Sailing across the pacific – How 360 animated video reimagined the adventures of Thor Heyerdahl

About Kon-Tiki Museum

The Kon-Tiki museum houses the Kon-Tiki balsa wood raft used by the adventurer Thor Herydhal in 1947 to sail from Peru to Polynesia and prove to the world the journey was possible for earlier civilisations using similar sea vessels. The museum is located just outside of Oslo.

On April 28th 1947, Thor Heyerdahl and his crew of five set out from Peru to travel 8,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean on a raft made from nothing more than balsa wood and ropes. Heyerdahl wanted to show the world that the oceans weren’t barriers keeping people apart, but in fact roads tying cultures together. After 101 days at sea battling fierce Pacific Ocean elements, Heyerdahl and his crew crashed into the Raroia Reef in Polynesia proving the journey was possible for earlier civilisations.

The mission

The Kon-Tiki museum wanted to find new ways to engage with their visitors, with a goal; of bringing them even closer to Heyerdahl’s journey across the ocean – and what better way to achieve this than inviting them onboard the Kon-Tiki expedition as one of his crew.

In collaboration with the museum operations team and academic curator, we proposed creating a virtual reality experience on board the Kon-Tiki raft. The challenge was to condense the 101 day long expedition into a self contained adventure, providing the audience with the context of the expedition, its execution, various challenges and what came after for Heyerdahl and his crew.

“Taking such an epic journey and condensing it into a 360 virtual reality animation while preserving its essence was a key challenge we had to overcome in this project.”
Tobias Barvik – VR Director – Glitch Studios

Execution

Glitch was excited and daunted by the sheer magnitude of Heyerdahl’s original expedition. Its planning, execution and the impact afterwards have been retold several times through books, documentaries and films, and it was critical for us to capture that experience in VR as loyally as possible. Working closely with the Kon-Tiki museum and researching through original photos, diary entries and video we slowly pieced together Heyerdahl’s adventure choosing key highlights of his journey to highlight in the VR experience.

Our modelling team painstakingly recreated every detail of the original Kon-Tiki raft following hundreds of reference photos while also researching and copying the look and feel of the Pacific ocean, the fish and environment as closely as possible. Finally our animation team populated the environment with animated fish, whales and birds.

Ambisonic audio design ensured the sounds of the ocean, ropes and animals were accurately positioned in three dimensional space while the original music created for the Oscar winning Kon-Tiki documentary was used to complete the experience.

The journey

The virtual reality experience opens with Heyerdahl’s office in Italy introducing the user to the journey ahead, and continues across the ocean touching different stages of the voyage, from encounters with whales to schools of flying fish and sharks. The experience is narrated by Thor Heyerdhal’s son, Thor Jr, with excerpts from his father’s original diary, giving an authentic touch to the overall narrative.

“Glitch has created an experience that invites our museum visitors to get up close and personal with the Kon-Tiki expedition like never before.”
Martin Biehl – Museum Director

The experience was loaded into 30 Oculus Go, mobile VR headsets and were stored in a custom built mobile carrying case for easy transport and deployment.

Key features

HD 6K 360 animated video with ambisonic spatial audio

 

Kon-Tiki raft replicated down to every detail

 

Deployable accross all mobile VR devices including Oculus Go

Welcome aboard the Kon-Tiki

Completed in 2019, the production took one year, and culminated in a public event at the Kon-Tiki museum with an audience from all over the world boarding the Kon-Tiki raft in virtual reality. Today the experience is enjoyed by museum visitors, enriching their visit and deepening their engagement with Heyerdahl’s legacy.

Working with the Kon-Tiki museum team has been a great privilege for Glitch. The project challenged our storytelling abilities while their expertise in their subject matter allowed us to capture Thor Heyerdahl’s spirit of adventure and exploration with his journey across the Pacific Ocean.