Apparently, we learned nothing from Jurassic Park, as scientists are still working on bringing extinct species back to life. Until that day comes, you can interact with long-lost animals through augmented reality...if you have a newer model iPhone.
On Wednesday, Atlantic Productions, the company behind the BAFTA award-winning film David Attenborough's Natural History Museum Alive featuring the eponymous historian, have created a companion iPhone app that enables users to view virtual reproductions of fossils of three extinct species and then brings them and their habitats to life in augmented reality.
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The experience includes the Opabinia, a freakish fish with five eyes and a trunk, the Diamorphodon, a winged dinosaur that soars through your physical space and around a virtual tree in chase of a delicious dragonfly, and the Smilodon, a saber-toothed tiger that hunts a doomed mammal. Hotspots throughout the AR experiences unveil more useful information about each animal.
"Using the very latest technology we bring to life some of David's favourite extinct creatures and their worlds in a completely different way," said Anthony Geffen, CEO and creative director at Atlantic Productions, in a statement. "In this augmented reality experience, the team is breaking new frontiers in immersive storytelling."
The Museum Alive app is available for $2.99 through the Apple iOS App Store. The app is compatible with iPhone 7 and newer models running iOS 11 or later, but the recommended minimum is iPhone 8 and iOS 13.
Production studio Alchemy Immersive brought the creatures to virtual life via 3D models and animation, resulting in authentic appearances and actions. In addition, the studio applied photogrammetry to capture the virtual environments, amping up the realism of the AR content.
"We're so proud to launch an app that can genuinely contribute to educating and inspiring children using immersive technologies. At a time when so many children are disengaged with learning, we really hope the excitement of bringing fossils to life in the home will provide a novel experience that showcases the potential of immersive storytelling within education," said Elliot Graves, creative and technical lead at Alchemy Immersive. "Above all, though, David Attenborough's captivating stories bring an infectious liveliness to this immersive experience that instantly makes it cinematic. You just won't forget what it's like to have a Sabre-tooth tiger prowl across your floor before pouncing on its prey – and we can't wait to share what it's like.
Alchemy employed the Unity 3D engine and AR Foundation, a framework that merges similar features between ARKit for iOS and ARCore for Android so that developers can build AR capabilities for one app and publish to both operating systems.
"Our strong partnerships with Apple and Google allow us to ensure that developers have access to bleeding-edge features as they get released, with minimal overhead," Matt Fuad, senior technical product manager of AR/VR at Unity, told Next Reality. "As new features become standard across the ecosystem, we make sure they converge into a common language for our creators. Our goal is to abstract away any fragmentation from our developers so they can focus on delivering their creative visions."
Despite Unity's efforts, Museum Alive is only launching on iPhones at the moment. But, the decision came down to user interface, with "the app's visual quality and our distinctive approach to 3D menu design" being a particular point of pride to Graves and his team, as opposed to the AR experience.
"Aesthetic and design were at the heart of Museum Alive as we wanted to ensure the experience would be timeless and not age," Graves told Next Reality. "As we developed the application in the house throughout the pandemic, we wanted to define our delivery spec carefully to ensure the user experience would be as refined as possible. On this particular project, it wasn't within our scope to design and test for a broader range of devices. In the future, we'd love to bring the experience to Android, but we're excited to offer it exclusively for iOS currently."