VR doc Gondwanda lasts 48 hours and changes over time
Image: Ben Joseph Andrews, Emma Roberts, The 2050 Group
A VR documentary takes you into virtual reality for 48 hours straight, sending you 100 years into the future.
350 square meters of explorable space, 50,000 plants and 40 hours of audio recordings are contained in the VR documentary “Gondwana”. is the first “permanent virtual reality installation” in the world. Those who want to experience Gondwana in its full length need to take a lot of time with them. The experience lasts 48 hours.
The virtual reality documentary shows a 180 million year old rainforest
Directors Ben Joseph Andrews and Emma Roberts spent five months in 2019 in Australia’s Daintree National Park rainforest. They collected as many impressions as possible and studied flora and fauna. Then, they used the collected data for simulate a complete ecosystem in virtual reality.
Upon their arrival in the 180-million-year-old rainforest, Andrews and Roberts were overwhelmed: “We encrypted our phones, our computers. We have embraced the time cycles that occur in the forest, “Andrews describes their arrival during the rainy season in an interview.” That letting go and surrender gave us time to listen and gain a deep appreciation of the multilayered nature of that environment “.
The future of the rainforest in 48 hours
The VR documentary “Gondwana” is currently screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival and it was part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival and SXSW editions. Gondwana transports viewers to a practically reconstructed 350-square-meter section of the Daintree Rainforest.
The VR experience takes viewers through virtual forests, along rivers and across mountains. Every 14 minutes, the simulated ecosystem jumps one year in the future. It reaches a speculative version of the year 2090.
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Traveling through space and time is possible observe how the plant world changes over the years. Each run of the film leads to a different simulated ending. Apublic participation also influences development of the virtual rainforest.
“We’re not curating the perfect experience,” Andrews explains. “Nature, chance and rarity are important. The environment has these moments that are super precious and rare – and you will never witness the whole thing, you are not in the center of it. “
The longer users stay in Gondwana, the more rugged the rainforest becomes. The longest visit in the VR documentary so far has lasted 16 hours.
“We wanted to propose that no one person can save the entire forest, but collectively we can prevent it from degrading,” said Roberts. “We wanted it to be open to possibilities like protection and resilience. For us it was a paradigm shift. And I think it’s an important way to think about one of the biggest problems of our time. “
Collaboration with science and indigenous peoples
The 48 hour VR documentary took a total of four years to develop. Along the road, Andrews and Roberts worked closely with scientists to realistically recreate climate-induced changes in the ecosystem. The The elders of Kuku Yalanji also played an important role in research for the VR documentary. The Kuku Yalanji people are one of the oldest living cultures. They have lived in the rainforest around Queensland for around 50,000 years.
“Their seasonal calendars no longer matched their traditional understanding and knowledge – tens of thousands of years of knowledge,” Andrews describes. “This idea of losing synch was like an important artistic metaphor we had to deal with.”
The VR documentary shows the damage caused by the climate to the rainforest
The Daintree is essentially going through “the bleaching equivalent of the Great Barrier Reef, the much better-known neighbor next door,” says Roberts. “But destruction is much harder to spot if you don’t know the difference between your ancient Gondwana species and your modern Sumatran jungle species. You cannot see the change that is taking place. So, we brought that bleaching metaphor into the experience. “
Gondwana portrays the decline both sonically and visually. Gondwana VR wants sensitize viewers to this decline rainforest. Throughout the film, individual plants and animals that are threatened with extinction become exhausted. At first they become single ghostly shadows in the twilight. Slowly, the bleaching spreads throughout the rainforest. The singing of the birds disappears completely at a certain point.
“We started looking at the data in detail – it was a shocking and shocking portrait, even of what we have already lost. We went through this very dark night of the soul, “said Roberts.” Taking that experience of living there and then learning what we could lose … it was like knowing the painful death of a close relative. ”
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