Simon Fuller, Verizon Debut Stunning ‘Serengeti River Crossing’ VR Film on Oculus

Todd Spangler
·3-min read

Verizon and entertainment mogul Simon Fuller released “Serengeti River Crossing,” a dramatic VR nature film designed to showcase what’s possible in a next-gen 5G media experiences.

Timed for Earth Day 2021, the eight-minute virtual-reality experience takes viewers inside the east African ecosystem — following the largest mass migration of animals on the planet, as millions of wildebeest and zebra cross the treacherous currents of Africa’s Mara River.

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The free VR film launches worldwide exclusively on Facebook’s Oculus platform Thursday (April 22). More info is on the Oculus website at this link. (Watch the trailer above or at this link.)

“Serengeti River Crossing” is the first project to emerge from the entertainment partnership Verizon formed last year with Fuller, creator of “American Idol” and founder of XIX Entertainment. Together, they’re codeveloping “experimental” new music and entertainment experiences using the telco’s 5G Ultra Wideband platform and VR, AR and mixed-reality technologies.

There’s no direct revenue tied to “Serengeti River Crossing” — again, it’s mainly a way for Verizon to tout the capabilities of 5G with an immersive-entertainment application. But there’s an indirect promotional tie-in here: Fuller teamed with renowned wildlife filmmaker John Downer on the VR film, after the duo previously collaborated on wildlife series “Serengeti.” In the VR experience, Verizon is letting viewers know they can stream the original “Serengeti” series on Discovery Plus, which is available free for one year to select Verizon unlimited wireless users and broadband subscribers.

“Serengeti River Crossing” is a coproduction between XIX Entertainment and John Downer Productions. The VR film’s soundtrack was composed by Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory and Grammy-winning songwriter Cathy Dennis.

The footage was shot in the Serengeti National Park over the last six months — amid coronavirus lockdowns — by a team of filmmakers let by Downer, working alongside the park’s local staff. The crew used 3D cameras and captured spatial audio for the VR experience.

“We have attempted to create a full sensory extravaganza, with state-of-the art sound and 3D 360 visuals with a specially written song and score to enhance the experience,” Fuller said in a statement. “We are delighted to be exploring this new frontier of creativity to define new forms of entertainment made possible by all the extraordinary technology now available.” Bolstering Verizon’s messaging, he added that 5G networks will “provide previously unimaginable mobile entertainment to the world.”

Downer commented, “I have spent my professional life trying to film ever closer inside the animal world. This ‘Serengeti River Crossing’ 360 film was the culmination of that dream. The animals tell their own story as they take us inside one of nature’s greatest events. I’m still in awe of much of the imagery, often captured remotely with no human presence.”

The Verizon XR Lab provided technical and creative guidance on the project, working with Fuller and the XIX Entertainment team throughout the development and production process to determine the optimal filming techniques. Verizon Media’s Yahoo Ryot Lab created marketing assets for “Serengeti River Crossing,” including the 2D trailer for the film.

Last year, Verizon pledged to sponsor the planting of 20 million trees by 2030. As part of that, in conjunction with the release of “Serengeti River Crossing,” the telco said it is funding the planting 500,000 trees in Kenya in partnership with Eden Reforestation Projects.

Fuller previously told Variety that XIX’s partnership with Verizon originated through one of his Swedish friends, who happened to be from the same town as Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg. Erin McPherson, Verizon’s head of consumer content and partnerships, leads the telco’s collaboration with Fuller and XIX.

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