XR Backstory: SWAMPSCAPES by Elizabeth Miller, Kim Grinfeder, Juan Carlos Zaldivar

XR Backstory: SWAMPSCAPES by Elizabeth Miller, Kim Grinfeder, Juan Carlos Zaldivar

In partnership with Québec/Canada XR (link) – The original article can be found here in french (link).

SWAMPSCAPES is a virtual reality experience that takes place in the Everglades, the U.S. subtropical wetland south of Florida, essentially made up of swamps and very rich in biodiversity – SWAMPSCAPES allows you to follow, in a 360-degree experience, several specialists who tell us about this fragile and sometimes dangerous ecosystem whose access is most often reserved for guides.

XR Backstory: SWAMPSCAPES by Elizabeth Miller, Kim Grinfeder, Juan Carlos Zaldivar.

“What we see is nothing more than a skeleton of what the Everglades were like,” said Betty, an activist and Miccosukee guide.

Conceived as a sensory and educational journey, the whole experience makes it possible to raise awareness about the safeguarding of this environment and to reflect on our impact on the environment.

Elizabeth Miller (director of the film) at the head of the project was a researcher in residence via the Knight Foundation in Miami for 5 months. She was very sensitive to the changes that this territory will undergo in the coming years, since Miami is in the Top 10 of the territories that are likely to be submerged. It is indeed a city which is built on the swamps and which threatens to be covered. Its fauna and flora would therefore disappear.

The Knight Foundation supports an ecosystem of start-ups and since 2012 has invested more than $30 million in the development of an entrepreneurial ecosystem by connecting innovators, attracting investment and developing the city’s talent base.

The place of residence and the equipment were loaned by the University of Miami. Elizabeth was able to teach and be paid by the Knight Foundation to create her project with a budget of US $25,000.

His colleague Kim Grinfeder offered to make SWAMPSCAPES in VR because he had access to all the necessary virtual reality equipment. The budget was therefore used primarily for travel, fees, certificates of permission and for teams – of which 5 members are students.

Elizabeth and her team have chosen to work on the Everglades with virtual reality to express the climate emergency: in Miami, Boston and Montreal, floods are becoming more and more frequent. The team therefore took this project to heart to echo what is happening on our planet through 7 reports in 7 different swamps. And the excursions were not easy. With water up to your knees, you have to walk with a stick to find and test the stability of the ground. There is an astonishing silence – encompassing and subtle – and all the colors appear green and gray in this semi-aquatic universe.

When you enter the swamps, you have to realize that the equipment can quickly become heavy, because walking is very slowed down by water and mud. We must also take into account the technical complications due to a 360 degree capture: we must find a way to hide somewhere, and that is without counting the energy that must be deployed against mosquitoes and alligators!

But fortunately, the guides and the team of SwampScapes lead the spectator safely and thus allows them to discover an exceptional biodiversity and sometimes magic shows, like that of the beautiful “Ghost Orchid”, which only opens Once in a year. You have to be very lucky to witness such a phenomenon. “We weren’t so lucky though!” Added Deborah, who followed the team for a few weeks, camera on the shoulder.

The final images therefore allow the public to feel immersed in the swamp, giving access to a reality that may soon no longer exist …

Spotted by SxSW. Edu in Texas and by Hot Docs in Toronto, the experience was visible at the Rencontres Internationales du documentaire de Montréal in 2019.


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