Few people get to take in the full majesty of redwood trees. Fewer still get to climb them. But people can now virtually “climb” a redwood thanks to a 360-degree video shot by tree-climbing specialist and arborist Tim Kovar in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California.
Climbing the Redwoods viewers are introduced to Grandfather, an 850-year-old, 200-foot-high coastal redwood that rises to great heights on private land in Los Gatos. The video, which premiered on Take Part, gives viewers an immersive look at the tree and its environs, with Kovar ascending and narrating. One of the first details that Kovar emphasizes is that Grandfather is 600-1,000 years old. A previous landowner once planned on logging Grandfather, but the tree was saved at the last minute, though still shows some signs of prepping for logging, as Kovar says.
“This is the first 360 degree VR video shoot that I’ve been apart of,” Kovar tells The Creators Project. “As far as I am aware no one else has ever brought one of these cameras into an old growth redwood tree.”
During the course of shooting, the team had technical difficulties with the backpack and arm that supported the camera. After a few hours of troubleshooting, Kovar ended up climbing the tree and holding the 360-degree camera by hand, which is why it is at times shaky. The video’s producer, Participant Media’s Connor Ficcadenti, agreed that it was a challenging VR shoot.
“This was my second virtual reality video [and] it was far more difficult than the first one,” he says. “The first video involved placing a stationary VR camera in a drying lake bed, which was a lot simpler than placing a VR camera 180 feet up on a redwood tree.”
“Our hope is to show perspective on an ecosystem that the average person doesn’t get to experience,” Ficcadenti adds. “We consider this project a success because we are able to push the envelope by filming with a 360-degree camera. For someone who is experienced in production, there is a huge learning curve using this technology.”
Despite the challenges, both Kovar and Ficcadenti are hopeful that Climbing the Redwoods will reach enough viewers to make an impact on redwood conservation efforts. They also hope to provoke greater interest in ecological conservation.
Kovar recommends checking out groups like Save the Redwoods and Sempiervierns Fund, both key players in awareness and preservation efforts dedicated to the last of these giant trees. “Another group called the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive are cloning these magnificent trees and re-planting groves around the planet to act as filters to help with air purification,” says Kovar.
“This VR video will hopefully circulate our planet, where others can see what it is like to be aloft in an old growth redwood tree,” says Kovar. “Not many people get to experience the ecosystems that live right above their head because they are usually out of reach. My hopes are that children will be inspired by this video, and will be curious enough to pursue career as a canopy researcher, becoming an arbornaut and a pioneer into one of the last frontiers on our planet.”