‘The Ark’ documents critically endangered white rhinos in VR, spotlighting efforts to save them

by Ian Hamilton • September 18th, 2015
Jongsma & ONeill

Eline Jongsma and Kel O’Neill.

With more than two weeks of fundraising left, Eline Jongsma and Kel O’Neill have already surpassed their goal on Kickstarter, raising more than $21,500 to travel to Kenya. They are going there to film The Ark, a 360-degree movie of some of the last Northern white rhinos in the world and the people who sometimes sleep beside the animals to protect them from poachers. Now the husband and wife documentarians are in the stretch goal phase trying to raise money to cover post production costs and other ideas they have for the project.

“I think there’s something about the concept that really resonates with people,” O’Neill said in a phone interview with UploadVR. “We thought if we were going to make our goal we would make it by like day 28 or 29.”

The pair have been funded so far by an award created in honor of Tim Hetherington, who made the documentary Restrepo in Afghanistan before he was killed in 2011 covering the civil war in Libya. They’ve used that money to film, using a GoPro rig, a Northern white rhino at the San Diego Zoo as well as a project underway there that sounds vaguely like Jurassic Park —  the “Frozen Zoo”.

3. Nola_360_web

Here’s how they describe the Frozen Zoo project:

Frozen Zoo contains thousands of skin cell samples from a vast collection of animals—including the northern white rhino—and the genetic rescue team are working to transform frozen rhino skin cells into powerful stem cells that can be transformed into any cell in the body. Their larger goal is to use these cells to create the sperm and eggs necessary to grow a whole new generation of rhinos through in vitro fertilization.

The team is advised by Nonny de la Peña of the Emblematic Group and the director of photography is Todd Somodevilla. The project lists an estimated delivery date of April 2016 for an “advanced release download” of the VR app for a pledge of $40 or more.

“For a moment it feels like the rhino is actually approaching you and you can forget about the Victorian stereoscope that’s strapped to your face and actually for a moment be in the presence of this thing that won’t exist very very soon, or potentially won’t exist,” O’Neill said.

These rhinos are already considered extinct in the wild and should they become extinct in captivity too the “Frozen Zoo” project and this footage likely represent the last efforts at preservation. If they never see a rebirth, visiting them in VR may be the only way people ever see these animals. It’s one of the more compelling ideas for how to use panoramic video that I’ve heard. The project will end fundraising on Oct. 8.

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