Sky has launched a new VR offering at the Natural History Museum, with its Hold the World experience giving visitors the chance to tour one of London’s most interesting museums with none other than Sir David Attenborough.

The Blue Planet 2 star and all-around national treasure was filmed by over 100 cameras so he could be recreated as a 3D hologram for Hold the World, which will launch at the Natural History Museum this spring and represents a crossover of “interactive video game and TV documentary technology,” according to Sky.

A blue whale, stegosaurus, trilobite, dragonfly, butterfly and pterosaur are among the rare specimens Sir David’s 3D likeness will talk you through in the experience, which lasts between 20 minutes and an hour. Visitors will also be able to virtually pick up and hold the rarities.

The following is a review of this VR tour:

“Hold The World is available in various formats, but my demo used an Oculus Rift headset and two Oculus Touch controllers. The headset lets you look around, while the Touch controllers act as extensions of your hands. You’ll use those to grab things.

The experience is animated, and not actual live footage, but it’s rendered in such detail that you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Once the program loaded, the marble detailing left me in no doubt that I was standing in the Natural History Museum.

I was presented with three doors, leading to the Conversation Centre, the Earth Sciences Library and the Cryptogamic Herbarium. Each was extensively photographed and meticulously recreated in digital form. This is as close as most people will get to peeking inside these restricted areas.

I chose the Earth Sciences Library and found myself sitting across a desk from Sir David Attenborough. Well, a hologram of him, digitally made with footage from over 100 cameras. It’s remarkably lifelike, the most realistic person I’ve ‘met’ in virtual reality without watching a real recording. The only thing odd about this Sir David was the stiffness and slicked-back look of his hair – the real Sir David would explain later in the evening that they had to use a lot of hairspray, since floppy hair causes nightmares for digital captures. They also had to glue down his collar.

Holographic Sir David presented me with two boxes and asked me to choose a specimen. I opened the drawer containing a model skeleton of a Blue Whale – the one currently hanging in the Hintze Hall of the museum. Once I placed it in front of Sir David, he started to lecture me on the specimen.

Having Sir David give you a personal tutorial is one thing, but playing with specimens is properly fun. I could use my arms to zoom in to the specimen, then pick it up and swish it around like a toy plane. Look at dedicated information points and it’ll trigger Sir David’s next speech. Once he’s said everything he has to say, the specimen will start moving. Just to add a bit of dramatic flare.

This is the most engaging science lesson I’ve ever received. There are only about 10 specimens that have been adapted for Hold The World, but all in all you’re looking at over an hour of top-class interactive education.

I’ve used VR for video games and movie tie-in experiences. I’ve also used it used as a means to play back footage shot on 360-degree cameras. Hold The World offers the best elements of all those.”

This could be helpful in the Thematic Area 4 of the ViMM project, because this is a very innovative virtual tour that greatly combines elements from the Storytelling, Presence and Gamification fields. Having such a lifelike hologram of Sir David Attenborough talking to the visitors and explaining the history of the specimens will help them to learn more about those speciments as they will feel like a real person is talking to them, which is a very important element of the Storytelling field. Also, the full immersion that the Virtual Reality provides, will make the visitors feel like they really are in the Natural History Museum. This increases the feeling of presence, which is what the Presence field is about. Finally, the fact that the visitors can interact and play with the specimens, an important element of the Gamification field, makes the virtual tour more fun and interesting.


A video describing the virtual tour: