Meeting Wild Lions
in Virtual Reality
In a first-ever 360-video filmed from the heart of a pride in the wild, you get to come face to face with lions in Virtual Reality.
In close collaboration with Zambia Carnivore Programme, Martin Edström push the boundaries of immersive wildlife storytelling further in this 360-video for National Geographic.
Following the Mwamba pride together with the Zambia Carnivore Programme in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia, the 360-video lets you follow the young lion Gibson and his mother, as they are forced to leave their pride because of conflict with a new dominant male.
Connecting to Wildlife
While being the symbol for wilderness and Africa as a whole, lions are on the brink of extinction in all but the largest and best managed national parks. Their numbers are dwindling.
Just over a century ago, there were more than 200,000 wild lions living in Africa. Today, there are only about 20,000. These magnificent predators, on top of the food-chain and ecosystem, are slowly fading away – and currently listed as “Vulnerable” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
The Lion 360 project was done in close collaboration with The Zambian Carnivore Programme, an organisation dedicated to conserving large carnivore species and the ecosystems they reside in for one of Africa’s most wildlife-rich places. Having followed lions in the South Luangwa valley for years, their scientists have got to witness the many ways human civilization encroaches the territory – and lives – of the lion population.
While filming this project, we got to witness some of these problems first-hand.
The first step in caring about something, enough to take action for conservation, is to connect with it. That’s why the Lion 360 project targeted empathy through a new approach: putting people face to face with lions, inside a Virtual Reality headset.
In the middle of a pride, as if they were there.
Wildlife in Virtual Reality
What happens if we actually get to meet lions face to face? With all the thousands of hours of lion footage and documentaries available today, how can we get a new perspective of wildlife?
This was a central question to the Lions 360 project, offering a new way to experience the life inside a pride of wild lions. The project aimed to give people access to a new perspective, that has not been truly possible with traditional film and still photography.
A new, inner perspective – getting so closely immersed within a pride of lions that you can almost feel like one of them.
Accomplishing this required some next generation thinking, compared to traditional wildlife filmmaking. This time, filming from afar wouldn’t be enough.
That’s why the team had to get a camera in there – into the middle of the pride.
The Challenge: Getting a 360-camera into a pride of lions
Apart from the traditional problems faced in wildlife filmmaking, the team’s main challenge was of course to get a 360-camera into the middle of a pride of wild lions. This had to be done without the lions destroying camera systems or getting hurt themselves.
Working with the National Geographic Remote Imaging team, the project had access to some of the best tools (and minds) on the planet when it comes to wildlife imaging.
Together with Mike Shepard and the tools from Nation Remote Imaging, the team built out a mobile camera platform based on a remote controlled car. Sourcing local materials for armoring the camera car during the expedition in Zambia, the team covered the mobile platform with half an oil barrel and thereby established a new nickname for the platform: The Droid.
The Droid would serve as the most important tool of the whole expedition, getting the various camera systems in place – right in front of the lions.
In fact, the Mwamba pride would come to accept the Droid as a creature of it’s own – not really minding it at all.
After carefully habituating the Mwamba Pride to the presence of the camera car, over the course of almost two weeks, the crew could begin to film and craft a narrative from the dynamics of the pride. Most days were spent, as in all wildlife filmmaking, tracking down and locating the pride. Since lions can roam many miles at night, it’s an ever-present challenge of following in their paw prints.
Working closely with the scientists and researchers of the Zambian Carnivore Programme was instrumental in telling an accurate and interesting story about the pride.
Spending a full month in the field, the team got to closely follow the Mwamba pride of lions – focusing on Gibson and his mother. Struggling to get the camera system into place before any action happened – spending hundreds of hours simply waiting – the team slowly got to witness the pride dynamics unfold before the cameras.
The Story of Gibson
The story is a simple one, and gives a small sliver of insight to the group dynamics of these big cats and their pride – to give people access to the aspects of lion life that seem almost human.
As a cub and young male lion, Gibson has enjoyed the safety and comfort of his pride. Until now. There’s a new male coalition (a collection of male lions courting the females of the pride) in the area. One of these lions is Pala, the oldest.
Male lions can sometimes see cubs from other males as a threat. This is what happened to Gibson; Pala and his coalition (with two other males we could observe) did not want Gibson in the pride. They want Mwamba pride to be populated by their own offspring, without any other males present.
This is why Gibson’s mother has led him away.
To keep him safe, and alive.
He has yet to be seen in the wild in 2017, and might have been killed.
The Lion 360 project brought together a small team of dedicated scientists, conservationists and storytellers to create something unique: bringing lions closer than ever before.
The project started in 2015, and was led by Martin Edström as producer and director. Core team members Erik Löfblad and Fredrik Edström were central to all stages of the project, from the start of planning and designing the technical solutions as well as filming in the field.
Post-production was led by IVAR Stockholm. With hundreds of hours filmed in Zambia, the stitching and post-production workflow was a complicated process – followed by editing the final video.
Special thanks to
Zambian Carnivore Programme