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Virtual Reality film opens the door to Antarctica

Tuesday, 27 October 2020


There aren’t many people who can say they’ve been to Antarctica, let alone worked there. But Briege Whitehead has—and she documented the experience for all to enjoy.

Concerned about the growing threat of climate change and driven by her passion for natural phenomena around the planet, Briege Whitehead set out to Antarctica to develop an immersive virtual reality (VR) project to showcase the wonders of the icy continent—and the impacts of climate change—to the rest of the world.

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“I wanted to do a film that allows people to see climate change for themselves.”

“We have been seeing climate change happening for a century in Antarctica, but you can’t take everyone there.”

Spurred by the advances in VR technology, Briege realised the next best thing was to virtually immerse the audience by capturing a full 360-degree vision of the icy landscape.

The Antarctic Experience—in the top 10 of Australian theatrically released documentaries—allows audiences to circle above Antarctica’s vast glaciers and icebergs from a helicopter cockpit, visit the Adélie penguin colony, meet the researchers at the Australian Davis Station and even stand under the spectacular Southern Lights.

“The ability to create empathy, presence and a real experience for people is just so much more available in VR than in any other medium,” Briege explains.

Determined to surround herself with a highly experienced team, Briege reached out to industry trailblazers, ultimately inviting Phil Harper—who won a BAFTA award for his work on David Attenborough's Great Barrier Reef VR Dive—to co-direct the production with her.

Briege’s White Spark Pictures was granted exclusive access to the Australian Antarctic Division’s Davis research station as the only media company to travel to Antarctica for the 2017/18 season.

Although Briege claims each day of the two-week experience was the best day of her life, it didn’t come without it’s fair share of hurdles in both the production and post-production processes.

“Both of the gimbals that support the VR camera under the drone wouldn’t work when we were down there, so we were trying to stitch together footage that looked like it had been shot on a jack hammer—those shots ended up being some of our most amazing shots flying over glaciers!”

“For the post-production work, we actually we had to invent new technology in order to handle the project.”

Briege’s journey to Antarctica started at ECU while studying a Master of Professional Communications, with her first exposure to interactive technology coming from a client-based project for Constable Care.

“It was a series of interactive videos in the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ style. ECU taught me how the whole process works and how to bring it all together for an online platform — that was my first step into the creative content world which eventually led me to VR.”

Having been instrumental in the advancement of VR technology for mass audience distribution through a new system which enables theatrical sound and visual synchronisation with hundreds of headsets, Briege intends to produce at least one VR film per year for wider audiences.

Briege Whitehead completed her Master of Professional Communications at ECU in 2014. In 2019, Briege won the Channel 7 Young Achiever award and this year was a 2020 Business News 40 under 40 winner.


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