Eden Project – Lost Giants Safari

Custom-built safari Jeeps trundled along virtual tracks at the Eden Project all summer, taking riders of all ages on a journey through time.

The Eden Project needed an exciting VR piece to compliment their Earth Story summer programme, which brought the wider story of Earth’s biodiversity to the forefront of their visitor experience. Our Lost Giants Safari VR adventure was built from the ground up with the purpose of giving guests the chance to see extinct, giant creatures up close. The virtual tour takes guests through a number of biomes, including North American plains, Madagascan scrubland and Eurasian forest – within which they will encounter some of Earth’s great extinct creatures, such as the Giant Elephant Bird and the Irish Elk. The VR was deployed in a dedicated space containing four fabricated ‘safari jeeps’, each one allowing up to six people to share the journey, and was experienced by several thousand people by the end of summer 2019.

Bringing extinct creaturesback to life

As with most of our VR content, we set out to achieve something which is simply impossible in real life. And what better use than bringing people face to face with creatures that became extinct thousands of years ago?

Working with researchers at the Eden Project, we selected four extinct creatures, almost fantastical in their size – such as the Irish Elk, which had antlers which could grow as large as 12 feet across. Also chosen were the Giant Armadillo, Elephant Bird and Giant Ground Sloth – which were then modelled in low-poly-style 3D before being rigged and animated; ready to be introduced to their virtual habitats.

Zubr VR Safari adventure animals poster
Zubr virtual reality Jeep adventure with giant cartoon animals

Terraforming virtual habitats

To create an awesome safari adventure, we needed a variety of environments to house our creatures. Our modellers got to work sculpting terrain, modelling vegetation and rocks, and laying a dirt road through the virtual world. This included North American green plains, a South American desert, the unique Madagascan coast and a Eurasian woodland. To fit with the style, the environments were each built with bold colour palettes and sharp contours, making every feature really stand out.

Enjoy the ride together,theme park style

We knew from the previous year working with the Eden Project that the VR experience would be under extreme pressure at peak times, with potentially hundreds of visitors descending on it in a single day. For this reason, we took inspiration from theme park ride design for many aspects of the production; from physical layout and visitor flow to timing and accessibility. This means we were able to maintain a very high speed of visitor turnover, whilst ensuring that logistics were smooth and individual needs were attended to.

Another way the piece is similar to a theme park ride comes from the social element. Where VR is often seen as an isolated and alienating individual experience, we used our proprietary multi-user VR networking system to create the social group context of a six-person ride carriage. With each VR headset allocated to a seat in the Jeep, visitors see the virtual world from the respective position – and even see motion-tracked avatars to represent each person around them!

Kids enjoying a virtual reality installation at the Eden Project
Zubr virtual reality experience at the Eden Project for kids

Virtual worlds meet physicalset design

Of course, this social element occurs naturally for visitors before they enter VR – and afterwards, too. But working with the Eden Project team, we used sets, props and sound effects to build anticipation, blur the boundaries between the physical and virtual, and fire up imaginations before the experience has even begun – the art of ‘Imagineering,’ as Disney like to call it!

The most important aspect of this was the fabricated Jeep shells. Built to an exact specification to match our virtual vehicle model, the four Jeeps were scaled and positioned perfectly to maximise the use of the space available, and provide an ideal spectator view for friends and family waiting outside. Completing the illusion was a networked bass speaker under each hood, relaying the virtual engine sound straight from the shared VR experience, and creating a busy garage full of rumbling Safari Jeeps! Leafy canopies, explorer’s lamps and Jerry cans added the finishing touches, and ensured everyone was anticipating the adventure that lay ahead.