Adult film star Ariel X poses with a Samsung Gear VR for KinkVR.com.

Adult film star Ariel X poses with a Samsung Gear VR for KinkVR.com.

Image credit: Photos courtesy Kink.com

Kink.com's VR porn experiment is a lesson in extreme anatomy

I thought I'd seen everything until I saw inside Ella Nova's anus.

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    Image credit: Photos courtesy Kink.com

    Six years ago, I exited the porn industry after the studio I worked for succumbed to a decline in DVD sales. Toward the end, I was one of two employees. I answered phones, designed box covers, scripted Brazilian gang bangs and spent hours airbrushing razor burn and other skin conditions in Photoshop.

    I thought I'd seen everything until I saw inside Ella Nova's anus.

    NSFW Warning: This story contains links to and descriptions of explicit sexual acts.

    In early November, I was invited to a shoot for Kink's official foray into virtual reality. The studio, founded by Columbia Ph.D. finance student Peter Acworth in 1997, has grown into a bona fide fetish empire, with more than 130 full-time employees occupying the 200,000-square-foot Armory building in San Francisco's Mission District. Unlike many old-guard studios, Kink not only embraced the move to Internet-based distribution, but also thrived in a market dominated by YouTube-style porn sites.

    The company boasts nearly two dozen separate fetish sites, ranging from Butt Machine Boys to Electro Sluts, and has produced more than 10,000 sex scenes since its founding. According to a New York Times article, Kink had as many as 60,000 subscribers in 2007. Its latest venture, KinkVR.com, launched on Black Friday, and if all goes according to plan, will serve a selection of 180-degree immersive VR experiences covering some of the company's most popular genres. The site, currently in beta, offers six immersive sex scenes for free, with two more set to roll out in the coming weeks.

    Her name is Ella Nova and over the next few hours she'll be slapped, spanked and splayed in a female sub-dom POV scene.

    Despite claiming to provide "the most ethical and authentic kinky adult entertainment," the company has been implicated in a number of scandals, most recently in the alleged cover-up of rape allegations brought against porn crossover star James Deen by former Kink model Nicki Blue. My first day on the set, however, feels like just another day at the office.

    A young woman with a blonde bob and understated makeup, wearing nothing but a pair of flip flops, grabs a granola bar from the craft services table and runs past me into a small red dungeon.

    "New snacks!" She squeals.

    Her name is Ella Nova and over the next few hours she'll be slapped, spanked and splayed in a female sub-dom POV scene.

    Adult film star Ella Nova holds a Samsung Gear VR before her first virtual reality shoot.

    Adult film star Ella Nova holds a Samsung Gear VR before her first virtual reality shoot.

    Today's shoot is the second in the company's grand virtual reality porn experiment and I'm here to see how the sausage is made. A small, self-assembled team of VR enthusiasts inside the company is producing a handful of virtual reality videos for a variety of sexual appetites in an attempt to better understand the burgeoning market. If Kink and the adult film industry in general can get it right, the argument goes, virtual reality could be porn's next big thing.

    Back inside the dungeon, Ella Nova and her co-star, Ariel X, a well-spoken brunette with lean muscles and chiseled facial features, sit on a twin-sized prison-style metal bed. Ariel is about to introduce Ella to VR for the first time.

    "My dick! I have a dick! She's riding my dick!" Ella, dressed in a latex bra and skirt, rubs her hands together, a Samsung VR headset strapped to her head. She seems completely transfixed, grasping at the air, throwing her head back and forth and explaining in detail her surroundings and the feeling of truly being inside another world.

    Just the night before I'd had my own first time with VR porn. Though I wouldn't describe my experience quite so enthusiastically. A friend had sent over a series of man-on-man VR shorts in anticipation of my day at Kink. After two and a half hours downloading the films and subsequently side-loading them onto a Galaxy S6, I was transported into a series of awkward sex scenes where vaguely European men gyrated, moaned and made uncomfortable sustained eye contact with my seemingly lifeless virtual body. My first time with VR porn, was, like my first time with real sex, a real disappointment.

    Where as my first time having sex was spent fumbling around a perfectly proportional human body, my first time with VR was a study in house-of-mirrors anatomy. As I'd later learn from the crew at Kink, blocking is incredibly important when shooting for VR: get too close and you end up with an R Crumb-esque giant, get too far away and you risk a disconnect from the viewer. In my case, I was being ridden, reverse Cowboy by "The Agency Boy," a pinhead with an enormous back. I found myself engulfed in a sea of fake-n-bake flesh.

    Virtual reality porn, like VR itself, is still very much in nascent stages. For many, the first time with VR came via a century's old publication and a cardboard box when The New York Times gave Google's DIY headsets to its print subscribers just weeks ago. The first commercially available VR headsets have just hit the market. And Oculus Rift, the Apple Watch of VR -- the device many expect to define the industry -- isn't set to arrive until next year.". Meanwhile, content creators, from news organizations like The New York Times to major game and film studios like Fox are scrambling to get out ahead of what could be the next big thing in entertainment. This is VR's gold rush moment.

    The action has to feel organic, but the real-life scenario is anything but.

    Like VHS, HD and streaming, the adult industry is ready to make the most of this new medium. But as FiveStar, the lead director on Kink's VR initiative, can attest, no one has figured it out quite yet. After months of experimentation and exploration, in which FiveStar and head of post-production Kawai spent hours simulating sex acts fully clothed, the team chose to use a 180-degree DIY VR camera rig. The setup houses two GoPros in a metal case that feels like a natural extension of the cages and chains hanging on the dungeon walls. A 180-degree field of view is currently the industry standard for VR porn, a limitation that lends itself to quicker turnaround and lower investment.

    "Yes, it's very crude, yes we're working with very limited technology right now, but even with the 180 and even without the light field, where you can move your head around and stuff like that. Even with a stationary camera, there are still really amazing things that haven't been done yet, that haven't been discovered yet," FiveStar says.

    After filming Ella's first time, FiveStar pulls Ariel and Ella aside to talk about how the scene will be shot. On a typical shoot, the models can move around relatively unencumbered and the cameras will follow. In order to avoid too much post-production work and to provide the viewer with a consistent point of view, however, the camera is fixed in one position, requiring the models to be conscious not only of where their bodies are in relation to the camera, but also what the end user will eventually see. It can take up to 30 minutes to set up each shot, which means there's very little room for error.

    FiveStar will shoot the scene from Ariel's perspective. To get a realistic or at least somewhat believable look at Ella's ass, the crew will position the GoPro rig directly in front of Ariel's eyes, obscuring her line of sight. Ariel will have to crane her neck to the right and use one of two iPhone monitors in order to see what she's doing, which in this case involves a speculum, a very flexible anal orifice and a lot of hand-eye coordination. The action has to feel organic, but the real-life scenario is anything but.

    FiveStar says she preps the models by telling them they are about to have "the least intimate sexual experience of your life," in the interest of providing "the most intimate experience you can get as a viewer."

    "You have to be so narcissistic, looking at yourself and making sure you're in frame and all that," Ariel said. "You lose that connection with your co-star."

    From left: Kink's head of post production Kawai, director FiveStar and model Ariel X review footage on an iPhone.

    From left: Kink's head of post production Kawai, director FiveStar and model Ariel X review footage on an iPhone.

    Before we get to the actual action, I watch as Ariel and Ella walk through a pre-scene interview. They stand closer together, a few feet from the makeshift camera rig. Ariel asks Ella what her safe words are: red for stop, mercy for slow down and a simple uh-uh if she has something in her mouth. And if anything is off limits: no nipple corporal and no foot torture, today.

    After another short huddle with FiveStar, Ariel throws Ella, now fully nude with a ball gag in her mouth, over her shoulder and speaks directly to camera.

    FiveStar and a crew of three crowd around the GoPros, staring at a pair of iPhones "monitors." The surrounding studio lights make the makeshift equipment look toy-like by comparison. It's a comical visual juxtaposition that underlines the experimental nature of Kink's VR pursuits and youth of the medium. The self-professed "largest producer of BDSM and fetish entertainment in the world" is investing in the future of pornography with a volunteer team and a pair of iPhone-connected action cams strapped together in a homemade case.

    Unfortunately, the blocking was off in the first shot and the team will have to shoot it again. The first time Ariel threw Ella over her shoulder it looked effortless. The second time you can see the strain as she attempts to shimmy Ella's bare ass just so on to her shoulder. She smiles anyway and says, "Hello there, I brought us something to play with..."

    The next time I see Ariel, she's wearing street clothes and sitting at a large round table with the crew from the previous Friday's shoot. I'm back at Kink to meet with the self-assigned VR team for lunch in a sprawling dining room on the top floor of the converted Armory building. The dark wood dining room is located just across from the studio's massive kitchen, where an in-house chef creates meals four days a week for Kink employees. I load up on veggie lasagna, salad and a little bit of salmon and ask the team to recount their first experiences with VR porn. According to the team, the whole VR initiative and many of their first times, came about when Kink's founder acquired an Oculus Rift dev unit early this year.

    I'm here and yet I'm there. And then all of a sudden I'm in her ass.

    "Peter just got his Rift and a subscription to Virtual Real Porn and he was very excited about it," FiveStar said. "He pulled up a VR video of a person fingering this woman. It was a dude, but I wasn't really thinking about that, because there was this really beautiful naked chick right in front of me that I was fingering. And it was very awkward to be at work, with my boss. I was like 'Whoa, I don't usually have sex in front of my boss.' It felt real."

    Videographer Becca Reilly recalled a similarly disorienting experience. After taking off her glasses, she started to get her bearings before being thrust into a too-close-for-comfort sex scene she couldn't control.

    "It was this girl and she's like unbuttoning this guys pants, and so I'm looking down at where his penis is, and it kind of like unfurled," Reilly said. "And because of the distortion of the lens, I felt like it was going to hit me."

    Reilly says she tried to jerk her head up to escape the impending appendage but soon realized it wasn't her move to make. I'd felt the same sense of sex scene claustrophobia my first time, but disregarded it. This is still early days for VR production after all, and filmmakers are just beginning to figure out how to make the experience feel real without investing in CGI or 360 degree camera rigs.

    "If you're doing it from a POV perspective, where there's a body in the frame, then it's almost like you're possessed by somebody else," FiveStar says. "But, you know, that's where the suspension of disbelief comes in, that's where you just go with the flow."

    Kink's VR team uses an in-house shooting rig consisting of two GoPros in a custom casing and iPhones for monitors.

    Kink's VR team uses an in-house shooting rig consisting of two GoPros in a custom casing and iPhones for monitors.

    Just twenty minutes prior, before we launched into an hour-long conversation about the future of VR pornography, I attempted to suspend my disbelief as the team showed me the scene they'd shot when I was on set. I didn't know what to expect, although I didn't expect to be particularly surprised. Ariel warned that what I was about to see was extreme anal and it might gross me out.

    "It's not like dookey or anything," she said. "But you can definitely see her lunch."

    Kawai assures them that I'd been around the block, citing my previous porn experience.

    "It wasn't extreme but I've definitely seen it all," I say.

    I put the headset on and I'm immediately greeted by a close-up of Ella's ass. It doesn't look like it did in person. This time, the lens's fisheye effect makes her butt look inflated, almost cartoon-like. As I prepare to dive in, I can hear the clinking of silverware as my lunch mates finish their veggie lasagna and salmon. I feel the snugness of the headset and the plush warmth of its foam against my face.

    I'm here and yet I'm there. And then all of a sudden I'm in her ass.

    And I don't mean my penis or my fingers or even my fist. I mean I'm inside her ass. Or at least, that's the way it feels. I realize that I was wrong. I haven't seen everything. In fact, I'm starting to wonder if I've seen anything at all. You can't see Ella's lunch, as Ariel's put it. Quite the opposite. It's like being inside of a womb or a particularly immaculate throat, all gently pulsating, mucus-y pink flesh.

    Extreme girl-on-girl anal couldn't be farther from my personal preferences. It didn't turn me on or gross me out. It didn't embarrass me or make me feel queasy. But it made me feel something I'd never felt before.

    Seconds after having my VR a-ha moment, I'm back at lunch, a table full of expectant eyes staring at me, my salmon turning cold. I came away that day finally understanding what everyone had been talking about. As a non-gamer, VR had always seemed like a gimmick, a one-trick pony. My early experiences hadn't convinced me otherwise. But that video finally delivered on the technology's ultimate promise: to transport us to another world, or in this case, another orifice.

    Kink and its competitors face formidable obstacles in making VR porn's next big thing. The technology for production and distribution is still very new, files are huge and the films cost a decent amount of time and money to produce. Meanwhile, sites like XTube provide a near-limitless library of pornography, streaming and at zero cost to the consumer.

    It's unclear whether or not consumers will be willing to spend the hours it takes to side-load a multi-GB file onto cumbersome headgear for what is still a very unrefined art. But if you need convincing that VR can take you places you've never been before, look no further than Ella Nova's ass.

    [Photo credit: Images courtesy Kink.com]

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