DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Middle East production company Image Nation Abu Dhabi and U.K. studio Alchemy VR have started a broad collaboration to produce immersive content in a move that could contribute to laying the groundwork for a nascent immersive content industry in the high-tech Gulf region.
A unit of prominent factual production outfit Atlantic Productions, Alchemy VR are the winners of the first ever BAFTA Award for a virtual reality film, David Attenborough’s “Great Barrier Reef Dive.” They have already produced two virtual reality experiences with Image Nation, titled “Pearl Diver” and “Qasr al-Hosn,” that delve into the region’s pre oil-boom era and have also been made into apps. More experiences are in the works but being kept under wraps.
“We wanted to create these virtual reality experiences that would tap into — and give you access to — the history of the Emirates, which is a very rich history,” said Atlantic Productions executive producer David Lee.
“Pearl Diver” provides the immersive experience of being a pearl diver’s apprentice. Of going under water, of course, but also being on the deck of a pearl-diving boat “to experience the hard task of having to open up something like 4,000 oysters for every one pearl,” Lee pointed out.
“Pearl diving is such a fascinating part of the Emirates history,” he said. Emiratis were diving for pearls seven thousand years ago and it subsequently became a very important industry. “We wanted to bring viewers into that world, particularly the life of a pearl diver during the boom time.”
“Qasr al-Hosn” was built in 1761 initially as a watchtower to defend the only freshwater well in the Abu Dhabi island. The tower was later expanded into a small fort.
“We wanted to peel back the history; tell the story of how this fort that is now surrounded by skyscrapers was built,” said Lee about this second VR experience. He added that Alchemy VR worked closely with Image Nation on the physical production of both, which took roughly six months.
Image Nation is still deciding how these experiences will “reach the wide world.” Meanwhile, they are being showcased at the Alchemy booth at the Dubai Film Market.