'Back to the Future' DeLorean, Tesla Race in Virtual Reality

Delorean - H 2015
Courtesy of Joseph Edelson

The VR experience puts viewers in the driver's seat of a Tesla Model S pitted against the movie's iconic DeLorean sports car.

Every Back to the Future geek knows that Oct. 21, 2015 is the date that Marty McFly, portrayed by Michael J. Fox, arrives in the future after stepping into the movie's teleporting DeLorean sports car.

To commemorate the date — and the 30th anniversary of the original movie's release — Pasadena design studio Positron created a two-minute immersive virtual reality video, available as a free download starting Wednesday, that gives viewers a driver's-seat perspective from the DeLorean and a Tesla Model S as they engage in a mock street race.

"We thought, what if Marty McFly came into our version of the future and arrived today?" said Positron founder Jeffrey Travis. "The car of the future would be a Tesla."

(The video arrives two days after Consumer Reports rescinded its Model S recommendation, having famously given the Tesla a better-than-perfect score just weeks ago, after the publication's readers reported reliability problems in an annual survey.)

To create the video's virtual world, Travis convinced Tesla Motors to loan him a Model S — the company didn't commission or finance the video, he says — and tracked down one of the four DeLorean movie cars used in the film.

A rig holding eight GoPro 4K cameras mounted inside each car captured the driver's point of view as they raced on an abandoned access road outside Glendale, Calif. (The heads of the actual drivers were masked during postproduction.) Seven additional cameras mounted on a drone shot aerial footage.

The footage from both rigs was stitched together to create an immersive 360-degree point of view that, when the video is viewed through a Samsung Gear VR or Google Cardboard headset, changes perspective with the viewer's head position.

The interior of the DeLorean was dressed to look as it did in Back to the Future's version of 2015, right down to the hoverboard, a key prop from the movie, resting on the passenger seat.

"If you look down, you see you're wearing the same jacket that Marty McFly wears, the same torn jeans," said Travis. "It allows you to become this character."

When the point of view shifts to the interior of the Tesla, so does the time frame.

"When we pop you into the Tesla, you are now wearing an Apple Watch instead of a Casio calculator watch," Travis said.

The snarling exhaust note and engine noise when in the De Lorean — "the car itself is kind of a piece of crap, honestly," Travis confided — and the hushed, high-tech whir of the Tesla's electric motors, offered the chance to depict the "contrast between the old, loud analog world of the De Lorean and sleek, Apple world of the Tesla."

The climax of the race is informed by the fact that although "the Tesla is much faster, the DeLorean can time travel," Travis said. Without spoiling the ending, suffice to say that the Tesla, famous for its performance-enhancing "Insane" and "Ludicrous" modes available at the press of an icon, might just have a futuristic one ready to deploy.