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We're using VR cameras to film the last 4 northern white rhinoceros on earth before the species goes extinct
We're using VR cameras to film the last 4 northern white rhinoceros on earth before the species goes extinct
459 backers pledged $35,864 to help bring this project to life.

About

The Ark: a VR film about the world's most endangered animal project video thumbnail
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Corporal Simon Irungu and his platoon of armed Kenyan guards watch over Sudan, one of the last four Northern White Rhinos in the world (photo by Ami Vitale)
Corporal Simon Irungu and his platoon of armed Kenyan guards watch over Sudan, one of the last four Northern White Rhinos in the world (photo by Ami Vitale)

The Ark is a virtual reality documentary about the efforts to save the most endangered species on the planet: the northern white rhinoceros.

This is an urgent story. When we began work on The Ark last year, there were seven northern white rhinos alive in the world. Today, there are only four.

The Ark offers a way to know these animals—to be in their presence—even in the event of their extinction.

Hey everyone, this is Eline Jongsma and Kel O'Neill, the creative team behind of The Ark. Thank you so much for coming here and supporting our project—we're racing against time to get to Kenya and finish filming, and really appreciate your commitment to the cause. 

The Ark is probably the most important project we've ever set out to make. Our goal is to leverage high-tech filmmaking techniques to make extinction tangible. Using 360° virtual reality (VR) technology, we will put each and every one of you face-to-face with the last northern white rhinos; animals that have been pushed to the edge of survival by habitat destruction and poaching. Along the way, we'll take you to the rhinos' last habitats—Kenya's Ol Pejeta Conservancy and the San Diego Zoo—and introduce you to the park rangers and scientists who have devoted their lives to protecting this magnificent species. 

Nola, the last Northern White Rhino in the US, stands in the field with two friends (San Diego Zoo)
Nola, the last Northern White Rhino in the US, stands in the field with two friends (San Diego Zoo)

We have a passion for using new technology to tell global stories. This passion drove us to make our last project, the Emmy-nominated, Webby-honored documentary Empire, and now it's driving us to make The Ark. At the core of The Ark are the stories of two groups of people on opposite sides of the world, united by a single cause. VR gives you the opportunity to stand alongside both of these two groups—to explore their environments, and to witness their inspiring work firsthand.

The technology

Virtual reality—or VR—uses high-definition goggles to give viewers an experience that is closer to real life than traditional movies. While movies show you events from a distance, VR drops you directly into the action, and allows you to look where you want to look. You aren’t just watching; you are there.

Eline watches 360 degrees footage on a Samsung Gear VR headset
Eline watches 360 degrees footage on a Samsung Gear VR headset

Up until a few years ago, VR was a sci-fi pipe dream. Now it can be experienced by anyone with a smart phone. Today's VR goggles are cheap and easy to use. The image above shows Eline wearing one of the most popular units: the Samsung Gear VR, which is basically just a casing for a Samsung Galaxy Note smart phone. Pop your Note into the casing, pull the goggles onto your eyes, and the smartphone’s screen acts as your doorway to another world. Google Cardboard uses a cardboard casing to the same effect, making VR even cheaper and more accessible.

We're shooting The Ark with a 360° camera system, which captures the full environments where we film. We want to give you the most direct experience of our story possible—to place you inside San Diego’s Frozen Zoo, and alongside the rhino bodyguards in Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

A 360° view of Nola the Northern White Rhino in San Diego
A 360° view of Nola the Northern White Rhino in San Diego

Our two locations: San Diego and Kenya

The Ark looks at two communities that are working to save the northern white rhinoceros.

In San Diego, a team of scientists are developing a “genetic rescue” program for the species. Central to this program is the Frozen Zoo, a four foot-tall, liquid nitrogen-cooled aluminum canister in the basement of the San Diego Zoo’s lab complex. 

Frozen skin cells from deceased rhinos at the Frozen Zoo
Frozen skin cells from deceased rhinos at the Frozen Zoo

The Frozen Zoo contains thousands of skin cell samples from a vast collection of animals—including the northern white rhino—and the genetic rescue team are working to transform frozen rhino skin cells into powerful stem cells that can be transformed into any cell in the body. Their larger goal is to use these cells to create the sperm and eggs necessary to grow a whole new generation of rhinos through in vitro fertilization. 

As The Ark unfolds, it expands to include our second group of main characters: the Ol Pejeta Conservancy’s rhino bodyguard team. The team is a well-armed, well-trained group of park rangers tasked with protecting Kenya’s three northern white rhinos from poachers. These rangers stay alongside the herd 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, and even go so far as to sleep next to the animals. Among the rhinos they protect is Sudan, the last male northern white rhino—and the last chance for the species to reproduce through natural methods.

A 360° view of The Frozen Zoo in San Diego
A 360° view of The Frozen Zoo in San Diego

We just finished filming in San Diego, and have launched this campaign to get to Kenya. 

For a first look at our 360° footage, go to VRideo and watch a clip on mobile, desktop, or Oculus Rift. 

You can also download a GearVR-ready version HERE.

A 360° view of The San Diego Zoo's Safari park
A 360° view of The San Diego Zoo's Safari park

The Tim Hetherington Visionary Award

Our work on The Ark up until now has been funded by the Tim Hetherington Trust's inaugural Visionary Award, a prize set up to honor the memory of the late, brilliant conflict photographer and filmmaker Tim Hetherington.

We've used the prize money from the Visionary Award to pay for our VR shoot in San Diego, and to partially cover our preparations for Kenya. Now it's up to you to carry us the final mile.

The late Tim Hetherington
The late Tim Hetherington

What we need

With this Kickstarter, we're aiming to secure the bare minimum that it will take for us to get to Kenya to capture our footage. By pledging to this campaign, you're buying our plane tickets, paying for our stay at the Ol Pejeta Research Center, and making sure we have the technical resources, liability insurance, and (wo)man power we need to carry out our plan.

We have a proven track record organizing and executing international shoots. We spent 2011-2014 on the road (i.e., without a home base) while filming Empire in ten different countries. We know how to budget, and we know how to work in locations that are new to us. There's a lot of work ahead of us, but we know that the results will be amazing if we can raise our goal.

Eline on location in a gold camp in Suriname for Empire
Eline on location in a gold camp in Suriname for Empire

Update: stretch goal!

Unbelievable! More than 200 backers got us all the way to our initial goal of $21,500 in just 5 days.

Now it's time to get us through post-production by helping us raise our stretch goal of $40,000!

VR post is intense. Every shot in The Ark consists of ten distinct shots that must be stitched together into a 360° sphere. Next, effects artists step in to erase the stitching lines, camera shadows, and lighting differences between cameras. After that, the sound designer creates a 3D sound mix that reflects the spatial reality of the image we’ve captured. Then developers step in to create an app that will play back the experience on your smart phone. This is a lot of work, but several upstart companies have already volunteered to drop their post-production prices down to well below market to help bring The Ark to life.

And if we somehow end up hitting our $40k stretch goal? Let's just say we've got some other ideas brewing that will be revealed in good time.

The Filmmakers

Eline and Kel photographed by Ben Pier for Vice
Eline and Kel photographed by Ben Pier for Vice

Director/producers: Jongsma + O’Neill are Eline Jongsma and Kel O'Neill, the creators of PBS’s interactive documentary Empire (NYFF 2013, SXSW 2014); contributors to Vice, VPRO Television and The Creators Project; and immersive media consultants for clients like The Economist and Film Independent. www.jongsmaoneill.com

Advisor: Nonny de la Peña is a virtual reality pioneer, and the creator of Hunger in Los Angeles (Sundance 2013) and Use of Force (Tribeca 2014). http://www.emblematicgroup.com

Kel and producer Brandon Zamel in San Diego
Kel and producer Brandon Zamel in San Diego

Producer: Brandon Zamel is the founder and CEO of Springbok Entertainment. http://www.springbokentertainment.com

Director of Photography: Todd Somodevilla has more than 17 years of experience shooting commercials, music videos and feature films. http://www.tas-dp.com/

Executive Producer: Josh Ludmir is VP of Business and Legal Affairs at Participant Media and the founder of Inklings Creative. http://inklings.tv  

Associate Producer: Claudia Dibbs has been a fellow at the Taproot Foundation and Impact Hub LA.

Todd hard at work with the 360 degree camera rig on his right
Todd hard at work with the 360 degree camera rig on his right

Just contributed and still looking for other ways to help out?

Why not give to the San Diego Zoo Conservancy's fantastic End Extinction program or support any of Ol Pejeta's incredible rhino programs?

We're all in this together, people. Thanks again for your support.

Risks and challenges

Our biggest challenge is time: The Ark has to be made incredibly quickly. If we want the project to be of any use as a tool for conservationists, we've got to burn rubber to get this thing done and out there. We appreciate you helping us make this happen.

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Support

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $10 or more About $10

    SHOUT OUT ACROSS SOCIAL MEDIA: You're awesome, and we're going to tell the world.

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    Pledge $25 or more About $25

    DIGITAL MEDIA PACK: A digital package including a 360° 4K STILL of the last northern white rhinos in Kenya, plus a collection of EXCLUSIVE MP3s from The Ark's composer, Matthew Dougherty (Girl Model, Empire).

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    Pledge $40 or more About $40

    ADVANCED DOWNLOAD: This super package includes an ADVANCED RELEASE DOWNLOAD of The Ark VR experience, plus 360° still, plus the MP3s.

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    Pledge $60 or more About $60

    EMPIRE BOOK: This beautifully-designed book chronicles the four-year, ten-country journey to make our Emmy-nominated documentary Empire. You'll also get an advanced download of The Ark and thanks in our credits.

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    Pledge $85 or more About $85

    A FORM OF LOVE BOOK: This super limited-edition book (150 copies in the world) features beautiful photography from the legendary NYC exhibition of the same name. This is dedicated to the conflict photographers who risk their lives doing a job most of us could never do. Includes an advanced download of The Ark and thanks in our credits. Donated by Aaron Stern.

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    Pledge $100 or more About $100

    VR PRODUCTION WORKSHOP: We're hosting a one-hour Google Hangout workshop on virtual reality production, and you're invited. We promise to keep the class size below 10, so we'll add as many sessions as need be to accommodate demand. Also includes an advanced download of The Ark and thanks in our credits.

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    Pledge $120 or more About $120

    INFIDEL BOOK: A first-edition copy of Tim Hetherington's final book, Infidel, the photographic companion to the Oscar-nominated documentary Restrepo. Includes an advanced download of The Ark and thanks in our credits.
    This fantastic reward has been donated to us by Chris Boot, executive director of Aperture Foundation.

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    Pledge $250 or more About $250

    SIGNED LIMITED-EDITION PRINT: A 9 x 12 inch print of Jongsma + O'Neill's photo "Boy Pans For Gold During Spring Break in Brownsweg," which appeared in our VICE story about Suriname's gold rush. You also get the Empire book, plus an advanced download, and thanks in our credits.

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    Pledge $500 or more About $500

    SIGNED LIMITED-EDITION 360° PRINTS: A diptych of two 360° photographic prints from Kenya and San Diego, with a personal message and signature from the artists. Made exclusively for the Kickstarter campaign. Also includes the Empire book, an advanced download and thanks in the credits.

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    Pledge $750 or more About $750

    ASSOCIATE PRODUCER: Congratulations, you're in our credits as an associate producer! You also get signed prints of "Boy Pans For Gold" and our 360° diptych, plus the Empire book and an advanced download.

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    Pledge $1,000 or more About $1,000

    ASSOCIATE PRODUCER WITH BENEFITS, OPTION A: All of the benefits of the associate producer package, plus a portfolio review from Former VII Photo CEO and current Tim Hetherington Trust Executive Director Stephen Mayes. An amazing gift for aspiring or professional photographers.

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    Pledge $1,000 or more About $1,000

    ASSOCIATE PRODUCER WITH BENEFITS, OPTION B: All of the benefits of the associate producer package, plus a personal consultation on a multimedia project with Kel O’Neill and Eline Jongsma, whose regular consulting clients include The Economist Group and Film Independent.

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    Pledge $2,000 or more About $2,000

    EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: Congratulations! You're an executive producer… and the owner of 3 awesome prints, an Empire book, and the MP3s, plus you get a portfolio review from Stephen Mayes OR a consultation on a multimedia project with Kel O’Neill and Eline Jongsma (you choose).

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    Pledge $5,000 or more About $5,000

    EXECUTIVE PRODUCER WITH BENEFITS: This killer package gives you everything you'd get as an executive producer, plus one flight to LA for a private VR screening of the project at Kel and Eline’s place (domestic flights only, accommodations not included), plus dinner and cocktails for you and a friend made by Kel and Eline, plus consultation on a multimedia project or a portfolio review from Stephen Mayes.

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    Pledge $10,000 About $10,000

    ANGEL: The big daddy of all rewards packages: You get everything in the executive producer with benefits package—and first executive producer title card—plus we'll personally chauffeur you from Los Angeles to San Diego in our luxurious 1998 Volvo V70 (child seat removed) for an incredible private, behind-the-scenes tour of the San Diego Zoo's Safari Park, where we can get up close and personal with the animals, and talk about everything from conservation to filmmaking.

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Funding period

- (30 days)