We met with Dave Ward, Creative Director at Realise, and Paul Deane, Natural History Unit, to chat about Unearthed
Note: In this pilot, we have used footage, which is not always consistent with a hummingbird’s natural environment. The 360 degree filming also uses composited images of hummingbirds. The film uses mostly male birds, but also some females. But for continuity in the story, we refer to males.
Remote filming is expensive, so we felt this was an acceptable compromise for a pilot. It is mostly created using footage captured for last years ‘Life Story’ BBC1 series.
Can you sum Unearthed up in a sentence?
It’s an interactive and immersive story that follows a day in the life of a hummingbird and its struggle to survive.
What are you trying to achieve with the prototype?
We believe interaction can immerse an audience more than a passive experience, creating a stronger bond with the characters and story. But it’s a fine balance between distraction and engagement, one that we wanted to explore with the rich narrative and factual world of natural history.
What have you done to achieve the immersive experience?
We used 360° footage and also immersive binaural soundscapes.
What is Binaural sound?
Binaural is a technique for creating immersive 3D sound scenes for headphone listeners. It mimics the acoustic effects that occur in everyday environments as sounds interact with our body on route to our eardrums.
The BBC Research and Development team was fantastically generous with their time and expertise of Binaural, and worked with Sound Designer Richard de Mowbray to ensure we were getting the most out of the assets we had.
How was it made?
Our team, with the assistance of BBC R&D, created an interactive framework that allows us to load a range of rich media types and orchestrate them with use of a timeline and user interaction to give an experience that, hopefully, is more engaging than traditional video and audio.
BBC R&D processed the audio using their specialist software and hardware to give a real sense of atmosphere. By processing sounds in a three dimensional space, we are able to transport the user into the experience as if they were really there. This is best showcased in our first chapter, which lets the user explore the jungle with 360° video and true real time binaural audio.
Did everything go according to plan?
We had several technical discoveries along the way, and not all of them were good! We continually had to balance quality with user experience, which was sometimes easier said than done. We re-discovered that collaboration is absolutely key to success and how powerful and stimulating knowledge sharing can be.
How could this sort of prototype develop?
We would love to be able to see how the audio and interactive elements could be applied to tell other stories. These might be other natural history ideas (would it work equally well with a story set in the Arctic, or the ocean?), but could also be other genres as well. We believe that there is the potential to add an extra level of immersion to all sorts of traditionally linear stories.
We would also like to take it even further, increasing the immersive quality by using more 360° footage, or even by measuring the user’s physical reactions using their webcam.