Conservation International's Social Virtual Reality for Change

A location-based virtual reality experience that allows users to ride a jellyfish from the ocean floor, all the way to the ocean's surface, with friends.

The Overview

M—XR was the technical production partner for the virtual reality experience commissioned by Conservation International. The piece titled “Drop In the Ocean” is a ten-minute adventure where users would enter a giant jellyfish that lit the room blue and green before being shrunk down to 5 cm in height so they can experience the ocean like never before. The piece aims to shed light on the harmful impact of ocean microplastics and how they are affecting marine biology, from the unsung heroes, plankton, to the giants of the sea, the whale shark.

Drop In The Ocean Hardware Installation by Thinc

The multi-user experience featured a star-studded partner line up; the audio line up included narration from environmental advocates Philippe and Ashlan Cousteau, and a mystical soundtrack created by Golden Panda. Whilst hardware Hewlett-Packard offered up their new HP Reverb, which offers stunning fidelity.

Challenge & Solution

The challenge was to raise the bar for technical achievements as far as virtual reality design and development is concerned. Leaving M-XR with a handful to research and develop topics in-order to achieve photo-realism with the then provided tools and technology.

Top-level objectives — and key to the success of the project — included accurately replicating a wealth of sea life, including Whale Sharks, Leather-back Turtles and an array of microscopic plankton. Here M-XR turned to the comprehensive works of Peter Parks, who possesses an enormous archive of detailed plankton photography, which the M-XR modelling team used as a reference.

Whale Shark

In total, the experience featured an impressive variety of 50+ 3D assets. All transparent and squishy. This presented a technical challenge in itself, as 3D builders would allow for translucent objects at the scale or detail required. M—XR’s developers had to design and create new rendering techniques that were capable of handling thousands of plankton within the scene. Here are some of the results:

Leucothea & Pyrocystis Plankton

Sadly, the piece was not all beautiful marine life; it also featured the ugly and destructive plastics, including fishnets, bottles, cutlery, and thrown away wrappers. The lead directors at Vision3 wanted to create an atmosphere that felt oppressive and all-consuming. Our custom rendering made all this possible. Filling the ocean with thousands upon thousands of different types of objects, all moving in the ocean’s waves and interacting with all creatures (especially a juvenile turtle) along the way.

Bleach - one of the many pieces of plastics found in the experience

The Response

“A truly meaningful experience, with such outstanding detail. Truly immersive”

Overall, the project was well-received as it debuted at 2019’s Tribeca Film Festival. The press and public were able to enter the first VR experience of its kind, one that pushed boundaries and innovation. Most importantly, Conservation International was able to create a sense of group empathy. Participants began to understand how human waste is compromising the world’s oceans, thanks to VR. If you’d like to experience DITO for yourself, the most recent installation is at the California Academy of Science, please see here for more information.

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