The Economist RecoVR: Mosul, a VR Experience

Visualise and The Economist recreate Mosul Museum in a new virtual reality experience.

virtual reality experience

Key Facts

Campaign: RecoVR: Mosul
Client: The Economist
Partners: The Economist Media Lab, Rekrei
Deliverables: CG virtual reality film, Google Cardboard apps for Android and iOS
Location: London and New York
Project Date: Spring 2016

The Challenge

For 173 years The Economist has been known for its world-renowned written analysis and insight on global events. On February 26th 2015, the militant group known as Islamic State posted a video online showing the destruction of antiquities in and around the city of Mosul in Northern Iraq. The Economist collaborated with Rekrei, a non-profit group formerly known as Project Mosul and Visualise, to create a virtual reality experience, recreating the museum and many of the lost artefacts.  The result is “RecoVR Mosul: A collective reconstruction”, which is now available to experience via Google Cardboard apps for Android and iOS and on Facebook and YouTube 360 channels.

The Solution

The team behind Rekrei, received thousands of crowd-sourced images and archival data of the destroyed artefacts from around the world. Using photogrammetry, they combined the images to create 3D models, with volunteers helping to digitally reconstruct the historical sites and artefacts.

This was used to create a initial app to host the virtual reality experience where in November 2015 The Economist Media Lab was invited to showcase it at the International Documentary Film Festival (IDFA) in Amsterdam. Following the positive reception from the public and press, The Economist worked with Visualise to rescript the experience with photorealistic CG visualisation and build a new app that will sit within the publications new VR content strategy.

The experience takes the form of a tour of the museum, narrated by The Economist’s deputy editor, Tom Standage, who explains the background to the project, the significance of particular objects and the method of reconstruction.

“In real life it’s no longer possible to visit the Mosul museum or see these destroyed artefacts. But RecoVR:Mosul lets you experience them in virtual reality, with The Economist as your museum guide, explaining the bigger picture. This is our first venture into VR, a medium which offers huge potential for new kinds of storytelling.”

Tom Standage, Deputy Editor at The Economist


Our objective was to take the principles of good VR (comfort, presence, engagement) to redesign and conceptualise the content and app to create a comfortable experience for the viewer, whilst being sympathetic to the original project.

We reviewed the existing experience and provided consultancy on what improvements were required to fulfil our objective. The original 3D models of the artefacts were maintained as they formed the foundation of the initiative, whilst we took on the role to completely remodel the museum environments and create a photorealistic pre-rendered VR experience.

The original content was only available to view on the Samsung Gear VR, to allow them to target multi-platforms for distribution without compromising on the high visual quality, we pre-rendered the video and built Cardboards apps for iOS and Android and a Gear VR app.

We wanted to create a fully stereo, 360-degree, photorealistic reconstruction of the museum, however there are limitations to rendering 360 video content in stereo on mobile devices. We came up with the solution to render out 360 stereo still images that when played inside the app, would composite smaller video elements into the stereo still image to give the effect that the viewer is watching a video. This also allowed us to deliver an experience which has the appearance of twice the resolution of what we could achieve with video.

To not overload the viewer, we asked the team to provide us with a script, detailing what key information they wanted to share which would inform decisions we made regarding camera positions and lighting. This allowed us to focus on individual perspectives such as introducing the project or learning about an ancient statue of a priest, dating back to 2nd or 3rd century AD, which was digitally reconstructed by volunteer ‘A6B8’.

The Results

RecoVR: Mosul is a culturally relevant VR experience, with a combination of camera views, narration and 360-degree audio the results is a highly engaging piece and a great example of how VR can be applied for social good in a completely innovative and novel way.

The 360 video has received a combined total of 200,000 views on Facebook and YouTube, with 218 comments1,200 likes, a reach of 883,261 across Facebook and on Twitter 456 retweets.

The latest version released is now available for Google Cardboard for Android, as an iOS app for use with a Cardboard adaptor, and as 360 videos for YouTube on Facebook. A Gear VR version will be available shortly.

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CGI, Editorial, Virtual Tour

Awards Won

The Drum Dadi Awards 2016 - 'Best use of VR'

The Drum Dadi Awards 2016 - 'Best use of VR'

The People's Lovie Awards 2016 - Silver

The People's Lovie Awards 2016 - Silver

Jury Prize for GREAT Innovation

Jury Prize for GREAT Innovation

An Immersive Dome Experience for Vodafone Foundation


Doctors without Borders / MSF: Forced From Home

360 Video, Charity
visualise worked with msf producing 360 videos for forced from home campaign