THE GREEN PLANET AR EXPERIENCE
Put nature at your fingertips and journey through the secret world of plants with a virtual Sir David Attenborough in The Green Planet AR Experience.
Created by Factory 42 with BBC Studios and inspired by the Natural History Unit landmark series, The Green Planet, this boundary-breaking experience was located in the heart of London’s Piccadilly Circus and powered by EE’s 5G network. The experience combined captivating storytelling with cutting-edge technology to transport audiences through five digitally-enhanced worlds - including Rainforest, Freshwater, Saltwater, Desert and Seasonal biomes, as they explored our green planet like never before. Finally culminating in the human story and how we can all affect positive change.
In early 2020 Factory 42 pulled together the project partnership with BBC Studios, EE, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Talesmith and Dimension Studios. We led a bid team into a public competition for grant funds from the Department of Digital Culture and Sport (DCMS), winning a multi-million pound grant despite intense competition from across the UK. The project was one of nine to win DCMS funding as part of the 5G Create competition which explores how 5G can be used by a wide range of sectors including the creative industries.
The story was inspired by the BBC’s The Green Planet TV series with the Factory 42 team working closely with the BBC’s fabled Natural History Unit and BBC Studios Interactive to reimagine the series as an immersive experience. Factory 42 continued to lead the project and act as co-creative lead with all code, interactions, art assets and app technology as well as experience design created in-house by our multidisciplinary team of artists, engineers, designers and producers. Factory 42 also managed the relationship with DCMS on behalf of funders. Royal Botanic Gardens Kew provided scientific advice and validation on the digital plants that were created. Dimension Studios technology was used to capture Sir David as a hologram. Talesmith Films acted as creative consultants and directed the holographic capture shoot.
In November of 2021 Factory 42 agreed a deal with the Crown Estate and EE for the iconic 55 Regent St at Piccadilly Circus to be used as the venue for the public trials of the experience. The space, previously a Virgin Megastore and before that Tower Records, is a Grade I listed building but was a disused concrete shell. In just three months the Factory 42 led team of builders and set designers completed a construction project to build a ‘white box’ space including new toilets, walls and fire safety systems, before bringing in set builders and a real life rainforest to create a meditative green wonderland off Regent Street. The Crown Estate manages the seabed and half the foreshore around England, Wales and Northern Ireland, playing a fundamental role in the sustainable development of this important national asset. Their partnership with Factory 42 forms part of a number of recent sustainability focussed pop-ups on Regent Street, which The Crown have also supported.
In this free experience, a mobile device acted as a dynamic window into the wonderful world of plants. Led by a 3D hologram of Sir David Attenborough, created using volumetric capture technology, visitors could engage with plant life on their timescale and from their perspective.
As Sir David explains: “You’ll see that plants can be as aggressive, competitive and dramatic as any living thing on the planet - and how they form intriguing relationships with animals. And you’ll discover why plants are so vital for the future of our planet. Your device is a window into a secret world.”
From blowing digital seeds into the air, holding a virtual butterfly in the palm of one’s hands, to reviving seagrass whilst submerged under saltwater, visitors took a magical leap into the natural world and learnt about the importance of biodiversity and protecting our planet. These vivid interactions were enhanced by spatial audio that guided visitors through the digital environment with virtual plants and animals which reacted to their presence in the space.
The Green Planet AR Experience brought cutting edge technologies from a variety of technology partners together into an integrated system to deliver this innovative and high fidelity AR experience to large numbers of visitors. The AR app content was generated in realtime in the Unity game engine, and ran on a custom on premise GPU edge rendering stack using NVidia industrial grade graphics cards to support the ultra high quality 3D digital assets, environments, interactions and VFX effects. This GPU edge rendering stack was connected to an EE private 5G Standalone network, using the latest Ericsson Industry Connect Core solution, and the AR app used the NVidia CloudXR solution to stream all the content from the edge of this private 5G network to the Samsung S21 mobile handsets used by each visitor. Google’s Cloud Anchor and ARCore technology was used throughout the physical experience to precisely locate each visitor as they move between spaces, enabling the interplay between digital content and physical sets to enhance the immersive experience.
To ensure The Green Planet Experience was in line with its environmental message, we worked with isla, to implement ‘proseed’, their best practice framework for sustainable events. Through setting ambitious sustainability targets, robust planning, and transparent reporting, The Green Planet AR Experience was brought to the public while treading lightly on our planet.
All materials used in the construction of this experience were reused or recycled after the event to promote circularity. From bamboo props, pine approved by FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), recycled steel, to paper rope, our sustainable principles were considered at every level of construction and operation. We have also used innovative new technologies and materials where possible such as our ceiling installation in the Saltwater biome that had been made from an eco-textile produced entirely from 100% recycled PET plastic bottles (post-consumer waste). After the event, it was sent to a waste-to-energy plant where it will be transformed into renewable energy for the National Grid.
A one biome taster of The Green Planet AR Experience was part of the official selection in the XR strand of the SxSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas in March 2022.
John Cassy, Founder and CEO, Factory 42 said: “Visitors will be transported from the bustle of Piccadilly Circus through a real rainforest into a mediative realm where the remarkable authority, Sir David Attenborough, will take them on a personal journey in which they immerse themselves deep into the interactive virtual world of the Green Planet. This ground-breaking sustainable experience blends physical and digital worlds together creating an extraordinary encounter that provides knowledge, entertainment and in turn builds empathy with the natural world.”
Tom Burton, Head of Interactive, BBC Studios: “We work to the strengths of immersive and
interactive storytelling, collaborating with the NHU to actively engage people with stories from the natural world. The Green Planet carries a critical message through the stories it tells. By innovating in cutting edge technologies, this ground-breaking experience brings these stories into the world around you to explore and engage with. We hope in doing so it furthers empathy and understanding of plants and the importance of our Green Planet.”
Marc Allera, CEO, EE’s Consumer Division said: “This pioneering project brings the power of our 5G network to life, enabling new and innovative experiences that will help to educate visitors on the extraordinary plant life that makes up our planet. At EE, we are working towards a more sustainable future today. Our whole business is powered using 100% renewable electricity, and we’ve pledged to be a net zero emissions business by 2030 for our own operations, and 2040 for our supply chain and customer emissions. Our recent Not Tomorrow. Today campaign highlights the climate emergency we’rre all facing, offering practical advice on tangible actions that help to tackle these issues together. Understanding our environment has never been more important and by using augmented reality and EE’s brilliant 5G network, we will enable visitors to immerse themselves in nature and inspire greater responsibility towards our planet.”
Professor Alexandre Antonelli, Director of Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew says: “All life depends on plants and fungi - we need them for the food we eat, for the clothes we wear, the medicines that cure our diseases, and for the air we breathe. But natural resources are being degraded and destroyed at a rate unprecedented in human history and our scientists estimate 2 in 5 plants are threatened with extinction. That’s why using technology in this way to engage people is so crucial. The Green Planet AR Experience can inspire visitors to learn more about the amazing diversity of plants and fungi and leave with a new passion to protect it for future generations.”