Behind The Scenes of Lions 360° by National Geographic

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In his recent trip to Zambia, Martin Edström was tasked by National Geographic to produce a VR film about lions, symbol of strength, power and ferocity. Through this stunning 360° film, you will see that growing up is a struggle, especially if you’re a young male lion. Follow Gibson and his mother through their daily life among a pride of lions in the african bush. Be sure to read below Martin’s interview.
Martin, how this project was born and what message do you want viewers to remember and act on?
As we all know, VR opens the door to completely new possibilities and to “step into someone else’s shoes”. But what happens when we apply that to wildlife? Is it possible for us to get close enough to wildlife allowing us to create immersive content from the middle of a pride of wild lions? This was the question we set out to answer, and we proved it was possible.
What kind of hardware and software do you use?
To film the lions in Zambia, we needed to use small systems in order to get our cameras among the wildlife without attracting too much attention. We used a combination of Omni and a rig made of 3 GoPro cameras with wide-angle lenses. For stitching and post-production, we relied on Autopano Video Pro as well as their integration in the Adobe Suite – editing on Premiere Pro.
What features of our software do you like the most?
Autopano Video Pro is the go-to-software for stitching spherical content as I want to have more control on the stitching process and stitching templates. The ability to quickly stitch low-resolution previews from the Omni Importer is amazing, making sure we can rapidly see which shots we can use and which ones we can scrap. This helps a lot in a hectic field environment, where every day is spent in the field filming and we quickly need to ingest footage at night.
What challenges do you encounter with 360 production?
We had one massive challenge such as how to get our 360 mounts into a pride of wild lions and make them accept their presence. We did a lot of engineering work on our mobile camera platform (the Droid as we call it) and we had to be very patient in the field. It took weeks to get the lions we wanted to accept our 360° robot dolly, and only after that we were able to tart shooting.
What have been the best and worst moments of your trip?
The best was the first time the lions accepted the camera car. We had modified the armour of the car, and didn’t know how the lions would react. But once we deployed it, a leading female of the pride just walked over to it – smelled it for a minute – and then accepted it. From that point, the whole pride accepted its presence. It was a fantastic feeling, knowing we had a working platform and could start filming.
The worst moment was when we went out into the bush for several hours, only then noticing we had forgotten food and water for the day. We turned back to get it, took a shortcut – and then our 4×4 car got stuck in the sand and broke a wheel axle. And then we saw lions coming to have a look, meaning we had to be very careful while trying to repair the vehicle. That was a really hard day, especially so without food and water!
The video receives over 1 million views within 24 hours. Are you surprised by this number?
It’s fantastic to see the response! Now the video has over 3 million views on Facebook. But what makes me most happy is that several people have told me this video is the best use of 360-video they’ve seen. That’s what matters to me – helping to elevate 360-video and VR storytelling to new heights.
About Martin
Award-winning National Geographic Explorer Martin Edström uses interactive, immersive techniques—including 360-degree photography and virtual reality—to tell the important stories of our time in moving and inspiring ways. Based in Sweden, Martin has brought audiences inside the wild and forgotten corners of the world—from the threatened caves of Vietnam to inside the tents of refugee families in the Middle East. Working at the intersection of journalism, photography, and technology, Martin is intent on improving the media landscape by developing more powerful methods—fit for the digital age—to tell the stories that matter.
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