No, documentarian David Attenborough has not retired. In fact, the iconic biologist and historian has created a brand-new VR documentary for Meta Quest mixed reality headsets.
Another brilliant collaboration from David Attenborough and award-winning VR-media studio Atlantic Productions, Galapagos with David Attenborough is a new 180-degree 3D documentary that takes a tour through the unique ecosystems of the mysterious islands.
Originally designed for broadcast television ten years ago, the documentary’s new VR production merged filmed footage with “original and emotive illustrations made in VR”. It’s a huge extension of the original documentary designed for virtual reality headsets, enhancing the footage in a way not possible outside of mixed reality tech.
To enhance the documentary, Atlantic Productions adds in Quillustrations, spatial paintings drawn and animated within a virtual reality world. As Atlantic Productions explains, this allows the studio to provide a unique way of showing “volcanic eruptions, Darwin’s discovery of Natural Selection, and the Galapagos’ phytoplankton phenomenon.”
The Quillustrations are made in the VR app Quill, developed by Smoothstep. Four talented artists have been selected to work on the virtual reality animations for the Attenborough documentary, “Lebanese/Palestinian artist Samia Khalaf, Swiss artist Zoe Roellin, and Ireland-based Romanian artist Ruxandra Popescu”. The show’s stunning intro sequence animation was created by 3D artist Dan Franke.
Designing 3D scenes can be very challenging on a 2D screen, where you have to imagine how it feels,” said director Iona McEwan. “We love the variety in how the artists used Quill, from Samia’s sketchy, humorous style with pirate rats and smiley phytoplankton and Ruxandra’s luscious, inviting environments with lava I’d almost want to touch to Zoe’s elegant use of color and beautifully animated tortoises.”
After the 3D animations were complete, Atlantic Productions returns to outside visual effects technologies to create ambient glows and other graphical additions.
“The Quill artists worked with our VFX department to create the renders for the final VR180 film,” McEwan revealed. “Our VFX department can add effects such as glow that aren’t easily natively available in Quill. We were amazed at how quickly the artists managed to ideate and block a scene—it is so much faster to plan a VR scene when creating in VR. Refinement, as always, was 80% of the work.”
Galapagos with David Attenborough is available across the Meta Quest headset family. However, Atlantic Productions is adamant that the new Meta Quest 3 headset’s specs really allow the documentary to shine.
“The media experience on Meta Quest 3 benefits from the headset’s higher-resolution display and improved optics,” McEwan explained. “But Galapagos with David Attenborough and some of the previous projects we’ve done with Atlantic Productions like Micro Monsters and Conquest of the Skies are particularly effective showcases because they were originally captured in stereoscopic 3D using high-end cinema cameras. The high source quality shines, giving viewers a more immersive Galapagos experience than would be possible by watching on flat screens.”
Over the years. Atlantic Productions has created a number of VR films to be watched on Meta Quest headsets and more. The studio has even worked on other David Attenborough films, including David Attenborough’s Global Adventures.