VR in the freezer

DNEG supports new Antarctic immersive VR experience

With its frozen wastelands Antarctica is truly one of Earth’s last wildernesses and a place where only a privileged
few will ever tread.

Now, however, a new immersive Virtual Reality (VR) documentary about Antarctica looks set to give more of us an opportunity to experience the sights, sounds and wildlife of the planet’s most remote continent.

Produced by White Spark Pictures, The Antarctica Experience uses the latest 360-degree 3D (stereo) video technology to take viewers on a 21-minute journey by land, sea and air through its spectacular frozen landscapes.

Shooting 360-degree stereo video in one of the toughest environments on Earth pushes the boundaries of documentary filmmaking – so naturally we were thrilled to support and be part of this ground breaking production.

A technically complex project

Each year the Australian Antarctic Media Program awards an innovative production company an opportunity to document the work of its scientists in February – the height of the Antarctic summer. White Sparks Pictures’ proposal to use VR to capture researchers studying the ice, ocean and ecosystem, secured their trip to the Antarctic research station.

But before they began the 5,000-mile trip from Hobart, Australia, to the remote Davis Research Station in Antarctica, the production company turned to DNEG’s experts Tim Baier and Miguel Riveiro for advice about using the special 360 stereoscopic camera rig.

After filming was complete, Tim and Miguel helped stitch the unique footage. This involved seamlessly connecting the footage from the six individual cameras on the rig to create a single 360-degree version of each shot.

Tim explains, “This project differed from conventional VFX work DNEG does because images from multiple cameras needed to be stitched together to make seamless 3D 360 shots at a resolution of 6,400 x 6,400 pixels – That’s more than five times the pixel count of 3K VFX projects that DNEG usually works on!”

Stabilising the shots

In Antarctica, the crew mounted the special camera on a drone, to capture breath-taking aerial views of the frozen terrain.

However, a problem with the aircraft’s stabiliser resulted in extreme camera shake and jitter in the footage. This was a major problem for the immersive 360 production; if the vital aerial images weren’t serenely stable, audiences may experience motion sickness.

Fortunately, our team devised new tools and techniques to map the high frequency movement across each of the six cameras and negate the calculated deviations.

With the aerial footage stabilised, our team used VFX techniques to remove the drone and the tripod (used when filming on the ground) – giving everyone watching the experience through the Oculus Go headset, an unobstructed 360-degree immersive view of Antarctica.

More about the film

Supported by the Australian Antarctic Division, Western Australian Museum, Screenwest, Lotterywest, Screen Australia and DNEG, the film takes viewers on a journey through the vast icy Antarctic landscape.

Created to be enjoyed on the Oculus Go VR headset, viewers will experience what it’s like to fly in a helicopter over the Sørsdal Glacier and zig-zag around icebergs in a Zodiac rigid inflatable boat, en route to an Adélie penguin colony (pictured above).

Where to see it

You can catch The Antarctic Experience at the WA Maritime Museum in Fremantle, Australia, until 14 October. After this it will tour other venues in Australia before it is expected to go on an international tour. For more details follow White Spark Pictures on Twitter: @whitesparkpics

If you can’t wait to see it, take a look at this 2D trailer for a brief glimpse of what to expect.

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