Living with Jaguars VR

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.

Living with Jaguars, VR Journey. Image from IMDB.

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.

Jaguar resting in the forest. Image from Discover Wildlife.

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.

Jaguar staring off into the distance. Image from Pinterest.

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.

You find out more about Panthera by visiting their website, and watch the experience yourself on YouTube.

Sharkwater VR

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.


Sharkwater Extinction was the third film in Rob Stewart’s quest to save sharks. Image from http://www.sharkwater.com

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.


Person shoots video of whale shark. Image from http://www.youtube.com.

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.


One of the weaknesses of Sharkwater VR is the length of some clips. Imagre from www.zoomdesign.com.

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.

You can learn more about the shark conservation efforts of Sharkwater by visiting their website, and watch the video on YouTube.

VR Story Review: Congo: Empowered by Light

The Virtual Reality Storytelling Organization, StoryUp is a group of filmmakers, videographers, and storytellers who create exceptional storytelling experiences for virtual reality. You can learn more about StoryUp and it’s creators here. The company’s stories have made themselves unique in comparison to others due to their strong use of empathy in their videos. The stories that are being told make the viewer feel very empathetic to the environment or surroundings that they have been placed in.

Photo by: StoryUp

 StoryUp has produced many types of virtual reality videos that can focus on positive brain control, empathy, and mindfulness. One video in particular seemed exceptionally moving compared to others was the empathy driven Virtual Reality story titled Congo: Empowered By Light

This story was about the lack of energy for Park Rangers at Virguna National Park in Congo. They are among 1.3 billion worldwide that lack electricity. The video describes the hardships that the people of Virguna struggle with daily due to energy poverty. This storytelling experience grabbed the viewer’s attention straight from the beginning and made the viewer completely immersed for the entirety of the video. The use of empathy for this video is what made this story of influential to others. The beginning text of “Are you Listening?” with a powerful voiceover in the background immediately made the viewer listen. As you continue in the story, the video puts you inside the environment of the national park and what it is like to live in their conditions. Perhaps the most powerful scene throughout the story would be the women inside her hut, trying to prepare food in the dark with only a small flame. You were able to feel like you were sitting right next to the woman by the fire and feel the struggles that she was facing.

Photo by: StoryUp

The structure of this story has a beginning, middle, and an end. The beginning shot asked the viewers “are you listening?’ and then the story dived into what life was like in Virguna National Park and the issues that Congo was facing. At the end of the story, the title “yes I’m listening” appears on the screen as well as information about how Empowered by Light has been a helping hang to the national park in efforts to bring economic growth and environmental sustainability to the Virguna National Park in Congo. It was interesting to see how the video started with a question and the end of the story answered that same question.

Photo by: StoryUp

This Virtual Reality story was a location and experience driven video. The topic of importance for the story was the area of Virguna National Park in Congo and how they were experiencing energy poverty. The experience aspect of the story the storytellers wanted to provoke was so that the viewer could experience empathy for these people and be able to immerse themselves into the environment at the national park. Empathy is a great tool to use when you are telling a story that needs empathy. When a viewer feels like they are in the situation with the story characters, they will evoke emotions of empathy and compassion.

Pandemonium through VR

Panda with Me is a VR story about a panda caretaker describes her days nannying pandas in Sichuan, China. The publisher is Liu Cheng’an. The platform is both for VR and AR, and the intended audience is for nature and animal lovers.

Panda cub

In this story, the storyline of the video is successful by following one person. The woman has been nannying baby pandas for 10 years. She tells the story of her career by telling us that in the beginning of a baby panda’s life, they need proper care. Especially taking care of twin pandas, which the mother panda couldn’t take care of them at the same time.

The story is solid. It is a documentary of pandas being nurtured by a panda caretaker who can help the mother panda taking care of her twins. The story uses a narrative structure by showing an introduction of the panda nanny. Then goes on showing how the nanny nurtures the baby pandas. At the end, the nanny tells us, once her career ends, she will miss the pandas and her colleagues will continue nurturing more of them.

The characters in this story is the nanny and pandas. They drove the story by showing us taking care of panda cubs is not that easy. Even though pandas look adorable and fun to look at.

The story uses emotion by showing the adorableness of the pandas. These pandas are so cute to look at that it makes me want to hug a baby panda and/or cuddle with an older panda.

The story is driven by the adorableness of the pandas and experienced by a panda caretaker, which is in the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding at Sichuan, China.

This story is appropriate for VR because it gives us the firsthand experience of pandas up close. Normally, in some zoos, where they have pandas, people aren’t supposed to get close to them. Putting this story through VR is exceptional. It gives us the warm and fuzzy feeling of panda momentum.

In the narrative part of the story, the nanny struggles taking care of the twin pandas. It seems that the nanny must take care of one panda before taking care of the other one. Taking care of twins is not that easy for one person or for a mother panda. It is almost the same thing with human mothers with twin babies. Seriously, the struggle is real when you are taking care of twin babies, whether they are humans or animals.

The storyline is strong; however, I see two weaknesses on the technical side of the story. One of them is the camera placement (picture from above). I believe the camera could move a little closer to the center where the tourists are standing, and a few inches or feet away from the wall. The camera here is standing too close to the trees.

Another weakness that I see is the extra video placement they used in this scene. Whether you are watching this through VR or AR, the videos they placed on this scene is way up high. The videos need to be eye level, so the viewers can watch them.

Inside Abe’s Office

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mE0UFgyY4HY

The director of the CollegeHumor VR Story “Inside Abraham Lincoln’s Oval Office,” Michael Schaubach has been working with CollegeHumor for almost ten years, and sticks within the realm of comedy is regards to the type of content he is associated with. The producer Shane Crown is also solely known for his work with CollegeHumor Normally, CollegeHumor tends to stick with more conventional platforms to tell a story, so VR could be considered a bit out of their comfort zone. It is indeed a new challenge to take on a method such as this, but it seems that CollegeHumor did a fine job of preserving their unique touch which intertwining it with a modern phenomenon.

This VR story transports the viewer into the oval office when President Lincoln was president making some of his most notable decisions. Of course, CollegeHumor throws a comedic twist on the storylines to make the historic events a bit quirky, interesting, and inaccurate.

To a degree, there is a three-point structure to this story. Characters build towards the beginning, the script guides us through the plot, and the end has us all anticipating a final decision/answer. However, it is not so clear-cut that it comes across as uninteresting; it works for the context.

The characters were, in my opinion, the most important aspect of this VR story. Without them, it would just be an empty, silent, office with no action, only still objects to look at and be bored with after 60 seconds. I wouldn’t say this story used clear-cut emotion, but rather anticipation, and even minor stress. At some points, there were many people crowding the office with demands, complaints, or other statements. This is not a bad thing because it added to the story and feelings of the viewers; it expressed the overwhelming job of the president. I, along with other reviewers, believe that the space was never boring and there was always something to look at in the office.

As mentioned before, this VR story was heavily driven by the script spoken by the characters. Of course the location was significant, but the same story likely could have been convey just as well in another building. The experience was not that exciting or unique, but it served its purpose and was entertaining for what it was. I believe that with this storyline, VR was the most appropriate method. If I were to watch this in a plain video format, it would not be nearly as interesting. Reading it in a comic or other literary platform would likely work considering this is heavily character/script driven, but the VR experience takes it to the next level.

Honestly, my biggest critique is that I thought that this was just too long of a story. It was interesting for the first 4 min, but I felt that it drug on for the last 2 min and I was anxious to get to the end. I felt that there were a few too many plots going on at once and the acting was a bit poor. The camera placement was fine and I felt like a fly-on-the-wall, but there being only one location was a bit dry towards the end, which is why I felt that 6 min was a stretch.