Lonely Planet Writer

David Attenborough's Great Barrier Reef VR experience breaks new ground in storytelling

David Attenborough’s latest adventure saw the 88 year-old get into a tiny Triton submarine to film the Great Barrier Reef for a VR experience that has opened now at the Australian Museum in Sydney.


The film, shot in late 2014, saw the much-loved BBC documentarian and natural history presenter descend into the depths around Australia’s coral reef complete with a separate film crew and multiple GoPro’s fixed to his submarine. All of this served the purpose of creating a first-of-its-kind Virtual Reality experience, ‘David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef Dive VR’, that is set to wow audiences worldwide as it goes on tour this year.

David Attenborough during his dive in the Great Barrier Reef
David Attenborough during his dive in the Great Barrier Reef Image by Screengrab Youtube

Audience members will be given Samsung Gear virtual reality headsets which will bring them on an animated tour of Earth’s original life forms before joining Attenborough on his epic trip under the waves and across one of nature’s greatest masterpieces, the Great Barrier Reef, seeing it through his eyes.

Speaking to Mashable Australia, the producer of Alchemy VR who created the documentary, David Bradshaw, described the experience. “You actually get to see what David sees, as opposed to what the director has selected for the audience to see,” he said. “You get to ride along and share that experience with David as he saw it. We haven’t curated that after the fact. We’ve given you a David-eye view of the reef.”


In spite of the slickness of the overall effect, the project took almost two years to make and involved two camera crews and a team of divers filming underwater. Camera crews are visible in the end result, something that Bradshaw described as intentional in giving the impression that the audience ‘is in the moment.’ Bradshaw also described the difficulty of underwater shoots and how the cameramen have to propel themselves forward in the water while keeping the cameras stable and prioritising the end user.

Attenborough is said to have been extremely excited by the opportunity of working on such a project, and part of the exhibition in Sydney gives a behind-the-scenes look at Attenborough’s first attempt to work with VR.

The Great Barrier Reef is experiencing devastating coral bleaching
The Great Barrier Reef is experiencing devastating coral bleaching Image by Screengrab Youtube

The VR experience and documentary come at a time when the Great Barrier Reef has experienced some of the most devastating climactic conditions caused by El Nino. The Australian coast has seen some of the worst coral bleaching on record, the process by which algae die and are released by the reefs that host them, causing the reef’s colour to go white.

David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef VR is available at the Natural History Museum in London also.