Virtual reality experiences bring aquarium audiences closer to nature, without captivity

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IMAGE VIA IMMOTION
  • Image via Immotion
If last month’s IAAPA Expo is any indication, the future of entertainment will include plenty of virtual reality. While most of it still entails low-quality computer animation, one company is bringing the real world to the virtual, and in the process look to be revolutionizing aquariums.

After success with their live-action humpback whale VR experience, U.K.-based Immotion brought in Emmy Award-winning director Ken Musen to assist the company with a number of new VR experiences. For their latest experience, Musen, who is based out of their L.A. office, flew to the Bahamas, where he partnered with an expert team of marine biologists from the Bimini Shark Lab to document tiger sharks and hammerheads in ways never before seen by the general public. The footage was filmed just off the Bahamas’ famed Tiger Beach.

Using the latest technology, Immotion and the Bimini Shark Lab were able to tag different types of sharks with a small, virtual-reality camera. This first-of-its-kind video footage provides a unique perspective on how sharks move through the water.
IMAGE VIA IMMOTION
  • Image via Immotion
After capturing the footage, Immotion was able to program the motion pods in which viewers sit to accurately represent the motion experienced in the field. The pod movements help viewers understand how a shark moves, including how hammerheads are required to continually move their head from side to side to eliminate a large blind spot in front of them.



Speaking about the new experience, Immotion Group's commercial director, Rod Findley, explained, “using VR technology to study the movement and behavior of these sharks can play a crucial part in educating people to gain a better understanding of the species, and the vital role they play in preserving the marine ecosystem.”

As aquariums and animal attractions look to technology as a way to enhance storytelling, while also being able to allow visitors to experience animals in a more natural, less captivity-focused way.

Falcon’s Creative Group in Orlando helped design a full, animal-free aquarium style experience. While most attractions aren’t going to that extreme, more are shifting how they tell the stories of animals and using technology to be able to tell stories that previously were often overlooked, such as those of humpback whales or extremely endangered animals. Virtual reality provides visitors with an authentic, "in-the-wild" experience for a fraction of the cost that live animals require.

Similar to the co-venture program that Dynamic Attractions recently launched, Immotion provides a partner model that allows many zoos and aquariums to install VR theaters with minimal upfront cost to the attraction. These types of revenue-sharing finance models are becoming more common across the industry, with multiple companies announcing similar partnerships at this year’s IAAPA Expo.
The proposed, high-tech Mote Science Education Aquarium. - IMAGE VIA MOTE MARINE LABORATORY & AQUARIUM
  • Image via Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium
  • The proposed, high-tech Mote Science Education Aquarium.
One of the first aquariums to bring in the new experiences is Sarasota’s Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, where eight of Immotion’s experiences are offered. The Gulf Coast aquarium is in the midst of a multi-year plan to build one of Florida’s largest aquariums, and is committed to using "interactive, advanced, digital, and augmented reality technology" throughout the $130 million new Mote Science Education Aquarium. 

In the coming months, Immotion plans to roll out more animal-focused, real-life VR experiences, including the Congo River, which will include up-close footage of multiple endangered species in the natural riverside habitat, such as Forest Elephants and the magnificent Mountain Gorillas.
IMAGE VIA IMMOTION
  • Image via Immotion
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