David Attenborough's First Life

FIVARS 2022 Spotlight: David Attenborough’s First Life

Journey back 3.5 billion years with David Attenborough and witness the origins of life on our planet in Virtual Reality. With world-leading paleontological research and breakthroughs in CGI technology, First Life presents a new milestone for beautiful natural history storytelling while raising the bar for quality in mobile VR headsets.

FIVARS had a chance to speak with director Elliot Graves.

What lead to the creation of this piece?

Elliot GravesDavid Attenborough’s First Life was born out of Alchemy Immersive and MetaQuest’s desire to push the boundaries of CG immersive media production by exploring high-quality, pre-rendered content. We wanted to demonstrate how to immerse mobile VR users in virtual worlds without being subject to the limitations of ‘real-time’ game engines. We strove to achieve flawless resolution to preserve total immersion as audiences tend to be distracted by issues with CG more than those in live action.

What was the production process for you and your team? What did you learn?

With David Attenborough as our guide, we wanted to take audiences on a story-rich journey that captivates and transports them to prehistoric oceans, a world that is usually bound to our imaginations.

First Life
David Attenborough, First Life

In order to fully submerge users, we needed to bring sound to an ancient ocean that no one had heard before. We sought to leverage spatial audio resolution of 3rd Order Ambisonics with an embedded head-locked stereo that would offer a new approach to delivering complex immersive experiences.

Producing photo-real CG scenes at a huge 8k x 8k 3D resolution at 60fps was a huge technical feat that was crucial to maintaining the illusion of immersion and helped convey a genuine sense of depth & presence in this ancient ocean.

Our ambitious, technical delivery required innovative post-production workflows. To overcome technical challenges related to render time, file sizes, and quality assurance, we leveraged GPU rendering and designed optimization operations and some slightly hacked QA processes!

First Life

How did you become an immersive media content creator and why?

Working at the Royal Geographic Society on an expedition to Bir Tawil, the only unclaimed land on Earth that lies between Egypt and Sudan, I tried to figure out how to capture the feeling of being there. The goal of our expedition was to determine how unclaimed, habitable land varies culturally, linguistically, and geographically, across Europe and Africa.

I was trying to figure out ways of bringing people to these “No Man’s” Lands: the UN buffer zone in Cyprus; the exclusion zone between Bulgaria and Greece, a remnant of the iron curtain; the battlefields of Northern France and Bir Tawil, in Eastern Africa.

At first, I was just panning a camera 360 degrees, but this was uncomfortable, so I began experimenting with 360 cameras. I wanted to figure out how best to allow people to interact with these places that most would never visit.

This then led me into the world of Immersive Media. I started working for an advertising agency: immersive media was taking off and the big budgets in the industry allowed me to experiment with higher resolutions, and better, more advanced technologies and equipment: cameras, photogrammetry, and real-time game engines.

I’ve now transitioned back to immersive, factual content via Atlantic Productions and Alchemy Immersive.

First Life

What is the VR/AR industry like in your region?

In the UK, it’s really exciting and growing all the time.

What do you have planned for the future?

I’m continuing to experiment and prove that non-native immersive media is extremely valuable for immersive presentation. Big things to come in 2023, so watch this space…

First Life

What would you like to share with fellow content creators and/or the industry?

In the realm of immersive media, please stop disregarding existing high-quality, 3D content; a wealth of it already exists. Finding and presenting it in an immersive way is an easy route to high production value, and high-value IP, without having to start from scratch. HMDs provide the best possible delivery for stereo content, we should use that to our advantage.

Do you think VR festivals like FIVARS are important?

VR festivals are a rare opportunity to collaborate and consolidate our learnings in the field. They’re definitely a step in the right direction as we strive to reach wider and more mainstream audiences, thereby promoting industry growth.

David Attenborough's First Life