New Augmented-Reality Experience Spotlights Human Connection to the Oceans

“Critical Distance” Will Open Sept. 29
September 8, 2021
News Release

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Person interacts with augmented reality version of an orca

Credit: Andrew Harrington and Joshua Downs, Formative Co. 

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History will host a new, free, augmented-reality experience emphasizing the intrinsic connection between people, orcas and the ocean. “Critical Distance” immerses visitors in a holographic orca pod and allows them to witness this endangered species’ daily obstacles. The experience opens Sept. 29.

Produced by Vision3, Vulcan Productions and Microsoft and written by Amy Zimmerman, “Critical Distance” is a social experience. It highlights a pod of 24 endangered southern resident orcas struggling to survive in the Pacific Ocean’s Salish Sea. Visitors will see firsthand how the orcas, including 6-year-old Kiki, must overcome marine noise pollution and vessel disturbances to effectively hunt for food—and, ultimately, survive.

Before visitors enter the experience, they will meet the orcas, learn about their unique habitat and uncover humanity’s long connection to both. They will then don mixed-reality headsets, called the Microsoft HoloLens 2, in small groups to submerse themselves in the experience as Jamie Margolin, youth climate justice activist and co-executive director of Zero Hour, narrates. Afterward, visitors will then be encouraged to explore ways to support marine conservation.

To complement the experience, museum educators created hands-on activities that help visitors learn more about southern resident orcas’ family structure, conservation and biology. Activities will be available throughout the experience and will include an echolocation game and a spinning whale wheel to discover the relationships between the orcas, humans and the Salish Sea ecosystem. Visitors will also be able to contribute to a growing string art installation that reflects humanity’s connection to the ocean.

“Critical Distance” debuted earlier this year at the Tribeca Film Festival where it was one of five projects nominated for this year’s Immersive Storyscapes award. It will be at the museum for a nine-month installation.

About the National Museum of Natural History

The National Museum of Natural History is connecting people everywhere with Earth’s unfolding story. It is one of the most visited natural history museums in the world. Opened in 1910, the museum is dedicated to maintaining and preserving the world’s most extensive collection of natural history specimens and human artifacts. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, visit the museum on its website, blog, FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

About Vision3

Vision3 is a 3D production for Hollywood feature films, award-winning natural history large-format documentaries, and innovative virtual-reality and augmented-reality experiences. The London-based company was formed in 2008 and is the recipient of eight Lumiere Awards from the International Advanced Imaging Society, including the Best Stereography award for WB’s Gravity.

About Microsoft

Microsoft enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

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Solo Medios 

Randall Kremer

(202) 633-0817

Abigail Eisenstadt 

Note to editors: Photos and videos of the experience are available via Dropbox (password: orcas).

National Museum of Natural History
Press Office

Media only: 

Phone: (202) 633-2950
Fax: (202) 786-2982