Experience the Maasai Mara wildebeest migration in virtual reality

Posted by Welcome Lishivha on 22 February 2018

A new virtual reality (VR) film by a South African based VR company, Exodus: The Great Migration offers viewers the opportunity to witness and be part of the Maasai Mara wildebeest migration.

Wildebeest at dusk. Photo by Peter Dawson.

The Deep VR team recently launched Exodus: The Great Migration, an immersive 360-degree virtual journey through the annual great wildebeest migration in the Maasai Mara in Kenya.

I witnessed the journey last week, in a pop-up cinema at Circa art gallery in Rosebank with specialised VR goggles. The nine-minute journey offers a sense of physical presence at the migration, and as a viewer, you feel like you’re in the middle of the action witnessing the migration. The 360-degree experience means that you can look up, down, left or right, and will be confronted by charging herds of wildebeest, their natural predators and the scenic environment without any bakkies in 4X4’s in sight – just nature.

Although virtual reality is on the rise, experts believe that content to match this form of media consumption might be lacking. And indeed Deep VR CEO Ulrico Grech-Cumbo notes there hasn’t been a lot, if any at all, of content being created that captures wildlife and nature as intensely as this film does. The film offers viewers an immersive experience in nature – arguably more than physically being on the plains and seeing the animals from a distance, or binoculars.

The idea of the film came from the team’s hunger to create truly original African content and take advantage of the rise of VR to capture the beauty the continent has to offer.

‘We asked ourselves, how can we use this technology to foster appreciation, education and conservation for Mother Nature in a way no technology has ever allowed before? In a crazed leap of faith, we set out on the ultimate creative challenge for our first original piece: to film the greatest mammal migration on the plains of the Maasai Mara, in VR,’ says Ulrico Grech-Cumbo.

For a first of its kind and the first step in the VR direction by the team, Exodus is a great achievement, especially when one considers that they only spent ten days in the Maasai Mara filming. Filming such stories often requires that the team spend months to almost a year on location researching the area, the animals and filming, but due to limited funding, they had limited time to film. The 10 days were not smooth either.

Lions curious about the 360-degree camera. Photo supplied.

In a behind-the-scenes Made in the Mara documentary directed by Amy Montalvo, you’ll see hilarious footage of the camera-shy wildebeest plus hyenas and lions curiously poking the cameras when they were not initially camouflaged.

After seven days of shooting, the Deep VR crew had no footage. ‘That was terrifying, we had invested so much time and money and now would have to return and tell people that our mission had failed,’ Grech-Cumbo reflects.

It was only on the very last day that everything fell into place. With all cameras rolling, thousands of wildebeest rushed headlong down the riverbank and crashed into the water for the epic crossing that is witnessed. ‘You could see the relief on everyone’s faces, we were all ecstatic,’ Grech-Cumbo laughs.

A snapshot of the wildebeest from “Made in the Mara”, a behind-the-scenes film directed by Amy Montalvo.

The Great Migration has received international praise and is part of the official selection for a number of film festivals, including The Wildscreen Festival, the Austin Indie Fest, the Melbourne Fringe and the VR Arles Festival, while also screening at the Samsung Developer Conference 2017 as a curated piece.

This film is the first step in the team’s direction to capturing wildlife in VR. The film forms part of a broader VR series that focuses on mass migrations of mammals, birds, invertebrates and insects across the globe. Upcoming immersive VR episodes will feature, amongst others, the Amur falcon’s incredible 60000 km journey from Mongolia to South Africa in Exodus: Amur Falcons.

 

How and where to view the film?

The Deep VR team is well aware that few people own a VR headset that allows viewers to experience this form of migration. They’re working on making this immersive VR cinema experience available publicly. If you’re interested, fill in this form to help them gather information about arranging for public screenings.

If you have specialised VR goggles you can view the film here:

Screenings include Made in the Mara, a behind-the-scenes short film directed by Amy Montalvo, who followed the VR crew to document the creation of the VR piece and all its struggles.

Both the VR documentary and the short film can be viewed online at deepvr.co.za/exodus.