Environmental Filmmakers Inspired by VR Films
Environmental filmmakers are toeing the waters of virtual reality (VR) in the two ocean-related projects debuting at the Tribeca Film Festival that occurred in New York City. The two projects could not be more different from each other in concept, and both targets to transport the users beyond the knowledge of environmental crisis to take action on it.
“Virtual reality is almost the empathy machine,” said Lauren Knapp, a graduate student in a film at the Stanford University and also the co-creator of a two-part integrated project known as The Crystal Reef that seeks to drive home the disaster of the ocean acidification, which is the result of burning of the fossil fuels.
In the first part, the viewers wear the standard virtual reality goggles to join the Fiorenza Micheli, a marine scientist of Stanford, for a drive at the Ischia, which is the island of the coast of Italy. At this place, the carbon dioxide-spewing volcanic vents have certainly acidified the water ejecting most of the marine life of the reef.
The greatest barren reef is the convincing location for the scientists such as the Micheli because it offers a preview of what many more, perhaps most, ocean reefs will be probably by the end of this century if the use of the fossil fuels such as the oil, coal, and gas for energy purposes continued to use at the same current pace.
The second part of The Crystal Reef is, even more, ambitious, as the co-creator Cody Karutz, another graduate student from Stanford University, and Knapp have recreated the two segments of the Ischia reef, one blighted and one healthy by the acidified water. After putting on the another set of goggles, this time, connected to a computer, and taking the hold of the two handheld controllers, viewers on a guided drive swim along each reef, pulling up the samples of shellfish While listening to the information about the impacts of the ocean acidification. At the end of this drive, viewers that took part in this virtual reality dive are asked a few questions to know how these experiences in virtual reality have changed their feelings about the problem.
Karutz said, “In marine issues, psychological distance is a big problem. We find that’s significantly decreased when you spend time in a virtual environment.”
This simulation is extraordinarily detailed. There is something to see at each side wherever you turn your head, but the look the look of this simulation is so far more animatronic than the photo realistic.
Knapp said, “We can’t expect people to take a trip to Italy and dive in these reefs,” said Knapp. “We wouldn’t even want to—that would destroy them.” She hopes to bring the reef to more and more people with the use of virtual reality, and with the more devotion on how the current energy choices are harming the marine ecologies.
The makers of The Cliff Effect also expected to influence the feelings of the viewers about the ocean by taking them into the virtual reality encounter with sperm whales and dolphins.
The narrative focuses on the scientist and Fabrice Schnoller, a free-diver, who has worked for decades to understand what the animals are communicating with their creaks, clicks, and groans.
It is a captivating story, but where the Click Effect, which is available through the “Op-Docs” section of The New York Times, stands out is in what it enables the users to discover on their own. Casually glancing through the water in one direction reveals a pod of sperm whales “floating” under the viewer’s unseen feet. Looking for another way, flat flank of a dolphin appears, apparently only some yards away. Director Sandy Smolan said, he took an integrated media approach to the Click Effect instead of making a more conservative movie experience because if presented him “the ability to combine documentary feel and dramatic storytelling structure.”
Unlike the more traditional environmental documentaries, virtual reality offers a way to “the ability to combine documentary feel and dramatic storytelling structure,” said James Nestor, who is the author of the book Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves, on which the Click Effect depends.
Nestor said, “Virtual reality makes you feel like you are there. You connect and have greater connection to the ocean. I am convinced this could be an incredible way of saving these animals from annihilation.”