HE MAY be an impressive 92 years old, but Sir David Attenborough has always kept one step ahead when it comes to technology. Everyone’s favourite naturalist has worked in TV since the very first days of flickering black and white images but embraces every new change that comes along, from colour to HD to 3D.
So it’s no surprise that he is breaking new ground yet again by launching a virtual reality app so that viewers can hold rare specimens from the Natural History Museum in the comfort of their own homes.
The amazing interactive Hold The World app allows users to poke around the museum, opening drawers and picking up fossils as Sir David’s hologram tells them all sorts of information about the specimens, which include a blue whale, a stegosaurus, a dragonfly, butterfly, and pterosaur.
Here he talks to beano.com about the making of the app – and why he absolutely LOVES hearing from his young fans.
How did you enjoy making Hold The World?
Oh, it’s tremendous. It’s a real step forward. What they’ve done with this, it’s very impressive. It allows you to hold bones in your hand, turn them over and examine them, and then see what the living creature looks like, or would have looked like.
What did filming involve?
We went out to California. And Seattle and Washington State. We went to where we believed the technology was best for doing this sort of thing. It was fascinating.
I live half an hour from the Natural History Museum in London but we flew 10 hours to pretend I was in the museum!
Watching yourself must be a peculiar experience.
Yes. The problem with watching yourself is that when you normally watch yourself in a moving form, you’re in a mirror. And that’s what you see, you know? I suppose I am accustomed to seeing what my backside looks like on film, but nonetheless it is quite different seeing a hologram of yourself, when you can actually walk around yourself.
That was quite a strange experience!
Was it different from normal HD filming?
There was a lot of hairspray. The hairs have to sit down otherwise it doesn’t work, so I got sprayed a lot by a lady called Harmony. The smell of her hairspray is hot in my nostrils!
And they have to glue down the collars of your shirt to make sure there are no nooks and crannies or it doesn’t work. Luckily I’ve only got one shirt….
You do always wear a blue shirt! What would happen if somebody said to you one day, “You have to wear a red T-shirt today. It’s the only thing that works.”
If it’s not in the contract… that would be extra. Give me a raise. Money can solve any problem. I’m very adaptable – for a charge!
You started your career in black and white TV, then colour, then HD, then 3D, now VR. Is that something very conscious that you just want to keep on top of all the trends, or is it simply that people come to you and want you to do these things, and why not?
Oh, it’s more than, “Why not?” It’s, “Whoopee!” really. It’s, “Gosh wouldn’t that be exciting? Wouldn’t that be fun?”
It’s as exciting now as it was then. I mean, as you say, I started in 1952, which was a long time ago. Television was just coming from Alexandra Palace and two little studios; neither of them was as big as this room we’re in now. It was only on the air for a few hours a day, and you couldn’t see it unless you lived in London, and it was like a little club.
Every year there were more viewers, every year there were more hours of broadcasting, and then there were more channels and more people. And as you say, now one is aware that it’s a global thing. And programmes one knows – I mean, Blue Planet is going out in China. I don’t know many thousand million people are there in China, but there are a hell of a lot.
Is there an animal that you would like to bring back from extinction?
Oh, I would bring back an Anhanguera, a pterosaur we use in Hold The World. We have its jaw, which is all we know of it, really. It’s an extraordinary pterosaur which we know little about, and which we’re making all the deductions about.
When you pick it up with the VR there is my voice saying, “Look at that tooth. What do you think that means? How would this have been used?” and so on. And as your eyes focus on a different part of the jaw and my voice tells you different things about it.
Experts often criticise children for spending too much time on computers. But do you think this encourages children to use their imaginations more?
Well, I think this is teaching. This is encouraging children to use their imagination, to use their learning, to use their deductive powers, which is not just empty, you know?
It’s full of all sorts of possibilities that stimulate a child to think about all sorts of things, and how to use his powers of reasoning and to work out what the answers to the questions are that will occur to him.
You do a lot of work in education. Do you enjoy working with children?
Oh, I just… one just loves kids. I mean, yes, they rekindle your sense of wonder. You can see this child absolutely… eyes like saucers, seeing these things. It reminds one what is important, and to continue being excited about one’s job.
If you were reincarnated, what animal would you like to come back as?
A sloth! All you have to do is hang from beneath a tree, and every now and again chew a leaf.
Do they have any predators?
No, nobody bothers them. They wake up every now and again, go back to sleep. Perfect!