Virtual reality film takes viewers Under the Canopy to discover riches and ruin in Amazonia

February 6, 2017

After descending a 200-foot Ceiba tree, you set off on a journey through the rainforest with Kamanja Panashekung, whose family has lived in the region for generations. As you paddle down a river past three-toed sloths and a 15-foot anaconda, you experience the intimate relationship between people and nature. Panashekung shows you how the forest supplies food, income and more, while he and his community draw on their collective knowledge in protecting its trees, waters and wildlife.

As Panashekung navigates, you ultimately find yourself surrounded by the results of rampant deforestation. Each year Amazonia loses an area of forest more than 1.5 times greater than the size of Yellowstone National Park.

“Kamanja’s community is one of over 350 indigenous communities throughout Amazonia that depend on the rainforest, as we all do — for the air we breathe and the water we drink,” said Dr. M. Sanjayan, Conservation International executive vice president and senior scientist. “‘Under the Canopy’ gives those who may never visit the Amazon rainforest an opportunity to repel down a 200-foot tree, see its wildlife up close, and understand what is at risk. Sustaining the Amazon is not an option, it is a necessity.”

The consequences of the deforestation shown in “Under the Canopy” reach far beyond Amazonia and its 30 million inhabitants. The film has special relevance given the Amazon’s role in building resilience to the impacts of climate change and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. Amazonia contains 40 percent of the carbon stocks of tropical forests globally, provides 20 percent of the world’s breathable oxygen, holds a similar percentage of the world’s fresh water, and supports more species of plants and animals than anywhere else on the planet. It is also a spiritual wellspring for its people and all humanity. A vanishing Amazon not only threatens us physically, it diminishes the human spirit.

Conservation International has worked in Amazonia for 30 years and has committed to a goal of zero net deforestation in the Amazon by 2020, working with local communities, governments, nonprofit organizations, the private sector and more.

The co-producers celebrated “Under the Canopy” during the 17th Annual Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The event, held at the Jaunt VR lounge, featured a limited private screening, reception and discussion with film director Patrick Meegan about the unique aspects of the “Under the Canopy” shoot and how virtual reality can be a critical agent for conservation.

“In approaching this project we wanted to not only illustrate the importance of conserving the rainforest in relation to climate change, but to create a thrilling experience for audiences far and wide,” said Meegan, creative director at Jaunt. “To do this, we married the experience of veteran nature filmmakers with up-and-coming technologists to develop new techniques and achieve VR shots — such as the vertical moves from canopy to forest floor — that are the first of their kind. We also took the Jaunt ONE camera to new heights — achieving impressive VR encounters with tropical birds, butterflies, sloths and more.”

The film was shot at two locations 1,400 miles apart in Suriname and in Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park. Filmmakers used drones and cable-mounted cameras, including the award-winning Jaunt ONE camera, to move through the canopy and across the forest floor and capture the feel of being in the Amazon. In the film’s 3-D audio track, Panashekung’s storytelling in native Trio is punctuated by birdsong and alternates with that of actor and conservation activist Lee Pace, who voices the English translation.

“Under the Canopy” can be viewed in fully immersive VR on theJaunt VR App available on iOS, Android, Gear VR, PlayStation VR, Google Daydream, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive — as well as in 360-degree format at Viewers can help protect the Amazon by sharing the film with their social networks and supporting Conservation International’s Protect an Acre program.

The film was made possible with support from the MacArthur Foundation. MacArthur recognizes intact forest conservation as a key global priority for maintaining a peaceful and verdant world.

“Intact forests play a unique role in mitigating climate change and regulating the functioning of the planet. Yet, many are at risk. The virtual reality experience of “Under the Canopy” allows anyone to immerse themselves in the rainforests of Amazonia and walk alongside members of an indigenous community in Suriname who conserve these forests as part of their traditional lands, and importantly, for the benefit of all humanity.” said Chris Holtz, director of conservation and sustainable development at MacArthur.

Distribution support is provided by SC Johnson, a fifth-generation-led family company and the maker of trusted household products like Pledge®, Glade®, OFF!® and Ziploc®. The company has longstanding ties in Brazil that date back to 1935 when third-generation leader H.F. Johnson Jr. pioneered a 15,000-mile round-trip expedition to South America to study the carnaúba palm, the source for carnaúba wax, which was a key ingredient in its products at the time. The historical journey marked the beginning of the family’s and the company’s relationship with Brazil, a strong bond that continues to this day.

As part of its partnership with Conservation International, the company has pledged to match consumer contributions to the campaign to protect up to 10,000 acres of tropical forest through Conservation International.

“The Amazon rainforest provides a wealth of ecosystem services that are critical for the sustenance of life on this planet — everything from fresh water and fresh air to carbon sequestration and extraordinary biodiversity, and even tourism and recreation,” said SC Johnson Chairman and CEO Fisk Johnson. “It is not only worth protecting, it is a necessity. We are delighted to help Conservation International educate about and protect Amazonia.”

Additional support was provided by the Tiffany and Co. Foundation, partner and lead funder of Conservation International’s “Valen’s Reef” VR film, and HP Inc., partner to Conservation International’s “Nature Is Speaking” campaign.

“HP recognizes the responsibility to protect and sustain the world’s forests, which are vital to our planet’s life-support system,” said Nate Hurst, chief sustainability and social impact officer at HP. “That’s why we promote responsible printing solutions, practices and policies, like our commitment to zero deforestation associated with our paper and paper-based product packaging by 2020. We applaud the work of Conservation International and are proud to again support its efforts to use technology in “Under the Canopy” for a virtual look inside one of the most precious habitats in the world.”

“Under the Canopy” is Conservation International’s second VR film release. Conservation International’s first VR film, “Valen’s Reef,” tells the story of one of the most successful community-driven conservation projects in the world in the world, the Bird’s Head Seascape Initiative in Indonesia. More than 1.8 million people have viewed “Valen’s Reef” since its release in June 2016.

About Conservation International

Conservation International uses science, policy and partnerships to protect the nature people rely on for food, fresh water and livelihoods. Founded in 1987, Conservation International works in more than 30 countries on six continents to ensure a healthy, prosperous planet that supports us all. Learn more about Conservation International and its groundbreaking “Nature Is Speaking” campaign, and follow Conservation International’s work on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

About Jaunt

Jaunt is pioneering the future of creative storytelling through cinematic virtual reality. Founded in 2013, Jaunt is the leading developer of the hardware, software, tools and applications to enable cinematic VR and put the power of virtual reality in the hands of today’s best content creators. Jaunt works with leading creatives — from brands to artists to filmmakers — to create cutting-edge content accessible across all devices and platforms. Headquartered in Palo Alto, California, the company also maintains a presence in Los Angeles through its studio arm, Jaunt Studios; a European business office in London; and an engineering and development office in Amsterdam. In 2016, Jaunt established Shanghai-based Jaunt China, a VR company formed in partnership with Shanghai Media Group (SMG) and China Media Capital (CMC). Collectively, Jaunt produces branded and original VR content for audiences worldwide. Join @JauntVR onFacebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Jaunt’s investors include The Walt Disney Company, Evolution Media Partners, China Media Capital, Highland Capital Partners, Google Ventures, Redpoint Ventures, Axel Springer, ProSiebenSat.1 SE, The Madison Square Garden Company, Peter Gotcher, Blake Krikorian, and Sky ( Experience more at

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