Polish IT company brings Chernobyl zone into virtual reality

So rich in detail is the view that the strips of paint peeling from the walls and shards of glass on the floor are visible. This is “Ghost City,” a virtual reality tour of the Chernobol (Chernobyl) zone that is also part documentary and part three-dimensional excursion of a god-forsaken town near the stricken nuclear plant.

Pole Łukasz Rosinski, 33, the initiator of the “Ghost City” project and vice president of IT company The Farm 51, says his virtual reality tour through the Chornobyl zone will allow some people to see places they wouldn’t dare go to in the flesh.

“Many people are afraid that it’s dangerous to go to Chornobyl,” Rosinski said in a Skype interview with the Kyiv Post. “They’d like to ‘see how it looks like now,’” but they do not want to actually visit the place, he said.

“Ghost City” is planned for presentation on April 26, the 30th anniversary of the Chornobyl nuclear disaster, the worst commercial nuclear power disaster that the world has ever suffered.

The Farm 51 collaborated with human rights NGO Open Dialog Foundation, to create “Ghost City,” which takes viewers on a virtual tour not just of the Chornobyl plant but the nearby abandoned town of Pripyat as well.

Rosinski said the project was like an “interactive documentary” or “virtual museum” that also educates young people, or those who might not know much about the history of the disaster.

“Virtual reality is a good way to show history to young people, or to people in the United States,” he said.

A team of more than 20 people has been working on the project, while the creation of background music and the writing of the script was outsourced. The tour can be viewed using 360-degree virtual reality headsets, such as the Oculus, Morpheus, HTC Vive headsets, and Samsung Gear VR, which is designed for use with smartphones.

A Farm 51 crew of about ten people and their guide went to the Chornobyl zone five times to collect material for the tour. They scanned buildings, people, and objects with 3D scanners to gain extremely detailed imagery. The aim was to show “Chornobyl as it is, as it really looks in reality,” Rosinski said.

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A man from a Farm 51 crew launches a drone in a gym in a school during one of the Farm 51 trips to an abandoned town in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone.

As well as taking thousands of 360-degree photographs, the team also interviewed around a dozen people in the exclusion zone, so elements of reportage are included in the virtual reality tour as well. As a result, the tour also tells the stories of ordinary people – firemen, and members of rescue teams – and shows how the disaster affected their lives, Rosinski said.

According to Rosinski, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko has also promised to assist the project.

Bartosz Kramek, a representative of Open Dialogue, told the Kyiv Post during the Innotech conference in Kyiv on March 12 that Klitschko would also be included in the tour, telling the story of his own father, who as an air force major-general helped battle the consequences of the catastrophic explosion and fire at the plant in 1986.

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Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko (right) tries on 360-degree virtual reality headset at a meeting with members of the Chornobyl Virtual Reality Project team on March 8 in Kyiv.

However, Wojciech Pazdur, another founder of the project, and Rosinski’s colleague, told the Kyiv Post that the Farm 51 team didn’t want to “release deeper info about (Klitschko’s) participation” until “it’s 100 percent confirmed and done.”

Whether Klitschko participates or not, it’s certain that as the 30th anniversary of the Chornobyl disaster looms, what must be remembered is “not just the tragedy itself,” but the brave “people who lived through those times,” Rosinski told the Kyiv Post.

This story first appeared in The Kyiv Post.

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