Bringing Europe’s last wilderness to VR

  |   Featured, In the field   |   No comment
There is only one truly wild place left in Europe. Located in Northern Sweden, Sarek National Park is a wilderness where no vehicles have ever been allowed to roam and fading trails are the only way forward. And now, world-renowned photojournalist Martin Edström and the IVAR team plan to document Sarek’s natural wonders in virtual reality.
Sarek National Park has long been a bastion of nature in Sweden and is protected by special rules and regulations—including keeping all forms of mechanized travel from entering. This has helped preserve Sarek’s pristine nature, making it the most untouched wilderness in all of Europe. No other wilderness in Europe compares its vast expanse.
I_AM_SAREK_main_1
«THIS PLACE IS JUST MAJESTIC IN EVERY WAY. THERE’S NO CELL PHONE COVERAGE, NO BUILDINGS, NOTHING. IT’S RAW NATURE.»
CHECK OUT THE OMNI
The photographer and journalist has long been committed to preserving important natural and cultural heritage sites with digital technology. Martin starting by creating interactive 360° stories from places like Petra in Jordan. In 2015, he created the first interactive 360° story for National Geographic, allowing people to virtually explore Son Doong, the largest cave in the world.

An interactive map of Sarek

In 2014, Martin came up with the idea of documenting Sarek with a large library of 360° content and capturing it in a very high resolution (up to 8K). A great unknown is how well-protected Sarek will be in the future—even though it enjoys rigorous protection today, the wilderness is still affected by a large and growing tourism industry in neighboring regions. Climate change is evident here as well, with glaciers melting and patterns changing.
«I WANT TO CREATE A STORY WORLD FOR PEOPLE TO EXPLORE SAREK IN VR SO THEY CAN TAKE PART IN THE NATURAL WONDERS.»
I_AM_SAREK_main_2
Martin also highlights the importance of this kind of storytelling to make sure people care about environmental protection. Climate change is a hotly debated issue, and Martin says it’s easy to forget what we’re actually talking about—preserving nature for coming generations.

Just the equipment you can carry

Filming 360° in a remote place like Sarek is a challenge. Martin and his team must carry all of the gear they need, with no way to get in except trekking on foot. That’s probably the best way to describe how remote Sarek really is. You’re not allowed to use any vehicle, nothing at all. You can’t take a kayak on the rivers, and you can only fly to the border of Sarek with a helicopter. So all the gear we need, we have to carry—on top of all the expedition equipment and food, of course.
The season is really short as well. To get good conditions without too much snow or rain, we only have about a month every year in which we can film this place. And since we have to trek everywhere, moving between locations takes several days. Shooting inside Sarek is actually mostly about walking in the rain!
During the first trip of the project, Martin and the team focused on two parts of Sarek: the gateway into Sarek from the south and the tallest peak, Sarektjåkkå. These two locations form the foundation for the project, where the team can start making the interactive map that will be expanded with every trip.

Post-production

One of the challenges the team faces while filming in Sarek is that there is no possibility to preview scenes on the spot. They can’t bring along the extra weight of laptops and chargers because their packs already weigh around 35kg. This is one of the reasons why the Sarek project will take several years to complete. Shooting in the mountainous region of Sarek often means very quick weather changes. Several times, the team had to quickly dismount their rig as heavy clouds moved in and rain started pouring down.
The first priority of the team when they get home is to copy all of the data to ensure it’s safe. Corrupt data is something modern filmmakers always fear, just as in the past when they worried about bad rolls of film. Using the Omni Importer allows the team to preview scenes as soon as it detects them on the SD cards.
I_AM_SAREK_main_4
«WE KNEW THAT WE HAD GOTTEN SOME AMAZING SCENES WHEN WE LOADED THE SD CARD DATA INTO THE IMPORTER SOFTWARE.»
CHECK OUT AUTOPANO VIDEO
After the Omni Importer imports all the scenes and pre-stitches them, the workflow in Autopano® Video Pro and Autopano Giga begins. Martin’s team spends most of their time in these two software programs. Autopano Giga provides several ways of improving the stitch. Martin and his team edit, add new control points and use the Mask tool to improve the stitching.
«BEST PART OF OMNI? THAT IT IS SYNCHRONIZED OF COURSE—NOW WE CAN JUST SKIP THE SYNCHRONIZATION STEP WHICH USED TO BE ONE OF THE MOST CRUCIAL AND TIME CONSUMING.»
I_AM_SAREK_main_5

AVP ProRes Render Image

The release of Autopano Video Pro 2.5 makes it possible to render in ProRes MOV. Martin and his team use ProRes for most final renders to create good master files that work well for editing in Adobe® Premiere Pro® and After Effects®. How does his team get the best possible footage? Martin explains, “Sometimes the shots are good enough to use straight from the render, with just some color correction. But in many cases, especially dealing with hard shots where the lighting was not ideal, we have to render one to three different versions that we later blend together in post production.”

What’s next

Martin and his team have finished the first step of their Sarek project, but it was just the beginning of a long journey that will continue to grow every year. The end result will be an interactive digital time capsule of the vast wilderness of Sarek National Park—available to the world, online.
No Comments

Post A Comment