The Guardian released Songbird: a virtual moment of extinction in Hawaii on July 30, 2018. It is a virtual reality experience set in Kauai, Hawaii in 1985. The experience traces the footsteps of scientist, Dr. Jim Jacobi, and recreates his interaction with the last ʻōʻō (songbird) ever existing on earth. Lucy Greenwell is the director on the project and Anetta Jones is the producer. Francesca Panetta, who is executive editor for virtual reality at The Guardian, is the executive producer on the project. Finally, Federico Fasce is the lead developer and creative technologist for the video.
The story is experimental, for it is an instance where there is no actual footage to go along with the audio, so an animated version of what the actual footage would have been is created. The footage puts you into a part of history that no longer exists and makes it feel real with the use of natural sound and documentary-style narration. There are times, however, the video can start to buffer and the graphics can get a bit blurry, so make sure your internet connection is strong when you are watching the video or you will have grainy footage and the birds will become indistinguishable from the background.
Personally, I had difficultly loading the video even when I had strong connection. The video would not load on my phone, for my phone was not equipped with the latest update. Therefore, if you are trying to watch the video on your phone, make sure your phone is updated to ensure optimal performance. If you are viewing it on your computer, your computer must also be updated to ensure optimal experience. I would also advise giving the video time to load prior to watching it as well, for the video is a bit long.
Though lengthy, the project is an example of great storytelling scripted appropriately for virtual reality. It takes you on a realistic journey. There is a conflict, for you are following Dr. Jacobi in his search for the last songbird, while at the same time you realize the songbird is searching for a songbird as well or its species will die out. The way the story is told in the video evokes emotion from viewers and causes the viewers to empathize with the songbird. Not only does the viewer empathize with the songbird, but it causes the viewer to look at the bigger global issue of bird extinction.
Along with great natural sound, the story utilizes insightful audio from Dr. Jacobi to describe the things he experienced first hand. The path of the scientist can’t be explained by the narrator since the narrator was not there at the moment in history in 1985. I also enjoy the use of captions in the video. The opening captions create a setting for the video and explain to the viewer what is about to be viewed. The closing captions give insight into the problems that still face the bird population and what the issues stem from.
Altogether, I believe the story is well-executed. It is a well written, interesting story. Being eight minutes, it is a little long, however I feel the story is entertaining and captivating enough to keep viewers engaged. It is a good example of how virtual reality can be used and a glimpse as to where virtual reality may be headed in the future.