Humpback whales have lived in total harmony with the ocean for over 40 million years. How can people experience, see and hear this unique and endangered species without encroaching on its habitat?
The animals’ “Digital Twin” is now making this incredible experience possible for the first time worldwide. Exceptional 3D visualization of the humpback whales creates a perfect illusion, which is remarkably realistic – even to scientists, and gives the audience a fascinating glimpse at the world of these vast marine creatures.
And it’s all down to Mackevision’s computer generated imagery (CGI) and real-time specialists.
By collaborating with Daniel Opitz, an award-winning, Kiel-based maker of documentaries and nature films, as well as a team of whale experts and sound specialists, they brought humpback whales of Hawaii to life digitally in “The Humpback Whales of Hawaii” 3D film.
In a specially constructed, 360° domed hall – known as a fulldome – the audience can immerse itself in a virtual aquarium and follow the humpback whales in the depths of the ocean up close and personal for the first time.
“We’ve literally recreated reality. Lifelike versions of the whales were replicated in 3D from original footage,” explains Steffen Bärenfänger, Mackevision’s creative director. “You sit in a movie theater and an enormous, lifelike humpback whale glides over you – that’s quite a sight. The lines between what’s real and what’s digital are blurred and the audience can no longer tell the difference.”
The company worked closely with marine researchers and archaeologists in order to make the whales as realistic as possible for the audience, even at such a short distance. By using previously unseen footage as a reference, the humpback whales, their textures, movements and habitat could be turned into 3D data using photogrammetric scans and then edited in CGI.
The original sounds the animals make and their whale song were complemented by the addition of complex sound design to the underwater world and integrated three dimensionally into a specially composed soundtrack.
The entire project, from the filming to the final scenography, took more than 13 months. Fifty-three terabytes of data were produced while 65 people worked on the project simultaneously, 20 of whom were CGI specialists alone.
Daniel Opitz, filmmaker and owner, Ocean Mind
The technology at the heart of the project is an exclusively built fulldome on Maui/Hawaii that combines the architecture, sound system, stereoscopic 3D data and laser projection to create a breathtakingly realistic 360° 3D visual and audio simulation.
The film project was realized using Maya animation software and rendered with V-Ray 3D graphics software. A special lens shader was used during the rendering process to create the fulldome effect in the domed hall and enable stereoscopic perception in all directions. This is similar to a rotating stereo camera (3D camera) that rotates within a frame by 360°. As the device’s rotations are fixed, the angle at which the dome inclines was taken into account to depart from average sitting positions and imitate head rotation.
The Humpback Whales of Hawaii is the first in a whole series of experiences that’s already in the pipeline. The series of films is part of what’s known as the OCEAN MIND EXPERIENCE, which creates a new type of immersive movie theater and venue for the public. The goal is to appeal to the audience’s emotions and raise awareness of the diversity of the underwater world and the creatures that live there and are so worth protecting.
The goal is equally to encourage debate in society as a whole on today’s challenges faced by the world’s oceans due to, for instance, climate change, rising sea levels, overfishing and pollution.
“Today, it’s more important than ever to make people aware of our environment. That also applies to the world’s oceans,” explains Daniel Opitz. “I’ve always wanted to make films that convey the sea’s emotions. Whales arouse these emotions because they’re fascinating, almost mystical animals. Thanks to modern technology, we were able to create an unprecedented method of portraying these vast ocean creatures. The result leaves the audience lost for words, goes straight to their hearts and, ultimately, helps us to protect these giants of the seven seas.”
The first fulldome opened on Maui/Hawaii in early 2019. Five more locations with the fulldome experience are planned worldwide including Perth (Australia) and Eilat (Israel). One’s already being built on Majorca, the Germans’ favorite island.
Mackevision can’t wait to create lifelike versions of more creatures from the depths of our oceans.
How can people discover, understand and learn to respect the ocean’s endangered species without encroaching on their habitat?
Award-winning maker of nature films, Daniel Opitz, joined forces with a team of marine researchers, CGI and sound specialists to produce a brand-new concept called The OCEAN MIND EXPERIENCE. By using computer generated imagery (CGI), the 13-minute documentary “The Humpback Whales of Hawaii” creates a perfect illusion, which even scientists think is remarkably realistic, and gives the audience a fascinating glimpse at the world of whales. It’s an immersive 3D and 360° experience in specially built fulldome theaters, which is a revolutionary way of experiencing nature other than during safaris and animal shows.
Lifelike versions of the marine mammals were replicated in 3D from original footage of the whales and CGI was used to bring the “Digital Twin” to life again. The company worked closely with marine researchers and archaeologists to enable the whales to be as realistic as possible for the audience. Even the original noises the whales make and their whale song, as well as the precise sound propagation, were integrated three dimensionally into a specially composed soundtrack.
The experience premiered in the dedicated 360° domed hall in the Maui Ocean Center on Maui/Hawaii at the beginning of 2019.
Film length: 13 minutes
Production period: >1 year
Team: 65 experts including 20 CGI specialists
Visual effects: Stereoscopic 3D and 360° documentation
Resolution: 4096 x 4096 pixels (stereo/30 FPS)
Sound: 7.1 surround mix (adapted for the domed hall): Sound design for the underwater world, composed soundtrack
Fulldome: 15 meters, 180-degree dome (called a sphere)
Animation: Exact movements of the animals based on real footage Reference material drawn up.
3D data models: Full models and textures of the whales and their habitat were turned into 3D data based on photogrammetric scans
CGI: The 3D data is processed in CGI for the “Digital Twin”
Data produced: ca. 40 terabytes