L.A.'s Natural History Museum Takes Virtual Reality Plunge Into ‘theBlu’

The VR experience, created by Wevr, opens to the public on Monday.
Courtesy of Wevr and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

The ability to place a viewer where he or she couldn’t otherwise go is considered a key advantage of virtual reality. Recognizing that this potential could enhance learning, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHMLA) is opening its first virtual reality program, theBlu: An Underwater VR Experience, which was created by Venice, Calif.-based VR firm Wevr.

Set to open Monday, theBlu puts viewers in a fully CG-created undersea world without dialogue. Using the HTC Vive VR headsets, guest can walk around in the environments, which include meeting an 80-foot blue whale as it swims past a sunken ship, a stop on a coral reef and a deep dive into an iridescent abyss where creatures include angler fish and a squid that can be viewed using the Vive’s hand controller as a “virtual flashlight.”

Directed by Jake Rowell, whose background includes art department or animation work on video games such as Call of Duty: Ghosts and films such as DreamWorks Animation’s Shark Tale, the full project is a nearly 30-minute experience developed as content for HTC Vive. It also was shown at select film festivals including Sundance.

The museum is using a specially created six-minute version, and its mammalogy collections manager, Jim Dines, was involved in the project to insure accuracy.

With a ticket ($8 for museum members or $10 for non-members), patrons enter a dedicated lounge/waiting area with a feel of being beneath the sea. That includes a video wall with undersea images and a selection from the museum’s marine collection, including a Hawkbill sea turtle and John Dory fish. They then enter one of five viewing pods, equipped with the Vive headsets (gear also provided by Wevr).

Lori Bettison-Varga, president and director of NHMLA, said the museum would watch how this project does with an eye toward offering additional VR experiences, possibly involving other parts of the museum family, such as the La Brea Tar Pits.

Wevr’s recent VR work includes Jon Favreau’s Gnomes & Goblins, for which Rowell served as creative director.

theBlu is scheduled to run through April 28.