Charged with creating an engaging experience to shine a light on the plight of the nearly extinct mountain gorillas of Rwanda in Central Africa, Immotion created the Gorilla Trek Virtual Reality Experience, presented at the Milwaukee County Zoo.
Starting with a pre-show area containing interactive facts about the mountain gorillas and their Rwandan habitat, audiences were primed with information related to the gorillas’ behavior, anatomy, and personality. The messaging that guests received in this pre-show area created the foundation needed to completely enjoy and understand the main experience: a 360-degree, 3D virtual reality theater with motion seats.
Through this ground-breaking VR experience, audiences were magically transported to the mountains of Rwanda where Immotion’s Emmy award-winning documentary film crew trekked up 10,000 feet alongside world-renowned primatologist Dr. Tara Stoinski, CEO of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, to visit the remarkable Umubano family of mountain gorillas.
In these mountains, audiences intimately witnessed for the first time in 3D virtual reality the unique dynamics that pit one silverback mountain gorilla against another for control of the family.
For many years, a silverback mountain gorilla named Charles had been in control of all Umubano family decision-making. However, as played out in Gorilla Trek, audiences observed how one of the other five silverbacks in the family, Zirakana, attempted to become the new alpha as he challenged Charles for control.
At first, Zirakana’s challenges were subtle. But, as time passed, his threatening behavior led to a physical confrontation with Charles. In the end, though, Charles remained the dominant silverback and Zirakana was left with an ultimatum: either stay with the group and continue to be submissive to Charles or leave the only family he has ever known to forge his own path in the Rwandan rainforest.
The conservation messaging of the piece is integral to the experience and the mission of both the zoo and Immotion. With just over 1,000 mountain gorillas left in the world, it is vitally important to study the behavior of these amazing animals so that we can help save them from extinction. VR storytelling, as presented in the Gorilla Trek Virtual Reality Experience, offers an opportunity unlike any other to spotlight needed conservation stories to further advance the missions of organizations such as the Fossey Fund alongside zoos and aquariums around the world. Utilizing the skills of the filmmaking team, combined with the immersive power of the pre-show plus the VR experience, Immotion and its partner, the Milwaukee County Zoo, hope that the impact on the zoo patrons will be a deep and long-lasting one ultimately leading to more conservation engagement.
Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund; Dr. Tara Stoinski