Blog Post

Tech with a Purpose: National Geographic Museum Introduces First Virtual Reality Theater Experience in Washington, D.C.: World-renowned National Geographic photographers virtually transport visitors to Earth’s most extraordinary places with SPACES

Virtual reality (VR) has proven to be a powerfully immersive medium with the capacity to take its viewer anywhere and at any time solely through the use of a VR headset. The National Geographic Society has invested in VR and other cutting edge technologies in order to build on its established legacy of using photography to transport people around the world. Many photographers are now shooting their subjects in 360 degrees, allowing them to capture the story from all angles and points of view. This technology, when coupled with National Geographic’s premier visual storytelling, creates a genuine connection that can influence viewers to conserve and preserve the Earth’s most remarkable locations.

Now, the National Geographic Museum is opening Washington, D.C.’s first VR theater experience, which will connect audiences with Explorers and photographers who are making a substantial impact on our planet. The Society’s extraordinary resources for media innovation enable the photographers working in the field to then produce VR experiences that complement these live talks.

The VR events consist of an entirely unique combination of a live speaker presentation replete with storytelling and breathtaking photography as well as a guided VR exploration where guests will go beyond the photographs on the screen and journey through the world’s most awe-inspiring locations. Once all 400 audience members put on their headsets, they’ll venture on a shared virtual experience. The new theater will debut this fall with two spectacular events.

During the first event, photographer Aaron Huey will guide guests among the incredible buttes and cliffs of Bears Ears National Monument that have long been held sacred to the indigenous peoples of the region. In order to bring Huey's story of Bears Ears National Monument to life, National Geographic collaborated with Black Dot Films VR who were essential in creating the captivating content viewed through the headsets. Their team produced three unique virtual reality pieces for this event that transform Huey's innovative photogrammetry into fully immersive experiences. Then, later in the museum’s fall event season, guests will embark on an expedition to the frozen landscapes of Antarctica with photographer Paul Nicklen during which they’ll experience a dramatic encounter with a leopard seal.

The application of the technology for the shared theater experience was designed by SPACES, an industry leader in delivering cutting-edge VR experiences with retail locations, parks and attractions around the globe including Tokyo, Hangzhou and Irvine California. SPACES has outfitted Grosvenor Auditorium with 450 Oculus Go headsets, a dedicated server, proprietary coding and applications, and a remote triggering system that will allow for an entirely unique shared VR experience.

Technology has transformed our ability to comprehend, connect and collaborate. SPACES has equipped National Geographic with the means to provide an engaging experience unlike any other live event. National Geographic Explorers are doing important work to help create a planet in balance, and it’s imperative that they share their stories in order to make an impact. For over a century, the National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of visual storytelling, and the new VR theater continues this tradition of going further to connect audiences with Explorers. When embarking on a VR exploration in Grosvenor Auditorium, guests can personally experience the stories influencing them to care about the fascinating places our Explorers visit. It’s time to bring purpose to the promise of technology.

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About The National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 15,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content.

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