Get a look at the entrance to the Kentucky Horse Park, featuring a model sculpture of Secretariat and the memorial of Man O’War.
Witness Battle Axes, the only Axe-Throwing place in the Lexington area! Get a brief look at the entry and lobby of the business, before diving into the action. Make sure to keep your eyes open; you may have to duck!
Shooter/Photographer: Sarah Tran
Editor: Braden Ramsey
Living with Jaguars is a VR Experience directed by Patrick McGuire and Jeff Orlowski that was designed in partnership by Occupied VR and Motherboard-VICE. It is an interactive VR film that documents wild jaguars in a rural region of Brazil. There have been tensions between jaguars and ranchers in the area for a long time, and the population of jaguars is dwindling. The film explores the perspectives of jaguars, ranchers, conservation researchers, and ecotourism operators.
The experience begins with a scientist and rancher talking about growing up and hearing jaguars described as almost mythical. Another scientist and the original rancher/scientist go on to describe the habitat of the jaguars, and what happened to lead up to the crisis that currently exists.
Throughout the experience, you hear the perspectives from other local ranchers, a biologist who works as a conservationist for “neotropical predators”, and the two scientists from the introduction. It also dives into the efforts of Panthera, a local conservation group that helps keep jaguars from being driven out of their natural habitat. Getting continued perspectives from the same main people allows you to get a more in-depth description of the real issues that plague the jaguar population, and the other groups in the area.
The characters involved really helped drive the story. Being able to provide a 360 perspective not only of what it is like to be physically present in the area, but what people of each group involved go through is powerful. Emotion is also provided through the use of many pictures of people showing off jaguars they have killed as trophies – which can really get to the viewer – and the passion you can see in those trying to have a positive impact. In fact, the scientists talk about a jaguar that has shown up on the camera-traps they have in place for the last five to six years they have named Fumaca (Fu-mas-a). I found this to be a key part of the experience, because personifying jaguars can influence people’s opinions on them for the better.
The videos and images provided give a good sense of the tension in the region between ranchers and jaguars. You see ranchers not only having large fences to separate their property from the outside world, but having to add electric fences and barbed wire to that for protection of their herd. Some ranchers have even added water buffalo to their herds for additional protection.
The story did follow a narrative structure. As I briefly already mentioned, it begins describing the history of jaguars in the area, and what is currently going on with them. It then heads into the ranchers’ perspective of dealing with jaguars in the old days, and how there are efforts being made to change that. Eventually, more detail is given into what the conservation groups and workers in the area are doing to better set up jaguars for the future. Finally, the impact that Ecotourism has on conservation efforts, and the relationship between jaguars and humans is discussed.
The editor did a great job at informing the viewer of what was upcoming. Each section of the story was set off with a fade, followed a black screen telling what the next “chapter” would cover, and ended with another fade back into video. Also, when looking at bunches of photos at a time. there was a black screen with photos popping up in all directions, giving the viewer something to look at from every angle. These scenes lasted a pretty long time, providing more than adequate time for the viewer to see each one and be impacted by them as a whole and individually.
The stationary shots included in the experience were fantastic. The quality was great, and provided a view that you will not get to experience in real life. Seeing jaguars walk feet away from you, even up to you and looking into your eyes in some instances, was thrilling. Being right in front of all the people involved also was a unique experience. Audio was good as well, and really added to the scenes of surrounding photos and videos where not much action occurred.
While the video had plenty of strengths, and was one I am a fan of, it also had some weaknesses. To start, some of the clips were too short. We talked about not having adequate time to look around during some of them being a common problem in VR scenes, and it is truly a shame that it occurs so often still. Hopefully we’ll see even more improvements in this area sooner than later.
Another weakness was that there were moving scenes, and quite a lot of them. They weren’t the worst to watch when viewing the experience on a laptop, but they can really mess with a viewer’s head when in the headset. Not every scene messed with my equilibrium, but some did, and I had to remove the headset a few times before continuing.
The experience was nearly 22 minutes long, which is another weakness. But as it was a documentary, much more than a typical VR experience, this is to be expected. An upcoming documentary experience regarding Eminem’s life in Detroit is a similar length. The length, while not ideal for a regular VR scene, is fitting for the situation.
Overall, I thought the experience was solid. It would have been way better without moving shots, but generally it got the objective – giving people a view of all parties involved in the jaguar conservation of Brazil – it was intended to complete accomplished.
Sharkwater VR is an experience designed by Occupied VR and Sharkwater, a shark conservation company created in honor of award-winning photographer and conservationist Rob Stewart. You can access the Occupied VR Portfolio for the project here.
The experience – directed by Rob Stewart – accompanies a documentary created by Sharkwater, called Sharkwater Extinction, which dives in to the world of shark finning and the political corruption that has allowed the industry to live, and even thrive.
The VR experience was one that I personally enjoyed. It gave such a great up-close view of not only sharks, but a variety of different creatures, including rays and an eel.
When you begin the video, Rob tells about his first encounter with a shark, and why he is doing the work he is. His words were much needed, providing emotion on why his efforts were important and just an overall context to the video.
Once he is finished, music plays throughout as you get the opportunity to explore the ocean as if you were a diver.
The shots were of pretty good quality, especially for the lack of light in some areas because of the depth. Even in some moments where you could see the cameraman – more on that later – there was something to look at in each direction. A couple clips where you were right in or on the edge of a school of fish come to mind for this.
The video was location driven in my eyes. There were no audio cues for when to turn your head to look a certain way, which enhanced the experience. If there was influence to look a certain way, they would use a swimming creature. You naturally follow it with your eyes leading into other animals being seen.
While the video is one I enjoyed, there are some weaknesses that came along with it, starting with the cameraman being visible. Being in the middle of the ocean though, one can not just release the camera, let it sit there and hide behind a bunch of coral. It is not ideal, but is understandable in the instance.
Another weakness – and the more important one, in my eyes – is the brevity of some of the clips. You don’t always have the most time to look around, which is the opposite of what you want in a VR experience. I believe this is partially due to the cameraman being visible – if the clips are short, you won’t make a full turn and see him – but it would be nice to have at least a few more seconds in some of them.
That weakness is counteracted partially through the use of starting points. Each clip had you open right where the action centered, which is exactly what you want. After re-watching the short clips a few times, you can see that some do not really have action going on elsewhere. But as a viewer who will more than likely never be in the diving position, I’d like the opportunity to still look around and see every inch that I can.
Overall, I feel that Sharkwater VR is a great experience, giving viewers an opportunity to see underwater creatures in ways that they haven’t before, and may not ever get to do in person.