Join Greenpeace on a 360-Degree VR Voyage to the Antarctic

By Charles Purdy

For decades, Greenpeace has used photographs and video to document their activism—and to show people the at-risk environments and animals they’re working to protect. Recently, the organization has begun incorporating 360-degree virtual-reality (VR) video into their work, as a way to immerse viewers in far-off places and help people more deeply connect with them. A recent journey to the bottom of the Antarctic Ocean demonstrates the power of this fast-developing technology.

Photographs © Christian Åslund / Greenpeace 

Over the course of January, February, and March of this year, Greenpeace sent an expedition to the Antarctic; its goal was to convince people—and governments—to work to protect these delicate habitats, which are gravely threatened by global warming and the encroachment of industrial fishing.

Matt Kemp, a Greenpeace multimedia producer, explains, “The first phase of our Antarctic project was focused on documentation and scientific research—experienced marine and polar scientists joined us on our ship, the Arctic Sunrise, and we used submarines to try and identify vulnerable marine ecosystems at the bottom of the Antarctic Ocean. If you can collect evidence that these ecosystems exist, it's much easier to have them designated as protected areas.”

They also sent scientists, photographers, and videographers to document land habitats—the Antarctic flora and fauna, including penguin and seal colonies.  


Since its inception, Greenpeace has employed powerful images in their work. Kemp explains that one of the organization’s core activities is bearing witness—showing the world what’s happening “out of sight”—in order to shape opinion and encourage activism.

One of the videos produced by Greenpeace on their recent Antarctic mission was a 360-degree virtual-reality underwater journey. Greenpeace is using VR video to immerse viewers in, and get them engaged with, endangered habitats such as the Amazon rainforest and the Antarctic Ocean—they publish the videos on YouTube and elsewhere online. And to give people the full viewing experience, they also set up VR viewing pods around the world. Although the number of people getting the full VR experience is relatively small, Greenpeace’s Matt Kemp says it’s proving to be a very effective way to reach audiences. Click on the image above to join actor Javier Bardem on a journey few people ever get to take.

The Antarctic mission was Greenpeace’s third major project incorporating VR technology. The first documented a journey to the Arctic, and the second was a film called Munduruku, which was produced with an indigenous community in the Amazon rainforest.

Kemp says, “The developments of VR technology and the abilities of the tools and software have been an exciting thing for us, because we’ve found that there’s a bit of saturation in terms of the types of images typically used for environmental advocacy.... So to take things that step further and actually put people into these environments has been really powerful for us.”

He continues, “In a relatively short time—just three years—the technology seems to have just accelerated exponentially. The cameras that are available now really take all the pain out of the production process and allow you to shoot stereoscopic video with spatial audio, and all these other things that used to be quite technically challenging and expensive. And that fast advancement has been true in the postproduction tools as well.”

Photograph © Matt Kemp / Greenpeace

These days, Kemp says he primarily uses Adobe Premiere Pro CC and After Effects CC in his postproduction process, and he points to Adobe’s incorporation of Mettle’s SkyBox VR tools into Adobe CC products as a “game changer” for working with VR footage within one suite of tools.


The VR video and other documentation of the Arctic Sunrise’s journey are meant to draw attention to a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to create an Antarctic Ocean sanctuary—which would be the largest protected area on Earth—as representatives from every member nation of the Antarctic Ocean Commission come together this fall to decide the region’s future. See more beautiful footage and learn more about Greenpeace’s efforts on their website.

August 28, 2018

Marquee photograph: © Christian Åslund / Greenpeace