An online collaboration between the Natural History Museum and Google Arts & Culture is bringing to virtual life key dinosaurs and other important natural specimens from the Museum’s collection in London, making them accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world, at any time.
Opening today, the online exhibition at g.co/naturalhistory will enable people to discover natural history treasures using state-of-the-art technology to give a new virtual life to extinct and other unreachable animals, whilst also positioning their stories in the context of the critical threat to the natural world today, due to mankind’s encroachment on every territory.
Powered by Google’s indoor Street View, visitors will be able to take a virtual tour of through the museum's most famous halls and galleries, including its famous entrance, Hintze Hall, as well as the Treasures gallery, Dinosaurs and many others.
Over 300,000 specimens are featured in the online gallery, covering the natural world over billions of years, including the first T-Rex fossil ever found, extinct mammoths and a skull from a narwhal, or 'sea unicorn', which inspired the mermaid stories.
There are also nine virtual exhibitions, and an interactive timeline will tell the story of natural history discovery - a journey through time that brings together over 80 million specimens spanning from the beginning of life on Earth, to dinosaurs, birds, insects, and early humans.
Street View imagery will also showcase the stunning architecture of the museum, including the famous Waterhouse building. Using ‘gigapixel technology’ - a powerful photo-capturing process that creates very high-resolution imagery – the project captured the Hintze Hall ceiling, which is adorned with 162 intricate panels displaying a vast array of plants from all over the world, allowing a uniquely detailed and close-up view. This detail is all but impossible to see from floor level.
Using video and VR technology, Google Arts & Culture team has created two YouTube 360 and Google Cardboard experiences, bringing viewers face-to-face with one of the museum’s Jurassic giants in a way never seen before. The first VR film instantly immerses the viewer in the Fossil Marine Reptile hall, where a Rhomaleosaurus – a sea dragon discovered in Dorset – swims before your eyes, close enough that you can see the texture of its skin and the movement of its muscles. The other VR film features a Giraffatitan, as exhibited in a Berlin museum, coming to life.
The VR films were diligently recreated by the Google team with the help of the Natural History Museum’s scientists to give an accurate account of how these animals lived and what it might have felt like to live alongside them. Great pains were taken to render the prehistoric creatures accurately, right down to authentic hair and toenail detail, with each film taking a team of around 30 people, working around the clock, 10 weeks to complete.
Additional virtual reality 360° panoramas and 3D images have been used to create a separate educational experience tailored for teachers and students. The resulting Google Expeditions, a virtual reality teaching tool built with Google Cardboard, enables teachers to bring students across the globe on virtual trips to the Museum.
Annotated with details, points of interest, and questions that teachers can use, Expeditions are said to be easy to integrate into existing curricula and create an extra special classroom experience.
Sir Michael Dixon, director of the Natural History Museum, said, “We want to challenge as many people as possible to think differently about the natural world, because now more than ever, understanding our past and present can help us all shape the future.
“Working with Google Arts and Culture helps us to inspire the next generation of scientists and also to uncover new scientific insights from the collection using digital technology. This is the first step in a great new journey of discovery.”
Amit Sood, director of the Google Cultural Institute, said, “We’re delighted to work with the Natural History Museum and partners around the world on innovative projects to bring their incredible collections online. Technology can be used not only to make museum’s treasures accessible to people around the world, but also to create new experiences for museum-goers.
“Starting in 2011, the Google Cultural Institute has helped more than 1,000 cultural institutions open up their collections for any citizen of the world with access to the web, a computer or a mobile phone.”
For this exhibition, natural history institutions from 16 countries have created 150 new digital exhibits, 30 virtual Street View tours through the world’s museums and 20 new Google Expeditions. The online exhibition is at g.co/naturalhistory and is free for all on the web and through the new Google Arts & Culture mobile app on iOS and Android. All the 360-degree videos are available to watch on YouTube.