Drexel University (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN16 Proceedings
Publication year: 2016
Pages: 5139-5147
ISBN: 978-84-608-8860-4
ISSN: 2340-1117
doi: 10.21125/edulearn.2016.2213
Conference name: 8th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 4-6 July, 2016
Location: Barcelona, Spain
In this paper we study common issues associated with the Cinematic Virtual Reality (CVR) production of educational content related to Paleontology. After developing and testing a stable CVR workflow, we designed and produced a piece of scientific VR Paleoart content intended for educational outreach. Our production methods included a state of the art CGI dinosaur reconstruction informed by comparative anatomy and biomechanical simulation, stereoscopic spherical rendering, and photographic CVR film production. Our approach is validated through the completion of an educational CVR documentary about the titanosaur Dreadnoughtus schrani, one of the largest dinosaurs yet discovered.

For over 200 years, Paleontology has relied on static imagery to educate the public about ancient life on Earth. With the growing accessibility of cinematic virtual reality (CVR), there exists an incentive for educators to adapt to this new medium. Using only a piece of folded cardboard, two lenses, and a magnet, a modern smartphone can play immersive video content that takes place around the viewer. The sense of presence elicited by virtual reality (VR) encourages viewer engagement, facilitates an understanding of scale representation, and is a promising tool for educational outreach.

At the time of this publication, VR film production in general is still in its infancy. Few guidelines for stereospherical rendering and compositing exist, and fewer professional CVR cameras are commercially available. We therefore developed and tested a prototype camera rig for asynchronous CVR film capture that uses two Blackmagic micro cinema cameras to record an immersive interview. By creating a virtual copy of this camera rig and rendering CGI elements as stereoscopic cube maps, we were able to composite photorealistic dinosaur renders into panoramic video background plates.

When adapting the educational documentary format to virtual reality, we tested a set of visual design guidelines informed by a review of structural narrative principles in photography, cinema and video games. These methods are used to direct viewer attention towards scientific visuals in a 360 degree immersive canvas. Guided by the narration of paleontologist Dr. Ken Lacovara, we follow Dreadnoughtus’ fossils from their excavation in Patagonia, Argentina to a life reconstruction at Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences. While the main action occurs in these immersive locations, motion graphic overlays are arranged in the peripheral space to supply additional information.

A scale accurate CGI Dreadnoughtus stars in this VR experience, restored from original fossil data, phylogenetically similar titanosaur relatives, and the muscular morphology of extant archosaurs. Our reconstruction process uses state of the art digital art techniques including 3D laser scanning, photogrammetry, digital sculpting, physically plausible shading, and softbody muscle simulation. By combining the immersive power of virtual reality with these digital techniques, we aim to restore Dreadnoughtus to life with unprecedented degrees of accuracy.
VR in education, paleontology education, immersive educational media.