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Australian Prehistoric Exhibit Fuses VR and Puppets

Puppets and virtual reality resurrect the dinosaurs.

A new exhibit in Australia transports you to the continent’s prehistoric past through puppets and virtual reality. The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) commissioned the exhibit, Prehistoric VR, from puppeteers Erth Visual & Physical Inc. and filmmaker Samantha Lang to create the first ever cinematic experience that combines VR and puppetry.

Lang told VRScout in an email she believes VR “offers a ‘more than human’ experience.'”

“What’s really special about Prehistoric VR is not animation and not strictly ‘live action,’” Lang said. “It resides between live performance and an imaginary world—creating a VR experience that is both magic and real.”

The experience sends you back 200 million years to the ocean floor for an encounter with ancient sea creatures who were once native to the region that became Australia. Expect to have run-ins with bioluminescent jelly fish, anglerfish, anomalocaris, paracyclotosaurus, dickinsonia, plesiosaurus and kronosaurus.

Prehistoric VR, which you watch via the Google Daydream View headset, shows the 360-degree puppet stage for slightly over eight minutes. It takes you from the sea floor to shallow waters, introducing large and small creatures at varying depths.

Scott Wright, artistic director for Erth, told VRScout in an email that VR heightens observation “in a way that film can’t.”

“Combining the ‘realness’ of puppetry with VR’s transportation to a ‘virtual place’ we in effect trick the human mind twice, enhancing the suspension of disbelief beyond anything we have been able to do to date,” Wright said.

Lang, who was inspired to create the VR film after taking her children to see Erth’s Prehistoric Aquarium, said care was put into designing the experience for kids.

“This is a very new area of exploration because there is still so much that is unknown about the impact of VR on young people,” Lang said. “We had to test and create an experience that would work for young kids.”

Prehistoric VR isn’t ACMI’s first rodeo with VR. In 2016, the museum commissioned and premiered Sandpit’s play Ghost, Toast and the Things Unsaid and the dance experience Stuck in the Middle With You.

“There’s an intense curiosity from audiences towards VR,” an ACMI spokesperson told VRScout in an email. “ACMI commission Stuck in the Middle with You was really popular with audiences, with people lining up to experience the work.”

The museum also hosts VR workshops that teach students how to create 360-degree video. And ACMI is opening a free lounge, Screen Worlds, that will offer a rotating selection of VR films and content.

“As the national museum for film, TV, games digital culture and art, ACMI is fascinated by the rapid evolution of VR and the new ways practitioners are engaging audiences through this platform,” said ACMI CEO and director Katrina Sedgwick in a press release.

The Australian government’s Create NSW in partnership with the Australian Film Television and Radio School, Handmaid Media and Start VR were also involved in producing the exhibit.

Prehistoric VR is free of charge and runs from Sept. 23 until Oct. 8 at ACMI in Melbourne, Australia. The film will also screen at the Adelaide Film Festival’s first international VR competition in October.

You can view a slideshow of the exhibit below.

Image Credit: ACMI

About the Scout

Dieter Holger

Dieter is an emerging technology journalist reporting for VRScout. Send tips to dieter@vrscout.com and follow him on Twitter @dieterholger.

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