**This is a guest post from the team at Trick3D
The tarmac at Dobbins Air Force Base is clear – no jet engine roars – it’s calm enough to hear the American flag flapping in the breeze. And yet, the air’s electric with excitement. More than 50 airmen are aligned in formation. They are awaiting the arrival of a very special astronaut for a very special mission.
Astronaut Zayden Wright was born with a rare heart condition. In his seven years of life, the young explorer endured 38 echocardiograms, six heart cauterizations and four open heart surgeries. Yet, none of these challenges have stopped his appetite for adventure. When Make-A-Wish Georgia asked Zayden Wright what he wished for in all of the world, Zayden wished to go to Saturn in a red rocket ship, so his mother, Shonda Wright, said “Let’s see what we can do!”
From there, Zayden’s family, Make-A-Wish Georgia, immersive content studio TRICK 3D, and a squadron of local wish-granting volunteers banded together to make the seemingly impossible mission possible for the young airman. The group turned to the power of virtual reality to make the space expedition come to fruition.
The creative vision for the virtual reality wish was set by Zayden himself. Zayden described what his space expedition would be like with his mom and, in vivid detail, he shared how his rocket ship will be red, how he’ll meet a little green alien, and how he’ll see countless stars along his journey.
With Zayden’s creative brief in-hand, director and TRICK 3D founder, Chad Eikhoff, and his team set to work crafting the VR experience.
“When Make-A-Wish Georgia shared the wish with me, I immediately said ‘yes! We are doing this!’ Virtual reality is a medium that’s inherently built for wishes and dreams, and this is a great example of VR making something possible that was previously unattainable,” said Eikhoff. “For us at TRICK 3D, building a world and experience for such a meaningful use at such a high level of production is 100 percent why we create, so saying ‘yes’ to Zayden was a no-brainer.”
The ‘yes’ was easy. The task of crafting an experience that transported Zayden to the destination of his dreams was tricky – just the kind of challenge the artists of TRICK 3D love to tackle. Early on, the team turned to the HTC Vive headset, affectionately dubbed “astronaut goggles,” to achieve the most immersive virtual reality experience possible for Zayden.
“It was imperative for this experience that we make Zayden feel as though he was really experiencing the Saturn of his dreams,” remarked TRICK 3D lead technical artist, Warren Drones. “To achieve this, our team iterated in the Vive constantly – taking the headset on and off repeatedly – checking and re-checking the experience in order to refine the virtual world we were creating in real-time. The result – Zayden’s reaction – made it all worth it and confirmed to us the power of the technology.”
Zayden donned the HTC Vive (his astronaut goggles) and “blasted off” to Saturn on May 1st from Dobbins Air Force Base in Marietta, Ga. alongside NASA astronaut, LeRoy Chiao, to the fanfare of more than 50 airmen.
“Zayden’s Wish” represented the first-ever VR wish granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the seven-year-old’s reaction showcases the potential virtual reality has to transport kids (and adults) to places and experiences that were previously impossible or unimaginable.
“Zayden’s wish inspires us all to imagine what’s possible – he set a high bar for using VR to instill hope and joy,” said Eikhoff. “We’re excited by the innovative pathways this wish paved that will grant future wishes not yet imagined.”
Most recently, the Make-A-Wish Foundation honored the Georgia chapter and “Zayden’s Wish” with the Most Innovative Wish of the Year award.
“We have seen, time and again, that when we can make seemingly impossible wishes come true for these families, they experience an improved sense of overall hope and an improved outlook,” said David Williams, president and CEO of Make-A-Wish America. “Zayden’s Wish represents a remarkable achievement in harnessing creativity and technology to make that hope happen in a whole new way.”