Explore the Evolution of Flight with ‘David Attenborough’s Conquest of the Skies’

Oculus Blog
November 21, 2022

Micro Monsters, Kingdom of Plants, First Life. These critically-acclaimed documentaries from Alchemy Immersive and David Attenborough take viewers on incredible journeys into the natural world. And today, we’re pleased to announce the launch of David Attenborough’s Conquest of the Skies—a new series that explores the evolution of flight on Meta Quest TV.

Conquest of the Skies lets you experience evolution on the biggest screen. Come face-to-face with prehistoric creatures, insects, reptiles, and birds in this three-part immersive VR series presented in 3D 180.

We sat down with DirectorLewis Ball to learn more.

In what ways does this content differ from the original 3D television series? Why should viewers experience it in VR, either again or for the first time?

Lewis Ball: VR is revolutionizing the way that viewers can experience the world and the content we create. Each of these three episodes was designed from the ground up to truly utilize immersive tech to its fullest potential. Conquest of the Skies is much more than a compilation of remastered archive material—it is the amalgamation of the dreams and talents of many different artists and technological pioneers in the immersive field.

The combination of technology and storytelling creates an experience that is incomparable to anything seen prior: an opportunity for viewers to explore the evolution of flight from a brand new perspective. But fundamentally, it’s an immersive journey designed not only to stimulate the senses but to educate, inform, and enlighten.

How long was Conquest of the Skies in development for? Any interesting anecdotes to share?

LB: This series was in the making for nine months. It started with us designing the story we wanted to tell, our ambition being to showcase the inventive and ambitious scale of nature with the evolution of flight. We examined hours and hours of the archived stereoscopic material that we had at our disposal, and we carefully selected the key creatures and stories that we felt captured the most significant moments of the progression of natural aviation. Each and every single shot was selected with an immersive presentation in mind, only making the final cut when we were certain it could be enhanced and presented in a fashion that would do the immersive format justice.

Alongside the enhancement brought to the archive material, we spent countless hours crafting brand new scenes that could put viewers right into the heart of the prehistoric forest and canyons where the dinosaurs roamed.

Did you encounter any technical challenges while filming or in post-production? If so, how did you address those obstacles? Feel free to go into as much technical detail as possible.

LB: Working with so many talented people across a variety of disciplines was somewhat daunting at times. I had to put on many different hats and slip into different mindsets when the situation called for it. On some days I would be studying evolution charts and the progression of natural history, on others I would be recording videos of myself pretending to be a pterosaur so that the animators could more accurately work towards timings and beats that we wanted to achieve, on some days I would be analyzing composited archive material and investigating different innovations and tools we had at our disposal to enhance them, and on some rare occasions I would be studying. The team at Alchemy is incredible, and it was very enjoyable to learn so much from so many talented individuals.

Of the three episodes of Conquest of the Skies, do you have a favorite?

LB: My favorite episode is “Rivals,” where we get to take a glimpse into prehistory and get up close and personal with animals that no longer exist. I get especially excited when I see the Quetzalcoatlus land in front of us and take a roar into the skies—we wanted it to feel humbling being around a creature so large and powerful, scaling above you. That scene still gives me goosebumps each time I see it.

Tell us about your background and what led you to begin working in VR?

LB: I started my career in traditional filmmaking in the camera department, working on a variety of different types of projects including features, commercials, and documentaries before finding my way into the immersive sector. My background with camera work allowed me to (somewhat) seamlessly adapt my skills into 360-degree filmmaking, and when the industry started booming in 2015 I found myself traveling the world making all sorts of different content. For me, 360-degree video became a gateway into the immersive sector, where I have found a home for myself as a director and storyteller.

How do you see the intersection of VR, filmmaking, and natural history continuing to evolve over the next five to 10 years?

LB: ​​The essence we each hold within us can now be better translated to those willing to explore these stories. We as storytellers have now reached a point where we can truly draw people into a world they’ve never seen before, and as such viewers are experiencing new worlds that wrap around them in a truly different way—with immersive storytelling and documentary work, we are not only learning about history, natural and cultural, but we understand it from the standpoint of those who were alive to witness it.

This medium is still in its infancy, and the potential it holds for the future is limitless. The impact this could have on the future is yet to be seen, but in the fragile world we live in today, I would like to think that these tools came to us at the precise moment we needed them the most.

What advice would you give to a developer or filmmaker looking to start creating VR content?

LB: The boundless limitations of this technology has the potential to enhance the visions, spirits, and minds of the future. The key thing to remember is that this technology is here to serve as a tool of your communication. It’s easy to get weighed down with all the technicalities of filmmaking and immersive technology, but at the end of the day these tools are here to serve a purpose: They’re here to tell the story you envision. So when you have a desire to express something, the technology you have at hand will inescapably serve that purpose.

Specifically for immersive creators, I would urge us to be curious and ceaselessly questioning. When I was a child, I remember books being described as immersive—now that times have changed, the word “immersive” has taken on new meaning, but there’s no reason for us to limit ourselves to the cutting edge of technology. A considerable portion of Conquest of the Skies was created from archived material that was shot for a completely different medium of the past. But once we established that we wanted to create an immersive series, we were able to revisit that same material with a different mindset and see its potential.

It’s also imperative to grow alongside technology. As immersive storytellers, our mission is to utilize the technology to create our own personal visions. Each enhancement has the potential to enable that further whilst also opening up new avenues of creative potential.

Lastly I would say that we should not be afraid of making mistakes. This is a brand new medium using brand new technology. I can comfortably say that we have barely scratched the surface of the potential of immersive storytelling. As long as we are not afraid to push boundaries, as long as we are not afraid of failure, then the possibilities are truly endless.

The best is always yet to come.

Watch David Attenborough’s Conquest of the Skies today on Meta Quest TV, or catch it in Meta Horizon Worlds anytime from 5:00 pm PT on November 23 through 11:59 pm PT on November 30.