A family of orangutan and an elephant keep their guards up for poachers. The flamboyant and shape-shifting bird of paradise, a rare species roaming around the deep forests of New Guniea island, confidently pursues a mate through daring acts of courtship. These moments, both informative and spectacular to the eye, are embedded with background music and the entrancing voice of popular naturalist Sir David Attenborough, to create scenes for the new Netflix original, eight-part documentary series Our Planet. But at the end of every tour around these jungles that have thrived for millions of years is a daunting truth: the homes of these beautiful animals are dying a fast and painful death.
As the issue of of a decaying Earth should be given paramount attention all over the world, non-governmental organization World Wife Fund for Nature (WWF), technology company Google, streaming application Netflix, the ArtScience Museum at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, and tech studio PHORIA combined their expertise to rewire footages from Our Planet and make them more immersive. The result is a social augmented reality (AR) experience called REWILD Our Planet.
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The project interweaves AR technology, 4K video footages (that is ultra high definition resolution), and captivating storytelling that pushes for positive changes to our environment. REWILD Our Planet will focus on four natural landscapes: Forests, Oceans, Grasslands and Frozen Worlds.
It hits close to home, too. In one of the video footages from Our Planet, the cameras capture a newborn Philippine Eagle as it goes through the struggles to learning to become independent. Flightless at first, the fledging reckons its next move before springing over from one branch to the next. Until, finally, it grows up to spread its wings and guard the forest. But the eagle’s survival—as with any other wildlife creature—is dependent on untouched, unspoiled vast forests that are declining at a frightening pace. According to the documentary, Philippines has lost 90 percent of its primary rainforest, and there are only an estimated 400 species of eagle left.
Through REWILD Our Planet—which had its press launch on April 5, 2019, at the ArtScience Museum at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore—the viewers will get to feel what it’s like to be in the middle of rapid deforestation, as in they walk through virtual declining forests.
It’s devastating. But we can reverse nature’s course.
Getting Our Planet Back
ANCx talked to Kim Stengert, chief, strategic communications and external relations for WWF-Singapore, ask for a little hope concerning Earth’s atrophy. Good news: There is hope! But we need to act now.
“Our planet is trying to look actually beyond national borders,” Stengert says. “We are all entrenched in many national environmental issues—may it be plastics, may it be deforestation, or may it be just pollution of rivers, waters. We look at these things many times in isolation because we see it, and then we act on it. I think what Our Planet is trying to do is to take a step back and look at not just as a country or like a specific area, but as a whole. What’s the state of the planet? What’s happening? We do research. Every two years, we release a planet report where we see now that we’ve lost 60 percent of wildlife population, just steadily declining. That’s a global trend that we’ve got to stop, not just stop but actually reverse.”
Stengert said that this number is already scary as it is, but what is more jolting is the number of people that are either unaware or unperturbed by the statistics. It is their hope, that through initiatives such as REWILD Our Planet, they can “get people to understand the issues.” They hope for people to absorb the fact that we are “completely using too many resources in the wrong way. Earth can’t keep up with that.”
Since it’s a global catastrophe, the people behind the REWILD Our Planet will want to bring the series to more countries.
Trent Clews-de Castella, chief executive officer of PHORIA, told ANCx about scale, an important next step for an equally significant material. After Asia, REWILD Our Planet will also make its way to Dolby SoHo, an interactive space in New York City, and We the Curious, a science center in Bristol, United Kingdom.
“Hopefully, through activations like this, it creates energy, excitement,” Clews-de Castella says. “So our dream would be to see this live on beyond the next eight weeks, and move to different countries. It would be an absolute dream to take it to the Philippines. If we can just facilitate much more encounters—which don’t really require you to do anything, just have a good time—It’s going to get people thinking about it a little bit more. Hopefully with things like this, people can be inspired to get involved.”
To get to the Philippines, Clews-de Castella shares that the minimum requirements may not be as complex as most people think activations like this one need.
“We need devices; it doesn’t need to be Pixel phones [Pixel phones are Google’s Android operating system smart phones]. It’s Android phones, could be other devices, like Apple. For that, Google being really generous, telecommunication companies would really love to support a project like this. We need venues to actually facilitate the space for it to take place. These requirements are not as heavy now that we’ve got the core funders, so we’ve got the tools and the application. It’s setting it up, it’s maintaining, and managing it that are important. And so it’s almost like an in-kind contribution, in a way that people can like come together in the same story, to drive change.”
So how does REWILD Our Planet work? (Tech words coming up!) According to Netflix, footage from Our Planet was “integrated with Google’s ARCore technology—an Android Software Development Kit (SDK) that works with Java and Unity and Unreal, and includes Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that bring AR to mobile devices without requiring any special hardware. PHORIA’s unique digital twin system [a digital twin is a digital replica of a physical entity] which, once activated with Google’s ARCore, enables the 2D content to break free from the screen and seamlessly flow into the space around users.”
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The point is, there is a way for us to save our planet. And REWILD Our Planet, is reiterating that hope—using first-world technology to get everyone to listen.
“We understand the size of the problem,” Stengert reassured us. “That’s the hopeful piece for me. That’s always the first thing that you’ve got to do. If you don’t know what you’re dealing with, you can’t deal with it. We know the size of the problem. And in the second important piece is we know the solutions. There is no big mystery anymore on, like, how to do renewable energy. It’s not a mystery. Everyone knows. It’s possible, it’s available. We can do it. We just have to find the will on a global level to actually take these important steps. And I think we’re getting into that direction. If we get some really strong momentum behind this in 2020, or leading up to the next couple of years, we can see positive impact starting to come back in 2030. Conservation takes a long time to take effect. So the sooner we start, the better.”
REWILD Our Planet will be at the ArtScience Museum at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, from April 6 to June 2, 2019.