How VR Porn is Made

From early interactive DVDs to the latest 6K VR experiences, virtual porn has come a long way. Going behind the sexy stars and complex camera rigs, this deep dive into how VR porn is made covers shooting, editing, the current state of the art, and what the future holds for viewers ready to explore virtual sexuality.

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Uncovering Virtual Reality Porn

Traditional two-dimensional pornography has a long and storied history of attempting to bring viewers heightened states of immersion and arousal. From placing a 16mm Arriflex behind a male performer’s head for a POV shot of the woman fellating him to groundbreaking interactive DVD productions like Digital Sin’s My Plaything series, these attempts pale in comparison to what can be achieved in virtual reality. Giving a vivid sense of depth to footage of two adult performers in action, VR porn brings its viewers into each scene but also poses its own unique set of obstacles.

In the Wink of an Eye

Every edit made in 2D cinema creates a subtle psychological chasm that skilled filmmakers can quite easily compensate for or take advantage of. In the 3D realm, an interruption to the linear flow of VR movement not only sees this effect intensified but adds a physically disruptive element. Visible edits made in VR without adequate transition to compensate can lead to increased disorientation and nausea, known as cybersickness, already a problem for some VR users. Reported to affect women more intensely than men, cybersickness has presented a challenge to VR creators, especially those aiming for realism and authenticity.
Image: Titles from Digital Sin’s My Plaything series of interactive adult DVDs.

Adult VR productions almost uniformly rely on very minimal editing. Many productions are arranged so that an entire scene can be shot with no edits at all, though the challenges this method poses to performers can be quite an impairment. Judicious placement of a few select edits can result in them flying by more or less unnoticed, the viewer’s enjoyment of a scene fully intact. Typically these moments land during movement between sexual positions or before the usual explosive ending. Cutting before the money shot also ensures the male talent can be fully prepared for his big moment; it’s one of the few accommodations male talent receive on a VR shoot.

Trapping the Talent

Ask adult performers what they enjoy most about their work and many will cite the freedom it brings them. Personal and financial flexibility is one thing but the freedom to act out most any sexual desire they may have and get paid for it is truly a luxury to many of us who have little choice but to keep sex firmly planted in our private lives.

Virtual Reality pornography poses a major hurdle to this highly prized sense of personal freedom. Significantly restricting the movements of performers so as to cultivate a strong 180° or 360° experience, VR shoots tend to keep one performer as still as possible while the other does all the work. Surrounded by elaborate camera and monitoring systems along with the usual rats-nest of cables can really cramp a performer’s style, even if they’re the active one.

Joanna Angel has said working with VR is like “shooting in a little box,” and numerous male performers have maintained that staying silent and still is one of porn’s toughest tasks. Cumbersome technology never really stopped humans advancing the sexual arts before, though, so there’s every reason to expect these obstacles will be overcome with time. Giselle Palmer’s first on-set job was a VR shoot. Although she pulled through without major issue, Palmer did note that the challenges VR posed were very different than what she was expecting, like talking to the camera with no interaction whatsoever.

Even Veterans Go Virtual

For a veteran like Lisa Ann, shooting excellent VR was the last challenge left to conquer. Telling LADbible she didn’t want her career to be “time-stamped by technology,” and “hadn’t tried any VR scenes yet.” Ending her career (and her comeback) with two scenes for WetVR, Ann had the opportunity to perform ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) using binaural microphones mounted near her co-stars ears. Her whispers land in the sonic space around the users own head, giving the thoroughly believable impression that this porn legend’s lips are mere millimeters from their very sensitive (and highly erogenous) ears.

Image: Briana Banks in Pardon My French by VR Bangers.

Another porn veteran, Briana Banks, told VRPorn.com shooting virtual sex scenes was “almost like masturbation.” Required to direct her eyeline above her costars head and into camera made the scene “a little awkward,” with Banks finding it hard to “get into a scene both sexually and mentally when there’s no foreplay and no eye contact.” Some viewers have noted a stiffness and artificiality to much of the VR porn they’ve seen and it’s true it can be an impediment to arousal. As more performers both new and accomplished step into the VR market, their comfort and capabilities will only increase. Hopefully, so too will the technology. Many younger performers dabbled in DIY VR streaming and indie porn creation before entering the mainstream, helping some of them adapt very easily to a strain of porn that is much further removed from real-world sex than its technological predecessors.

The Independent Voice in VR Porn

Ela Darling had flirted with mainstream porn in the past but since walked a more independent path than your typical AVN winner. “I really wanted to do VR porn, but I wasn’t some big superstar and the studios that were up and coming weren’t going to call my dumbass to come out and shoot for them,” Darling told the Daily Dot in 2017. “So when I saw someone post on Reddit about wanting to make VR porn I was like, fuck yes, hell yes, I want to do this.” She found a partner in physics student James Ashfield, a babyfaced 20-year-old, who flew Darling to D.C., and invited her to shoot in his dorm room. Darling dressed in an R2-D2 swimsuit, spoke directly to the camera, flirted and masturbated. Fifteen minutes later Ashfield proposed an equal partnership in his VRTube streaming service.

Now bringing virtual encounters to adult live-stream fans via Cam4, the pair’s tech creations even extend to a patented camera rig they claim “lets you get closer than any other camera on the market.” Darling also revealed one of the more surprising elements of adult VR broadcasting: viewers using VR are more respectful, considerate, and polite than those watching in traditional 2D. “They feel like they know me and are in the bedroom with me,” she told the New York Times, adding that VR users scolded 2D viewers when the latter frequently got out of line in the chat.

From panel “The Rise of Consumer VR” at SVVR 2015.

Image: Ela Darling speaking at a virtual reality conference.

Outside and Inside the Mainstream

Many of the most prominent adult entertainment studios have yet to make the leap to VR. Whether waiting for some new tech marvel to make an even more convincing case for VR porn or simply steering clear out of disinterest, the world has yet to see a commitment to VR from Brazzers, Bang Bros and many others majors. Other formerly 2D studios have thrown their lot in with VR completely; others still, like Naughty America, are keeping one foot in each and serving both audiences equally well.

Some creators aren’t content to wait for the next big tech development to help propel their work and aim to capitalize on VR as much as possible. In fact, many of the most adventurous VR productions have arisen from the independent and alternative porn worlds. Director Angie Rowntree of BDSM studio Wasteland has compared shooting 360° VR to staging theatre, noting the intense preproduction required to design, block, and rehearse any VR sex scene. Viewing the first and only take of a major sex scene from her Wasteland feature Empowering Anna from an adjacent room via iPad, Rowntree arranged the scene to make use of a full 360° environment visually, sonically, and dramatically.

Image: Wasteland’s Angie Rowntree (Sshh.com)

Requiring more set dressing and prop mastery than 2D porn productions that focus on one area of a space, a 360° VR shoot has to be fully adorned and decorated with appropriate items. So, too, does the entire space need to be lit. With many pro-level VR cameras proving quite sensitive to slight changes in light levels, the learning curve here can be discouragingly difficult. Rowntree’s success with her VR debut has encouraged her to continue forging a new dramatic language for fully immersive pornography.

Todd Glider, BaDoinkVR CEO, insists that the most convincing case for VR porn is yet to be made. Once VR is sufficiently infused with haptic feedback accessories, Glider believes the tech will truly have delivered on its promise. “It’s not just about seeing it,” he told Vice in 2015, “it’s about feeling it. It’s biosensors, it’s all of these things tied together that give you a virtual reality experience that matches the five-sense experience that you have in day-to-day life.”

Haptic feedback has already reached the sex toy market and has improved everything from standard vibrator design to long-distancing video chatting. Couples can purchase twin-sets of devices, pair them to each other and their phones or laptops and actually feel each other’s arousal when separated by distance. As more employees around the globe shift to working from home a greater portion of the time, and as those that do not see their work-related travel increase, feeling sensations from a remote lover will be a much more commonplace and accepted means of achieving erotic pleasure. With the involvement of virtual reality imagery, either live-streamed from a partner or sourced from a VR porn outlet, the tactile opportunities enhancing adult A/V pleasures start to come very close to our wildest decades-old sci-fi fantasies.

Lust in the Round

Image: Erika Lust with her 360° of Lust cast.

Swedish producer, director, and advocate for feminist porn Erika Lust sees a danger in the current VR porn status quo. Decrying the “mechanical sex and fake orgasms” delivered with “no passion, no context” Lust sees such work as treating “women as objects, men as penises,” and neither as especially human. “I think we have a long way to go before we can get a pleasurable experience in VR,” she told Vice in 2016.

Since making those statements, Lust produced a unique virtual porn experience entitled, appropriately enough, 360° of Lust. Instead of taking the obvious route with a one-man, one-woman cast and focusing on providing the male POV for a presumed all-male audience, the vanguard director set about creating a miniature world of unbridled passion. Placing her performers, Kali, Katana, Julia, and Mickey in the middle of an open warehouse floor, Lust used an Insta360 Pro camera to capture the full environment, allowing viewers to choose their perspective on the four bodies and their dynamic sex. A distinct take on sex in VR, 360° of Lust was a bold experiment that seems to have paid off. Already a strong influence on new generations of porn directors, Lust may have solidified a new branch of VR porn for creators to explore.

Under the Hood

Breaking the fourth wall: near-sacrilege in traditional 2D narrative porn but almost essential in 3D. Subtly acknowledging the structure of VR shoots, the leaning in and whispering closely, the maintained eye contact contribute to pulling the viewer deeper into a scene and making its erotic elements harder to deny. Think of a classic film like Annie Hall or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, both of which break the fourth wall by having the protagonist directly address the audience. Think of the effect that had on you as an unsuspecting viewer. Now think of that same effect being applied erotically, not comedically, throughout an entire scene. VR porn essentially drags you from your rooting in reality, allowing you to float away from physical restrictions and into pure fantasy. Or it can present a realistic encounter so convincing your usually stifled emotions may have something to say about it – and about the utterly charming woman who just seduced you.

Image: Alina Lopez, one of today’s most compelling performers. (VR Bangers)

Considering graphic penile penetration is often merely present in VR porn, not the entire focus, the psychological ramifications are potentially huge. Leaving viewers to pleasure themselves as if they (and their onscreen partner) were the only ones present, VR porn can play numerous psychological tricks on the human mind. The viewer’s genitalia becomes the male performer’s genitalia, and not just because the visuals more or less line up. Every avid VR user has experienced a surprisingly strong physical reaction to an object or character you consciously know isn’t real, but one about which your mind is nevertheless confused enough to flinch, recoil, or reach out in response.

Moving the position of the viewer’s POV without it being directed by the movement of their own head most often results in nausea. Many traditionally popular porn acts are therefore out the window until full body mapping and tracking is commonplace. Sex acts (in hetero porn, at least) must generally be restricted to those that allow the woman to lead. Cowgirl, thankfully, brings plenty of eye contact and full body views along with fair views of penetration. For the explicit detail provided by missionary, the male’s restricted mobility poses a barrier only partly offset by more skilled female performers capable of driving sex while in a traditionally “passive” position.

Stitching Things Together

As most VR shoots utilize multiple cameras, there needs to be a system to bring it all into one frame of view without being a garbled mess. Stitching is not as often required when shooting with twin cameras but is a major post-production process for 360° shoots which routinely requires more than ten cameras to capture. Every director and crew has its preferred way of achieving a desired result and VR post production has its fair share of divergent paths. More than one notable producer of VR porn runs multi-cam footage through Video Stitch with real-time monitoring made possible by connection with Oculus Rift.
Image: A typical VR editing suite. (Adobe)

It’s not only performers whose presence complicates any multi-camera VR porn shoot. The environment in which the sex takes place may be a simple white soundstage with a nondescript platform in the center or it could be a lavish mansion decorated with reflective gold objects and surfaces, or an equally reflective bathroom. As sets (and the plots that require them) become more involved, the limitations they place on shooting also grow stronger. The more comprehensive camera systems become, the sooner we can approach a more mobile take on VR porn without disturbing our perception of the environment or breaking immersion.

Arguably the most arduous and unforgiving parts of shooting, well, almost anything is lighting. In VR porn, the tendency is to avoid shadows and shifting light temperatures entirely. Essentially aiming for fully lit visibility for every curve, crack, and crevice, directors and DPs must be constantly forcing themselves into an objective viewpoint. On-set playback only makes this easier, of course, but this highly artificial light – which, it should be noted, isn’t that far from the world of 2D porn production – does put a cap on just how adventurous any given VR porn scene can be.

Adult Gamers Gone Virtual

The premise of virtual reality is not limited to presenting a convincing 3D scene visually. Interactivity has always held major appeal to anyone considering diving into VR and, when it comes to adult content, the most interactive experiences are currently coming from the VR gaming sector.

Image: Holodexxx’s motion-captured performers set it apart from the competition.

Arguably the closest we’ve yet come to a perfect union of flesh-and-blood pornstars and game-like interactivity is Holodexxx. A cyberpunk-styled virtual environment occupied by avatars of popular pornstars brought to “life” by extensive 360° still and motion capture photography, Holodexxx counts superstars Riley Reid, Marley Brinx, Lexi Belle among its cast. Not content to rely on these famous figures, developers introduced chatbot technology to enable users to converse with their neon-dazzled virtual dates.

In pursuit of the natural, elegant movement of cinema steadicams, the Holodexxx team set out to create a modular equivalent for VR. Utilizing the Unreal 4 engine’s VR spectator camera but adapting it for use with an Xbox controller, the team was able to provide not only advanced camera moves to users but also the DIY plans to build such a rig to its followers.

Feedback as a Feature

Captain Hardcore, developer AntiZero’s effort to expand sex simulation with narrative gameplay, quests and challenges, procedural environments and other more conventional gaming features, also benefits from fan feedback. Patrons and supporters receive monthly development update videos and blogs while AntiZero also fields requests and suggestions to bring Captain Hardcore to an even more impressive state.
Image: One of Captain Hardcore’s customizable companions. (AntiZero)

Outside of the mild discussion found in under-video comments, this kind of user feedback system doesn’t really exist in standard VR porn. Considering the contribution it has had to raising the standard of adult gaming, such an open system has the potential to aid the development of non-gaming VR porn in ways both currently known and unforeseeable.

As detailed earlier, shooting VR porn does impose physical limitations CGI game creators simply don’t encounter. They won’t likely be alone for too much longer. As tech always does, the developments supporting VR are only becoming more affordable, lighter, more versatile, and more freeing to both producers and viewers. It’s not hard to imagine a near future of VR porn that allows real human performers to be experienced with as much interactivity and malleability as a customized CGI sexbot. Add the various advances in haptic feedback and other tactile tools, along with the growing proliferation of VR live-streams, and human-to-human interaction through VR will no doubt be leaps and bounds from where it is now.

Into the Great Virtual Horizon

Image: Women will have a strong hand in shaping the future of virtual sex and adult entertainment. (Women @ the Frontier)

With how far VR porn has come in only the last five years, its hold on viewers and its influence on the rest of the porn world appears only to be increasing. As the traditional porn world eventually had to buckle up and make the leap to HD or risk fading from relevance, so too will it have to properly address virtual reality. What VR viewers now enjoy may be a rich platter of almost every illicit fantasy imaginable but the depth with which they can experience these pleasures is a rapidly growing area. From clearer, more immersive VR to sex toys equipped with haptic feedback to ultra-HD VR live-streaming and video conferencing that will open a world of real-time interactions more lifelike than anything seen before, there’s plenty to look forward to as a VR porn viewer.

Author bio
VRPorn.com is the world’s leading adult VR resource, providing free and subscriber-only content to more than 8 million adult visitors monthly.