To Saturn, and Beyond: Making Impossible Wishes Come True with Virtual Reality

Zayden Wright knows how to dream big.

When the Georgia chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation asked the seven year old what he wanted most in the entire world, he was ready with a reply. He wished he could blast off to outer space and visit Saturn in a red rocket ship.

Frankly, he’s earned it. When only two days old, Zayden was diagnosed with a congenital heart disease. He’s since endured nearly 40 echocardiograms, six heart catheterizations and four open heart surgeries.

It was up to the volunteers of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which each year grants the wishes of thousands of children with life-threatening medical conditions, and its partners to make it happen.

Thanks to the power of virtual reality, a seemingly impossible wish became possible.

To Saturn and Back with VR

A boy with infinite imagination and boundless energy, Zayden set the creative vision for his wish himself. In vivid detail, he described how his rocket ship would be red, how he’d see countless stars along his journey, and how he’d encounter friendly aliens who greet him with the sound of “bee bo!”

With that as their mission statement, Atlanta-based VR, AR and 3D animation studio TRICK 3D brought Zayden’s space expedition to life using VR. Rather than relying on pre-rendered scenes, the TRICK 3D team used custom workstations with NVIDIA GPUs running Unreal Engine 4 for a real-time pipeline that would allow for the highest-quality, wow-inducing interactive environment.

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“VR has the potential to transport us to places previously unimaginable,” says Chad Eikhoff, founder and CEO  at TRICK 3D. “We used NVIDIA GPUs to ensure the most realistic, silky smooth experience, even with real-time lighting reflections and effects — the creative and technical aspects really came together to allow us to grant Zayden a truly magical, awesome wish.”

Preparing for Blast Off

Naturally, one cannot blast off to outer space (even virtually) without expert astronaut training and guidance. Commander LeRoy Chiao is a former NASA astronaut and founder of educational not-for-profit OneOrbit. He heard about Zayden’s wish and joined the effort leading Zayden through an “astronaut training program” in preparation for his mission at TRICK 3D’s studios in Atlanta.

On May 1, Commander Chiao accompanied Commander Zayden on his expedition to Saturn, departing from Dobbins Air Reserve base.

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Zayden’s is the first virtual reality wish the Make-A-Wish Foundation has ever granted. It was so magical, in fact, that last week his wish received the “Most Innovative Wish of the Year” award from the nonprofit.

The young astronaut now enjoys his own personal mobile version of “Zayden’s Wish” with Samsung VR.

Learn more about his journey in the video below.

To learn more about Make-A-Wish Georgia, visit georgia.wish.org. For more on TRICK 3D, visit TRICK 3D.

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