Legendary broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough is a firm believer in new Virtual Reality (VR) technology. Speaking at a special event at London’s Natural History Museum (in the appropriately named Attenborough Studio within the museum’s Darwin Centre) he showcased ‘Dive the Great Barrier Reef’ in which he takes to a Triton min-submersible and takes VR users on a spectacular 360 degree 20-minute dive to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
The experience, made by Atlantic Productions’ Alchemy VR division and adapted in cooperation with London’s Natural History Museum from the ratings-winning Great Barrier Reef TV series, is now available for visitors to experience at the museum. Visitors will be kitted out with Samsung’s Gear VR headsets.
“I have been completely caught up [in VR]. It takes you to places you could have never dreamed existed,” Attenborough explained. Suddenly you are completely immersed, and you have a vivid feeling of actually being there. It’s an experience you don’t forget.”
He joked that in the roomful of people he should have taken off his own headset and instead watched what people were doing themselves in enjoying the content, and how many were looking behind, for example. The VR audience would be working individually, focusing on what interested them from the 360 degree images.
“It means you have to think in quite a different way.” Attenborough said VR had a considerable future and created a new dimension for the creative community. “It is a different way of thinking, and it is very different from the usual way where we as filmmakers direct the viewer towards the story we want to tell. Normally once you have seen that story, well you’ve seen it. You might want to see it again but VR gives you a dozen different stories. You are your own director. We can take you on one dive, but instead of looking down or straight ahead you can look behind, or to the opposite side. I might want to see what is happening over there!”
Anthony Geffin, CEO at Atlantic, said the VR programming making experience had only just begun. He said the ‘smart phone’ technology being used by most VR devices was affordable, and when mounted in inexpensive cardboard visors meant there was easy access for all. “There are lots of ways where this could be easily commercialised, not least by places [like a museum] which would charge for the experience. There are going to be App stores where you can download this or that experience, and this is already happening. You don’t need a new TV set or computer. You just need a phone and a minute or two later you can be enjoying the experience. Some might use simple headsets, others will use more sophisticated wired headsets. I see exciting times ahead.”
“When we first started we thought the equipment would cost a fortune,” added Attenborough. “But most people have smartphones, and the addition of a simple app [which splits the screen image] means that it is extremely accessible.”