Robert De Niro Gives Two Thumbs Up to Michael Muller's Cannes Bound "Into The Now"
You haven’t had a real swimming with sharks VR experience. Not yet at least. Maybe someone created a gorgeous digital approximation or you’ve seen some cool 360 videos from underwater, but there hasn’t been anything on the market that makes it feel like you’re actually there with the sharks. Until now. Michael Muller just debuted his underwater VR experience ‘Into the Now’ at the TriBeCa Film Festival that builds off his expertise of photographing sharks underwater. The experience is on its way to the Cannes Film Festival now, but before they left New York, Robert De Niro took it for a spin and gave a very worthy two thumbs up.
'Into the Now' is traveling all over the world because it offers much more than a traditional VR experience. “The same way Jacques Cousteau inspired me and planted that seed to go out and explore and swim in the oceans, I hope that a little young girl or boy watches ‘Into the Now’ and it plants a seed,” says Michael. “I want to really educate and inspire this next generation to fall in love with our oceans, to learn that we still have such amazing oceans and there are so many amazing things still there.”
The journey to ‘Into the Now’ is decades long and the results are hauntingly inevitable. The first photograph Michael ever took was of a shark. Well, kind of. It was a photograph of a photograph of a shark he found in an issue of National Geographic. He snapped the photo on his first camera, got the film developed, and told everyone he took it, and then he spent the rest of his career turning it into a reality. He began photographing animals underwater after establishing himself as a celebrity shooter, including the posters for the very first Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. After photographing high profile subjects with impeccable lighting and controlled sets for so long, Michael found himself unimpressed by underwater photography equipment. “I wanted to light a Great White like I do Iron Man,” he says. So instead of operating with the status quo, he created a whole new lighting system for underwater photography, working with an engineer from JPL and ending up with four patents.
This set him up perfectly for the VR project years later because he ended up having to create a new image capture system almost entirely from scratch.
Before even experiencing VR for himself, he knew it was the movement of the future and wanted to get in on the ground floor. So before he got on a plane to shoot a campaign in Antigua where he'd be off the grid for a few weeks, he sent out a flurry of emails looking for partners on what would eventually become ‘Into the Now.’ Three weeks later he got back home to an email inbox showing interest from everyone he reached out to. At the same time, some very high-level neurologists showed interest. “Two days later I got a call from Andy Huberman at Stanford University and he said, ‘We’re really interested in your shark work.’” Huberman was studying PTSD responses and was thrilled by Michael’s story of starting deathly afraid of sharks to swimming with Great Whites outside the cage. He saw an opportunity to use Michael’s work as a blueprint to help those affected by the disorder.
One by one the pieces came together for the project to turn into something massive.
Michael quickly secured the funding he needed to create the picture. He developed the technology he needed to capture the picture. And he worked with Huberman to get the data that they needed to extend the picture beyond a one time experience. The results are a fully immersive experience that confronts the viewer with the reality of being with the intimidating creatures, allowing the audience to live through those moments as truly as possible without getting wet. It’s available to anyone who can get to it, and Michael and his team have even created an educational portal so kids can study the ocean biology under the waves, plus it’s being used with military veterans and at Children’s Hospitals to let them explore the ocean. But in the end, it was the experience that was most important to Michael and you’ve got to experience it if you want to understand the full story. “I don’t really want to go into that too much because it will give away the film, and I want the film to be a bit of a surprise for people,” he said on the eve of ‘Into the Now’s premiere.
‘Into the Now’ is set to show at the Cannes Film Festival that opens on May 8.