Can VR increase people’s awareness of animal protection?

A while ago, the death of the last male white rhinoceros “Sudan” shook Internet users. Sudan’s death also means that white rhinoceros— the beautiful species— has entered the countdown to extinction.

With the increase of human activities since the 20th century, animals’ living space has been continuously compressed, pushing many species onto the verge of extinction. Globally, more and more national organizations and private organizations have tried their best to utilize various cutting-edge technologies, including virtual reality, to enhance people’s awareness of animal protection.

The Virtual Reality charity movie “Panda Love: The Secret Lives of Pandas” will be released soon. The film was jointly created by Conservation International, Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, and the famous photographer Ami Vitale. The famous actor Wei Tang served as the Chinese commentator.Giant Pandas

The film is another public welfare documentary released by Conservation International after the traditional public welfare documentary “Below the Canopy.” It aims to make the audience vividly experience the living conditions of giant pandas through the strong sense of immersion brought about by VR videos. At the same time, it also demonstrates China’s achievements in giant panda protection.

As VR is a relatively novel approach, animal protection organizations and directors are still exploring the methods and techniques of VR documentary filming. Can VR improve the shortcomings of traditional documentaries? What are the problems still faced by VR documentaries? In some of the more representative cases in the past, we can already see some of the answers.

Compared with traditional documentaries, VR documentaries can break through the limitations of the picture frame, allowing the audience to be closer to nature, creating a feeling of intimate contact with animals.

When viewing a traditional documentary, viewers and the world depicted in the film are completely separated by a screen. Thus, they are merely viewing the world depicted in the film as outsiders. When watching VR documentaries, on the other hand, viewers are isolated from the outside world. Fully immersed in the environment inside the documentary, they now perceive the film world as insiders.

For example, when we see the scene of animal slaughter in a traditional video, although the audience generally feels some discomfort, they are still experiencing the event from a third-person perspective. In contrast, in the VR documentary “I, Chicken” produced by PETA, the viewer see the entire slaughter process from a first-person perspective and experience the event just as a chicken would.chicken2.jpg
At the beginning of the documentary, the viewer (a chicken) leisurely roam on pasture. Soon, however, the viewer is unfortunately selected and trapped inside a small cage to be sent to a slaughterhouse.

When the cage is placed on the conveyor belt to the slaughter machine, viewers will feel the rapid heartbeats of and fear experienced by the chicken.

This is the significance of VR technology for filming animal protection-related documentaries — viewers are immersed in the animal’s living environment, and witness animal cruelty from an animal’s perspective. This is what VR’s strong sense of immersion brings to the audience. Sam Simon, the producer of the documentary and of The Simpsons, said in an interview that he hopes to awaken humankind’s empathy for animals through VR.Chicken 3.jpg

Despite these advantages, VR faces many challenges. To begin with, the production and promotion costs of VR documentaries are very high, for the production equipment is expensive, and very few technicians specialize in VR technology. Some VR films cost as high as millions of dollars to produce. Additionally, VR gives viewers too much room for interpretation, which makes it hard for the directors to effectively deliver their message.

All in all, nonetheless, animal protection-focused VR documentaries provide the audience a more realistic experience and can effectively promote animal protection. We look forward to seeing more people being moved and impacted by VR documentaries to pay more attention to animal protection.

Information and photos from

Translated by Sherry Yao, edited by Riley @ Animal Dialogue

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