Trans-Tasman museum investment in production of groundbreaking VR films

Three museums spanning Australia and New Zealand have joined forces for a funding partnership to develop a trio of majestic and groundbreaking virtual reality (VR) films for exhibitions at the museums from 2024 onwards.

Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum, the National Museum of Australia and the Western Australian Museum have partnered with award-winning production company, White Spark Pictures, in what’s believed to be a content world-first. The films are pushing boundaries in virtual reality documentary-making, using innovative technology such as specially modified drones and custom-built cameras.

These museums have contributed $1 million in total between them over three years, with the collaborative contract expanding the possibilities for production and enabling groundbreaking new ways for VR content creation.

The VR documentaries will give museum visitors 360-degree cinema experience in stunning 4K resolution, creating immersive and memorable experiences.

Western Australia-based White Spark Pictures is the creator of the highly acclaimed Beyond the Milky Way, which premieres internationally in London this month (July 2023). White Spark Pictures also produced The Antarctica Experience which has grossed more than $1 million at museum box offices, smashing records.

The three new documentary-style VR films feature 360-degree surround sound and breathtaking visuals taking viewers to hard-to-reach places, including remote regional Australia, up close with whales and remote islands off New Zealand. The slated films are:

  • The Kimberley VR Experience – a spectacular 360-degree documentary flying over the edges of waterfalls, magical coastlines, and venturing into the heart of this ancient landscape unlike anywhere else on Earth.
  • Journey of the Giants – from outback to ocean, a deep 360-degree dive into the incredible world of whales following their migration, rich history and creating the feeling of swimming with humpbacks.
  • The Kermadec Islands – a chance to experience a once-in-a-lifetime adventure in a remote and pristine marine wonderland deep in the South Pacific Ocean.

The first of the VR films, which will enable audiences to explore the unique Kimberley region of Western Australia, will be launched at WA Museum Boola Bardip in Boorloo/Perth in the second half of 2024.

Comments attributed to Western Australian Museum CEO Alec Coles:

‘It is a pleasure to be working, once more, with White Spark Pictures – a Western Australian company born and bred! This project also demonstrates our close and productive collaboration with our colleagues at the National Museum of Australia and Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum.

‘The first of these VR experiences will take visitors on a virtual journey around the magnificent Kimberley region of Western Australia – a wild, remote and beautiful landscape, with an extraordinary Aboriginal heritage, and yet not without its contemporary challenges. Most people, even those living in Western Australia, may never get to visit the Kimberley in person, but this will be the next best thing; and who knows, it may inspire some to travel to this extraordinary place …

‘After the global success of White Spark’s The Antarctica Experience and Beyond the Milky Way we know that this series of VR experiences will be really special!’

Comments attributed to Briege Whitehead, founder and creative director of White Spark Pictures:

‘We are thrilled that our VR films are the catalyst for this groundbreaking and world-first content partnership, and we are excited to continue working closely with these outstanding museums for many years to come.

‘Whether visiting Antarctica, the Milky Way or remote areas of the Kimberley region, we have always been passionate about providing unique immersive experiences, often challenging to have in real life, that can enhance our understanding of the world by placing the audience at the centre of the story. In this, we share a common goal with the museums and applaud their innovative approach to engage with audiences, delivering shared immersive experiences in a way like never before.’

National Museum Acting Director Katherine McMahon said she was delighted that the Museum would be at the forefront of commissioning these new unique virtual reality experiences and bringing them to Canberra.

‘The Museum has a well-earned reputation for embracing new technology and providing innovative ways for our visitors to experience Australian stories. Virtual reality provides an exclusive opportunity to explore remote regions of the earth and space that are difficult to access for the average person,’ Ms McMahon said.

‘Previous virtual reality experiences from White Spark such as The Antarctica Experience and Beyond the Milky Way have been really popular with our visitors.’

Auckland Museum Acting Chief Executive David Reeves says Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum is thrilled to be partnering on the creation of these groundbreaking virtual reality films, which blend traditional storytelling with cutting-edge VR technology.

‘These immersive experiences use the power of technology and art to create films that are purpose-built to educate, captivate and inspire museum visitors. We are excited to participate in the production of these films and partnering with colleagues in Australia enables us to bring this incredible content to audiences in Aotearoa New Zealand,’ Mr Reeves said.

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