Yosemite National Park.
Theater owners Matt Sconce, Keith Walker, and Stacy Daly have spent the last three years planning, preparing, and incorporating the VR Yosemite and Positron VR Cinema experience into their business. Hoping to unite Yosemite’s enthusiasts and casual explorers alike with the opportunity to experience Yosemite National Park as never before. For most, the experience provided by VR Yosemite will be one otherwise impossible to have without a free solo climb up the face of El Capitan or a crawl across a shallow ledge to stand just a few feet away from Yosemite Falls on a moonlit night. Even the most veteran hiker or climber will find the virtual reality experience able to provide them with a new and unrivaled perspective of the park; both physically and metaphorically.
During the experience, the viewer’s narrator, Bryan Cranston, explains the deep and rich history of Yosemite Valley. From the original indigenous people’s marking the valley as a hub for trade and a spiritual center to the creation of the National Park System under the influence of John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt to the forming of iconic images like those captured by Ansel Adams on his many trips to photograph the park, the experience is as much educational as it is a delight for the senses. The park’s rich history unfolds as the viewer encounters the same vast sweeping vistas all visitors have come to know and love, but from new and almost unimaginable perspectives, truly making available for what might be the first time the park’s breathtaking views and grand mountains to everyone hoping to experience Yosemite; giving a sense of limitlessness that truly seems to capture the vast expanse of Yosemite.
The experience at Yosemite VR is worth the trip in and of itself, but filling seats isn’t the only goal the local theater owners have. They also hope to help reinvigorate the local economy by serving traffic from tourists passing to and from the park. Matt, Keith, and Stacy believe the experience helps to give an understanding of the true size and grandeur of the park, adding to, rather than replacing, the value a trip to Yosemite National Park can provide.
The idea for this virtual reality experience was first brought to the team by partner Keith Walker, who, after convincing his partners of the viability of the plan, introduced them to their new partners in the experience; chair manufacturer Positron, and the producer of the visual and other sensory elements of the experience, City Lights Production. It took three years to create the imagery seen from behind VR Yosemite’s lenses. The VR experience was digitally rendered and carefully choreographed from 10’s of thousands of images, creating a shockingly defined and realistic backdrop as the viewer is transported through the park from a variety of vantages, many of which feel like flying. Combined with 360-degree turns, multiple scents, and moving air currents, the viewer can easily forget the chair they are in, and fully immerse themselves in the visually stunning and educational experience of Yosemite VR.