Extinct species come to life in Snapchat’s augmented reality lens

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Considered extinct, the baiji dolphin no longer swims in the Yangtze River in eastern China. But now you can find him swimming in his living room. Along with other extinct animals, it was brought back to life as an augmented reality experience.

The “Extinct Animal Zoo” is a project started in 2020 by creative director Sebastian Koseda that allows you to observe and interact with 3D representations of extinct wildlife in their own environment, through a Snapchat lens.

You can watch the dolphin spin in the water and make it move around you. A shopping bag can also be seen floating around, suggesting that plastic waste has infiltrated its habitat.

The animals presented by Koseda have been extinct in the last 20 years due to human activity. Through the project, it aims to “raise awareness and show what we’ve already lost as a call to action – to encourage change”.

“Usually the feedback is, ‘Oh my god, wow, this is beautiful. It’s a dolphin swimming in the living room,” says Koseda, 32, who lives in London. “then: ‘Oh, it’s extinct. This is very sad.’ Then it hits the house. It’s something like: ‘ I’ll never be able to see that in real life.’”

“Because what’s out of our sight is kind of out of our head… like the fact that these animals are dying out in places we might not be able to see, like the Yangtze River,” he adds. “It’s still happening and it’s still due to human interaction, human disturbance and pollution.”

disappearance of wildlife

The baiji, nicknamed the “Goddess of the Yangtze”, is a type of river dolphin that was native to the Yangtze and its neighbor, the Qiantang River.

It was declared functionally extinct in 2006, with the last verified sighting of a pregnant female in November 2001. The main cause of its extinction is believed to be habitat degradation and the level to which it was being involuntarily captured by local fisheries.

Worldwide, the number of wild animals is declining. Nearly two-thirds of the world’s wildlife population has been lost in the last 50 years, according to a recent WWF report.

There are currently more than 38,500 endangered species, including 41% of amphibians, 37% of sharks and rays, 26% of mammals and 14% of birds.

Koseda’s project will initially focus on five recently extinct animals: the Baiji Dolphin, the Pyrenees Ibex, the Western Black Rhinoceros, the Formosa Clouded Leopard and the Caribbean Monk Seal.

The dolphin and ibex lenses have already been released, and Koseda and his team are currently working on the rhino, which they hope to complete in the next six months.

They work with researchers at University College London to help develop animal models. First you have to find the photographs and then create basic 3D models, which they try to associate as closely as possible with the photos.

“This takes most of the time because you’re essentially building a skeleton,” adds Koseda.

“Imagine a puppet that has the points that move the most. You essentially create it for the animal and then animate it so it looks as realistic as possible.”

Koseda isn’t the only one using technology to visualize extinct creatures. France-based SAOLA Studio has partnered with the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, and uses augmented reality to revive 11 species that are extinct or close to extinction, in a project called “Revivre”.

In 2016, Google Arts & Culture partnered with more than 50 natural history institutions to create virtual reality experiences with dinosaurs.

Koseda, who runs his own design studio, Studio Koseda, says he has only started focusing on his own projects in the past two years and “I wanted the first ones to be around environmental issues.”

His idea for the “Extinct Animal Zoo” came from conversations with his brother about whether or not nature was healing during the Covid-19 pandemic-driven lockdown.

“It raised some questions and I think it’s a way to explore the narrative further and see where it can go.”

Reference: CNN Brasil

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