I attended the premiere of Exodus: The Great Migration, the world’s first narrated virtual reality wildlife documentary at the Circa Gallery in Johannesburg yesterday. It was a self-funded project by the Deep VR team who were keen to create original African continent. Incidentally, I interviewed Deep VR’s CEO Ulrico Grech-Cumbo back in 2016 for a VR piece I did for Forbes Woman Africa (article on my portfolio link). They specialise in making VR content for brands since 2015, focusing more on cinematic VR experiences, instead of gaming. 

Exodus was shot in the Maasai Mara, Kenya during the great annual wildebeest migration. We saw a behind the scenes, making of the documentary first, Made in Mara, which admittedly should have been screened after we saw the documentary in VR, but nevertheless the whole team went out to Kenya, and spent a lot of time trying to capture footage, with some challenges.

CHALLENGES

Initially the animals were looking at the 360-degree cameras a bit strangely, which was quite funny. Thereafter they disguised the cameras between greenery to make it more natural. Then it was a case of letting the cameras roll but running out of battery for days on end without capturing any footage; and special-order drones malfunctioning. By the time the wildebeest had to cross the river, they got camera-shy after spotting the setup. Towards the end of it, everyone looked fatigued.

Grech-Cumbo tells Wired to the Web that they spent over 130 hours in the park capturing footage, which resulted in the 9 minute documentary in VR. Post-production took about a year and two months, which could have been done in 8 weeks if the Deep VR team had a dedicated team for the documentary. The whole project cost R1.7m. 

THE VR EXPERIENCE

After the very lengthy making of the documentary screening, we got to see the actual 9-minute footage in VR. Each guest was equipped with an Oculus VR headset with Samsung S8 devices and over ear headphones. My personal experience overall that it was a great effort by the Deep VR team. I loved watching the animals up close, it’s immersive; and my favourite scene was the lion who played with the cameras, it felt like the lion was climbing and biting me – as real as VR gets!

And then the downsides for me was that no matter how much I adjusted the headset, at times the animals felt blurry or out of focus. And other times when the scene changed i.e. footage from another camera was shown, it was a bit jarring because the colour was different. Also the ambient noise over-powered the narration, if you go, ask for the volume to be turned up. Maybe this is something not everyone will notice, well definitely not the younger crowd. I am aware this is something that hasn’t really been done before, a world first, and I’m certain it will get better with time. The team plan to make more documentaries.

Exodus: The Great Migration was selected to appear in several global film festivals like The Wildscreen Festival, the Austin Indie Fest, The Melbourne Fringe, and the VR Arles Festival. It was also selected for the Samsung Developer Conference 2017. 

WATCH EXODUS: THE GREAT MIGRATION

If you’d like to see a world first documentary of its kind, made by South Africans, here’s the info:
Venue: Circa Gallery, Rosebank
Dates: Friday, 16 Feb and Saturday, 17 Feb
Times: 10-11am; and 11am-12pm
Cost: FREE
Fill in the RSVP Google form here (opens in new tab)

If you happen to own a VR headset, even a Google Cardboard, you can watch it yourself on your smartphone from this link: https://youtu.be/U9YxTl6lxTc

More info, including the making video can be accessed here: http://www.deepvr.co.za/exodus/

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