The untouched beauty of the Grand Canyon has inspired poets, novelists, film makers, and more than 4 million recreational visitors per year to make their way to the dramatic cliffs that border the Colorado River basin. 360 Labs aims to preserve that legacy with a new 360 degree documentary that will go into the heart of the canyon that is currently in danger of being forever changed by a new construction project.

360 Labs, a Portland Oregon based production company specializing in all things spherical video, wants to raise awareness with their 360 VR documentary named “As it is.” The documentary is diving head first into a conflict that is currently brewing at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado River, an unofficially recognized sacred place to some Native American tribes in the area.

Matt Rowell, President and Co-founder of 360 Labs, tells us how they stumbled upon the controversial development.

Last year, our co-founder went on a 7 day river trip through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River with Western River Expeditions and captured lots of beautiful 360video content for VR. On this trip, he learned about a controversial 500 million dollar commercial Gondola/Resort development that would happen near the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers. It’s controversial because it could have a huge impact on the Grand Canyon and the national park downstream, and it’s also encroaching on lands that Native Americans consider sacred.

The building project, which is being spearheaded by an outside company, plans to build a resort complex on the the edge of the Grand Canyon called the Grand Canyon Escalade. If it’s built, the complex will come replete with hotels, gift shops, and restaurants centered around a ski-resort style gondola ride that will take visitors from the rim of the canyon down to the where the two rivers meet, aka ‘The Confluence’. Permanent structures like a planned ‘River Walk’ and restaurant will also be built at the base of the river to accommodate visitors.

grand canyon 360 labs

Some of the contention rises from the fact that the intended build site, although not officially recognized as such by the National Park Service, is considered spiritually significant to tribes in the area, such as the neighboring Hopi. The site however lies in Navajo Nation territory, and represents an opportunity for the economically impoverished area to attract much needed tourist dollars.

According to NPR, the “proposal promises the [Navajo] tribe 3,200 jobs, a road, infrastructure and at least 8 percent of gross revenues. The trade-off: 420 acres of land considered holy by many tribal members.” The build project’s website however maintains that “[they] have uncovered no evidence of any sacred sites within the project boundaries or that would be negatively impacted by the project.”

‘As it is: A Grand Canyon VR Documentary’ Kickstarter Campaign

If archaeological surveys come through and no outside intervention can stop construction, a grim certainty remains: a highly prized natural wonder of the world will be changed forever to fit the needs of tourists, and in a way that isn’t scalable for a larger audience—a problem that VR enthusiasts understand all too well.

360 Labs not only wants to meet both sides of the debate, and hear their stories, but also truly experience the land where the Navajo people still cast their prayers to this day—and all in high quality 360 video that will be playable on Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift DK1/DK2, and with the help of YouTube’s 360 video support, also on tablets, smartphones, and monitors.

360 Lab's GoPro Hero 3 Spherical Camera Array on Location
360 Lab’s GoPro Hero 3 Spherical Camera Array on Location

And the best part is the documentary will be distributed entirely for free to the masses so everyone can enjoy the majesty of The Confluence without leaving so much as a cigarette butt or errant candy wrapper.

Funding Tiers: Estimated Delivery September 2015

  • Pledge $1 or more You Helped VR Save Grand Canyon. Future generations thank you, as do we.
  • Pledge $25 or more + Exclusive Backer Access to behind-the-scenes, 360º photos & outtakes. You Helped VR Save Grand Canyon.
  • Pledge $50 or more + Custom “As It Is: A Grand Canyon VR Documentary” DODOCASE VR popup viewer, inspired by Google Cardboard. Exclusive Backer Access to behind-the-scenes, 360º photos & outtakes. You Helped VR Save Grand Canyon.
  • Pledge $200 or more + Your NAME in credits at the end of “As It Is”. Custom “As It Is: A Grand Canyon VR Documentary” DODOCASE VR popup viewer, inspired by Google Cardboard. Exclusive Backer Access to behind-the-scenes, 360º photos & outtakes. You Helped VR Save Grand Canyon.
  • Pledge $300 or more + Your PHOTO in VR Backer Photo at the end of “As It Is”. Your NAME in credits at the end of “As It Is”. Custom “As It Is: A Grand Canyon VR Documentary” DODOCASE VR popup viewer, inspired by Google Cardboard. Exclusive Backer Access to behind-the-scenes, 360º photos & outtakes.
  • Pledge $500 or more (Shipping cost removed) + Your own, personalized, 360º PHOTOSPHERE in the Grand Canyon with the “As It Is” 360 Labs crew, placed on Google Views &, if approved, on Google Maps. Your PHOTO in VR Backer Photo at the end of “As It Is”. Your NAME in credits at the end of “As It Is”. Custom “As It Is: A Grand Canyon VR Documentary” DODOCASE VR popup viewer, inspired by Google Cardboard. Exclusive Backer Access to behind-the-scenes, 360º photos & outtakes.

We wish the 360 Labs team the best of luck with the campaign. Check out their Kickstarter campaign page here, and keep up to date with company’s projects at their website.

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