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VFX Students collaborate with London Zoo to save Gibbons

As part of a conservation project to help raise awareness of the Hainan Gibbon a group of VFX and Animation students were invited to London Zoo to see gibbons and meet the team of gibbonologists and PhD students.

First year BA (Hons) VFX student Catrin Heron blogs about her trip

By working on this project, we hope to help conserve the species of Gibbons as they are very endangered. Its a fantastic opportunity to get involved with a real life challenge and we think it is really important to help the primate become known in both China and the UK so that we can try conserve the species.

After a busy journey through London we arrived at the zoo where we met the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) team. We walked through the zoo to find the gibbon enclosure where father and son gibbons, Jimmy and Yoda, lived. It was really interesting to observe and document their behaviour in the way that they moved and interacted with each other. Watching this will be really useful in understanding how to animate a gibbon for the conservation project in order for it to be life-like.

The team at the zoo were very helpful and allowed us to see the zoo from areas unavailable to the public where we soon realised that the gibbons became as interested in us as we were of them! In addition, the ZSL team were really keen to answer the hundreds of questions we had about the gibbons and Hainan (the area of southern China were the endangered species live).

The trip was a really good learning experience for us visually and academically and really gave an insight into this interesting animal. With only 26 Hainan gibbons left I think that everyone on the project is really excited to be able to raise awareness for their plight and this trip has really got students motivated to start drawing and planning ideas for the project.

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“By working on this project, we hope to aid the conservation of such a wonderful species.”

Catrin Feron
BA (Hons) VFX.

Find out about studying BA (Hons) VFX at NUA.

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Could CGI help save the world’s most endangered ape?

The story of the world’s rarest primate species, the Hainan gibbon (Nomascus hainanus), will be bought to life through digital images and animation in a new collaboration between and international conservation charity ZSL (Zoological Society of London) and Norwich University of the Arts.

Students on the Animation and VFX (Visual Effects) courses at the university are working with scientists from ZSL to help raise awareness of the threatened colony of gibbons on the island of Hainan. The images produced by the students over the next five months will be shown to communities in Hainan and visiting tourists to help explain the risk to the species and the importance of the gibbons’ survival. Only 26 of the apes remain – living in three social groups in a 15km2 area of forest reserve on the island.

Launching the first phase of the project, ZSL scientists briefed students on the gibbons’ place in the folklore and history of Hainan – and how a combination of deforestation and hunting have brought these charismatic ‘lesser apes’ to the brink of extinction. Hainan gibbons, known for their distinctive song, may well be the world’s most endangered mammal as well as the rarest primate, according to ZSL.

Saint John Walker, VFX Course Leader at NUA, said: “Using computer-generated animation and the latest VFX techniques allows us to tell stories without the barrier of language, or the risk of disturbing the last surviving Hainan gibbon population. “It’s a direct way to communicate to local communities around the gibbon reserve and to other interest groups about the importance of the species and its habitat, and its cultural significance to the island’s population, but also to produce fascinating visuals that can be shown more widely across China to raise awareness.”

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