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Watch VR’s first Oscar-nominated short film

Get some tissue ready, for yourself and your VR headset of choice

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Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

“Pearl” just became the first virtual reality project to be nominated for an Academy Award. The short animated film was produced by Google Spotlight Stories and Evil Eye Pictures. It’s available for free right now on the HTC Vive, and on YouTube where it’s available in 360 degrees and on Cardboard.

I spent a little time this morning watching the film in VR, and I now know how difficult it is to wipe tears off the inside of a head-mounted display.

“Pearl” tells the story of a single father raising his young daughter. Her name is Sara, which can only mean that Pearl is the name of the car, a 1970s hatchback, that they call home for much of the film. Over the course of five minutes, you see Sara grow up, sharing in her exuberance and, later, her angst from the front passenger seat. The film also makes wonderful use of its soundtrack. While the viewer remains fixed in place, it’s the soundscape itself that gives the film its sense of movement.

Watching it, I was reminded of the talk that Max Planck, the founder of Oculus’ Emmy-winning Story Studio, gave at last year’s GDC. He emphasized how important it was for VR to start with shorter experiences, grounded in emotional themes. “Pearl” does exactly that.

While La La Land is soaking up the attention, the tight-knit world of VR is quietly celebrating this milestone. Director Patrick Osborne took to Twitter this morning to thank his team.

This is Osborne’s second nomination. His first was for 2014’s short film “Feast,” which went on to win the Oscar for best animated short film the following year.

Also nominated in the category are “Blind Vaysha,” “Borrowed Time,” “Pear Cider and Cigarettes” and “Piper,” the short film from Pixar that premiered in front of Finding Dory at theaters last year. That major motion picture was conspicuously absent from the best animated feature category this year, which instead honored two other Disney films instead, Moana and Zootopia, along with Kubo and the Two Strings, My Life as a Zucchini and The Red Turtle.

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