To Saturn! Exploring New Frontiers in VR: An Impossible Wish Inspires an Epic Journey for Astronaut Zayden Wright

Zayden Wright is the first astronaut to land on Saturn.

While it sounds impossible, the seven-year-old space explorer and Georgia native “blasted off” to Saturn in virtual reality (VR) thanks to the Georgia chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and TRICK 3D.
 

When Zayden Wright was only two days old, he was diagnosed with a congenital heart disease that required him to endure 38 echocardiograms, six heart catheterizations and four open heart surgeries. Yet, the young astronaut’s challenges haven’t stopped him from dreaming and wishing big. Really big. When Make-A-Wish Georgia approached Zayden and asked him what he wanted in the entire world, he replied that he wished to blast off to outer space and visit Saturn in a red rocket ship.

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To make the seemingly impossible wish possible, Make-A-Wish Georgia partnered with TRICK 3D, helmed by Chad Eikhoff, director and producer of the hit “The Elf on the Shelf: An Elf’s Story.” TRICK 3D is a high-tech creative studio specializing in the creation of imaginative and immersive content for both enterprise and entertainment sectors. These capabilities, combined with Eikhoff’s passion for creating imaginative children’s content, made the studio a natural fit for tackling the awesome creative and technical challenge of Zayden’s Wish.

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The creative vision for the wish was set by Zayden himself. The seven-year-old laid out, in vivid detail, how his rocket ship is red, the stars are countless, and how he encounters a friendly green alien who says “Bee Bo! Bee Bo!” Pulling from this creative direction, Director Chad Eikhoff and the TRICK 3D production team began making Zayden’s Wish a reality.

“Zayden’s awesome and infinite sense of imagination drove our team to create a new production pipeline to meet the challenge,” said Eikhoff. “The TRICK 3D team pushed the limits of Unreal Engine 4 and other leading tools to generate a cinematic look for the wish.”

The TRICK 3D team leveraged Unreal Engine 4 in order to develop very iteratively, which helped them move existing CG animation techniques into a real-time, immersive pipeline. As one example, Unreal Engine 4 allowed the team to build a process for the constant assessment of animation in the fully rendered virtual experience in VR. “As a director, working within the final scene is a huge benefit compared to preview and playblast reviews used in the standard CG animation pipeline,” said Eikhoff.

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Joining the technical and creative teams for “Zayden’s Wish” was Former NASA astronaut LeRoy Chiao and an entire community of volunteers from Make-A-Wish Georgia, Dobbins Air Force Base and more. These volunteers, affectionately called “Zayden’s Squadron,” convened and worked together to make Zayden’s VR blast off an epic adventure. On May 1, Zayden launched off to Saturn from Dobbins Air Force Base in Marietta, Georgia.

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Further proving the power of Zayden’s vision, “Zayden’s Wish” is garnering national praise as the Make-A-Wish Foundation recently honored the Georgia chapter and TRICK 3D with the ‘Most Innovative Wish of the Year’ award in recognition of the wish’s ground-breaking and inventive execution.

“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. “VR has yet to find it’s voice but, thanks to Zayden, this was an opportunity to discover the power of immersive animation while opening doorways to future wishes not yet imagined.”

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