Explore the Museum's collection with Sir David Attenborough

Virtual reality is providing unprecedented access to the Museum's most precious specimens.

Hold the World, commissioned by Sky VR Studio, will transport you behind the scenes of the Museum and take you on a guided tour of collection highlights with the world's foremost natural history broadcaster, Sir David Attenborough.

Users will be instantly transported to areas of the Museum that are usually closed to the public, in the groundbreaking interactive experience that is launching this spring. 

Using a headset and controller, participants will be able to peek inside the Conservation Centre, Cryptogamic Herbarium and Earth Sciences Library, and handle rare and priceless objects.

Attenborough, who was digitally recreated as a lifelike 3D hologram for the experience, will impart his expert knowledge about a series of specimens, including a blue whale, Stegosaurus, trilobite, dragonfly, butterfly and pterosaur.

A 3D hologram of Sir David was created using volumetric capture by Microsoft in their Seattle studios

A 3D hologram of Sir David was created using volumetric capture by Microsoft in their Seattle studios


Participants will be able to virtually pick up, hold, enlarge and bring to life these specimens in a way that until now had never been possible.

Sir David Attenborough says, 'Sharing my passion for the natural world is something which I have done for many years through different technologies, from the days of black-and-white TV to colour, HD, 3D, 4K and now virtual reality.

'Hold the World is an extraordinary next step in how we can communicate and educate people about experiences they wouldn't usually have access to in the real world, and I am delighted about what users can learn and discover from the Museum's treasures in this new VR experience.

'It really is one of the most convincing and bewitching experiences that the world of technology has yet produced.'

The virtual Sir David discusses the Museum's blue whale skeleton in the Earth Sciences Library

The virtual Sir David discusses the Museum's blue whale skeleton in the Earth Sciences Library


A new tool for science

The objects in the experience were scanned at very high resolutions. The Museum's world-renowned Imaging and Analysis Centre then worked with Museum scientists and animation teams to create a scientifically-accurate model and animation for each specimen.

Bringing the specimens to life in this way had never before been attempted, so it was a particularly exciting process for Museum scientists.

Professor Paul Barrett, a Museum dinosaur expert, worked on the Stegosaurus model and animation.

He says, 'Virtual reality is a really important new tool for getting our specimens out there and letting the public see them really up close and manipulate them. It's the first time people will actually be able to hold these objects, pull them around and make them larger and smaller.

'Our Stegosaurus is obviously a huge specimen so we can't normally pick it up and play with it. But now we can zoom in on the head and look at features of the skull and teeth, we can zoom back to look at the arrangement of the plates, we can tip the skeleton upside down and look at it from angles that we wouldn't normally be able to see.

'We can also import it into computer programs to look at the engineering of how the skeleton is put together. So it's been a really exciting development for us here, because we are also seeing it in new ways for the first time too.'

Sir David Attenborough meets himself in virtual reality

When Sir David met Sir David: the legendary broadcaster meets himself in virtual reality


Ground-breaking technologies

Hold the World is the first fully interactive production from Sky, combining technology used in interactive video games and TV documentaries.

The experience lasts between 20 minutes and an hour. Viewers will be able to virtually enter various rooms in the Museum, and in each Sir David Attenborough will be sat opposite the participant, inviting them to examine several rare specimens.

The objects will also appear to come to life, giving users a chance to learn more about their history and scientific value.

Hold The World was created by Factory 42 using a variety of new technologies, combining them in a way that had previously never been attempted. Photogrammetry was used to recreate the Museum, and Sir David's hologram was created with more than 100 cameras in volumetric capture.

Hold the World's director Dan Smith says, 'It's an exciting time to be working in VR generally, but having the opportunity to create something unique - with Sir David Attenborough, no less - has been a privilege.' 

More information

  • Commissioned by the Sky VR Studio, Hold the World was produced by immersive content studio Factory 42, in association with Dream Reality Interactive and Talesmith, and through collaboration with the Natural History Museum's digital team.
  • Creature animation was produced by The Mill
  • The experience was directed by Dan Smith and executive produced by John Cassy and Neil Graham.
  • The VR experience is available within the Sky VR app on Google Daydream View, Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift. 
  • Hold the World will also be available as a standalone app on Microsoft Windows Mixed Reality for a limited time, ahead of the full Sky VR app launching on the platform later this year.