Entry Category: 36 – Outstanding New Approaches – Documentary
Title 1 : Chasing Coral: The VR Experience 
Title 2 : N/A
Running Time: 6 Minutes 
Production Company: Exposure Labs
Date content was originally made available for viewing : January 20, 2017
Original URL : N/A

VR is an incredibly immersive medium, and much like scuba diving, you can enter an entirely different world and completely become submersed in a story. When less than 1% of the population goes scuba diving, we wanted to simultaneously put the magic and the devastation of our ocean right in front of our viewer. Chasing Coral: The VR Experience is an adventurous underwater virtual reality story that follows Zackery Rago, a passionate scuba diver and researcher, as he documents the unprecedented 2016 coral bleaching event at Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia. Guided by this self-proclaimed coral nerd, viewers go on an underwater virtual dive, leaning about this unique landscape through his passionate. Using time-lapse photography, the film captures visual evidence of unprecedented coral bleaching, and by capturing the scope and speed of this global phenomenon, the film shines a light on what lies ahead if we’re not able to work together to reduce our warming planet. While coral reefs are in grave peril, it is often hard to care about something out of sight and out of mind. The film focuses attention on a critical issue of our time through an empathetic, character-driven story that allows for an engaging and educational virtual experience.

Technically, the production of the VR piece proved difficult and time intensive. Utilizing a start of the art, multi-camera, underwater dome-capture system, the team was able to dive and stitch together the camera images to form a 360-degree viewing sphere. For each shot, the graphics team trimmed exports of all 6 synced cameras, used Nuke software scripts to start each stitch project, then employed the camera’s Autopano Video tool to create temporary stitches. For underwater scenes, this method worked well for the synching and assembly of rough stitches when subjects were a consistent distance from the camera, and then allowed manual adjustment to the horizon to remove any rig roll from the shot.

However, the team quickly learned that when lenses and glass-domes for a VR set-up are built for underwater use, filming topside changed the way light would enter the system, so in the post-production process we had to account for refraction in the stitching process. When working with the topside shots the challenge was finding the right convergence between the field of view. The team could dial in a focus on Zack or keep the horizon intact, but using that software it was almost impossible to do both. We made the decision to work with the VR toolset for Nuke, which calculates pixel vectors for each shot and uses them to drive a warp between feature correspondence. Then we could dig into the stitch and fine-tune anything else using the standard Nuke tools. This method proved far superior and ultimately allowed us to tell a story seamlessly from above the water to below the surface.

The time-lapses toward the end of the film permit viewers to witness the beginning of a collapse of an entire ecosystem. The pioneering footage captured during the making of the film reveals a devastating environmental catastrophe on a global scale, which scientists have unequivocally attributed to climate change. The film’s impact campaign focuses on bringing this story to people beyond the environmental choir with the goal of building new climate champions in unexpected places. Through the educational screening program that makes the VR film available to schools and community groups globally for free, students and audiences have been able to go on virtual underwater dives at film festivals and events including an VR exhibition at The United Nations on World Ocean Day. To learn more about our impact work, please visit: