Visions of Australia: VMI

Prototype with avatar demo


Virtual Macquarie Island (VMI 1.0), is a prototype digital exhibit created in collaboration with TMAG and the Australian Antarctic Program. It is currently on exhibit at TMAG’s Islands to Ice Antarctica gallery.

VMI 2.0 will develop a digital touring exhibition, including collaboration with Australian scientific organisations and South Australian, Western Australian and other museum collections. It has received development funding under the Australian Commonwealth Visions of Australia program. The Ministerial press-release is here.

VMI 2.0 presents a photorealistic 3D simulation of sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island based upon accurate scientific data. It features a physically accurate VR model of the island, incorporating extensive data fusion for visualisation. It is explorable in an open-world style, with guided tours presented by scientists via interactive avatars. It will be populated by models of endemic wildlife and unique flora living in a virtual ecosystem – representing its biogeographic significance. It is suitable for a large screen display, with components for VR and mobile AR formats. 

The guided tours are presented by digital avatars of AAD scientists and other specialists. These are developed using a combination of DeepFake, Unreal MetaHuman and iClone/CC technologies, based upon in-person interviews. Realistic motion and expression capture is now highly accurate and affordable using modern AI approaches. The experience is accompanied by VR/AR (hereafter referred to as XR – ‘extended reality’) digital artefacts presented on mobile devices, accompanied by print and online educational packages.


Macquarie Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, lies in the Southern Ocean, about halfway between Australia and Antarctica. Regionally and politically a part of Tasmania since 1900, it became a State Reserve in 1978 and was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1997.

MI is an extremely impressive site providing a rich backdrop to sub-Antarctic research and knowledge, Australian and European maritime history and plays a vital role in contemporary climate research. Not high on the public radar, there is little public knowledge about the island and its roster of residential Australian and international scientists. Visitors will be blown away by its natural history, its extraordinary human history, and its recuperated biodiversity, including an estimated resident population of up to 80,000 seals and 3.5 million seabirds. The island represents – internationally – the largest successful eradication project of feral pests to date. It is a unique geological site, allowing rare and direct access to the oceanic crust in the Southern hemisphere. It is a sentinel island, enabling Australian scientists to observe complex processes within the remote Southern Ocean: a singular observatory for the impacts of climate change in the Southern hemisphere, a key observatory for establishing a truly global understanding.

Although technically part of Tasmania, VMI will have widespread appeal throughout Australia both through its interactive virtual presentation, its engagement with topical and current climate research and Antarctic exploration, as well as its ability to bring historical and significant elements from three state collections into a combined accessible and cost-effective program.


VMI previz of large screen/projected version with hands-free footpad interaction
VMI AR content previz (animated 3D Australian Fur Seal triggered by QR code)

Macquarie Island Historical Timeline

An example interactive timeline of Macquarie Island can be seen here:

launch timeline


Main presentation: interactive VMI, display from interactive media player (4k/HD), with hands-free interaction via footpad. Includes guided tour, interactive self-guiding tour and scientific data visualisations. Visitors will commence their journey across the island from Macquarie Island Research Station, travelling to six key destinations en route to Hurd Point in the far South of the island. Each destination will focus upon a key scientific theme (such as environmental remediation, climate, ecology, geology and atmospheric physics amongst others), featuring a short, synoptic digital avatar overview with an expert in each field. Visitors will be able to explore the island at will, interacting with situated contextual information through an onscreen interface, or alternatively play an automatic guided tour suitable for a larger audience (such as a school group).

AR components: digitised artefacts from museum collections; animated 3D models of endemic species (eg. Australian fur seal, royal penguin, blue petrel etc.) + flora models.

Photo + Text components: printable wall features suitable for A0+ print

Historical content: XR digital reproductions of museum collections data, e.g. AAE stereoscopic photos and Paget process plates from Mawson Collection (SAM), historical sealing artefacts.

Educational package: print + web resource

Development Outline

Development, implementation and initial deployment will occur over an ~12 month period.

This includes:

1] Identification of partner museum assets suitable for digitisation. Digitisation process – this will be undertaken either by partners or we will provide digitisation services (e.g. photogrammetry for 3D artefacts, scanning of 2D objects).

2] Creation of digital artefact database + HTML5/webXR API.

3] Substantial refinement of the complete 3D environment model, bringing in more local detail to points of interest + digital artefacts.

4] Creation of digital assets for detail – eg. geological details, extensive flora and animal modelling and animation

5] Creation of digital avatars of scientific and other specialists, including interviews.

6] Design and implementation on onscreen UI; footpad interaction design and programming; narrative programming; graphics programming. This process develops how the ‘story’ of the world is developed and how it may be accessed by users, much as in an ‘open world’ computer game.

7] Assets developed for the main presentation will need adaptation and testing for accompanying XR display, including deployment in AR runtime contexts (eg. QR code triggers, webXR pages, mobile app development).

8] Liaise with Education Package developers for graphical and textual content for delivery (in consultation with TMAG and partners).


VMI 2.0 adopts a multi-scale methodology, acknowledging the variable exhibition resources of prospective venues. The underlying premise is to require as little effort and expenditure from prospective venues as possible, especially cognisant of the post-COVID era. This means the effort to present hands-free interactive content on high-impact 4k projection systems down to standard HDTV systems; from having an impressive exhibition in a large venue to having wall-mounted QR codes from a desktop printer in a local library. Because the source of the exhibit is digital it can be effectively delivered to venues according to their demonstrated capacity for NBN-equivalent/WiFi or 4G/5G access, or via inexpensive locally deployed solid-state media servers. We anticipate making these available for hire or purchase to prospective venues.

VMI 2.0 will establish a pilot for a shared platform approach for multi-scale delivery of interactive museum content in concert with research and exhibition partners.

Creative + Management Team

Creative Director: Dr Peter Morse,

Peter is a media artist, film-maker and computer researcher working with emerging technologies. He has over 20 years experience in developing cutting edge digital exhibition content and the use of novel technologies for advanced scientific visualisation. Specialisms include 3D modelling, photogrammetry, human-computer interaction, scientific data visualisation and hardware implementation. He is a transdisciplinary researcher with PhDs in semiotics and visual culture (Murdoch University), and data visualisation for computational geophysics in Earth sciences (University of Tasmania).

Project Management: Tony Bonney

Tony has had over 30 years’ experience in the management and curation of cultural facilities and programs. Starting as the instigator of Western Australia’s Blue Room Theatre in 1991, Tony has since gone on to work in leadership roles with the Perth International Arts Festival, WA Museum, Perth Theatre Company, Fremantle Arts Centre, Steps Youth Dance Company and Director of Festival of Voices. Tony has been a director of the Tasmanian Creative Industries group and through this role overseen research and training programs for the creative sector – with Department of State Growth, Monash University and national sector training providers.

Scientific Advisor: Dr Aleks Terauds,

Program Leader, Marine Conservation and Management Program, AAD, Aleks currently leads research into terrestrial spatial ecology at the Australian Antarctic Division, developing and delivering the scientific foundation for spatial management and area protection in Antarctica. He has spent 20 years researching Macquarie Island and is a recognised authority on the island and its biogeographic significance. Amongst his many scientific publications, he is the co-author of Subantarctic Wilderness – Macquarie Island (Allen & Unwin, 2014).

TMAG Auspicing Manager: Melissa Kemp – Head, Exhibitions, TMAG

Melissa’s background is twofold. Having spent more than a decade within the field of sustainable architecture, currently Melissa works within the management and development area of the museum and gallery sector.

Digital Wildlife Development: Dr Gina Moore – –

Gina is a lecturer in animation at RMIT. In 2007 she finished a Master of Arts by research and in 2016 she completed a Doctor of Philosophy (Media and Communications), completing both degrees at RMIT University. She currently works as an educator, artist and free-lance animator. Gina is deeply experienced in the accurate modelling and animation of non-human animal species, and in developing bespoke workflows and software approaches to accurately represent animal behaviour and motion.

Geomodelling: Dr Tobias Staal, University of Tasmania/IMAS

Tobias has a background in engineering and art. He has worked with ground-water, reflection seismic processing, and shallow reflection seismic and resistivity. In recent research his main interests are large scale geophysics, potential field and geo-statistics, especially the combination of sparse geological observations with long-wavelength geophysics. His main geographic specialisms and focus is currently East Antarctica and the North Atlantic. He is a Post-Doctoral Fellow in Antarctic Seismology in the School of Natural Sciences, University of Tasmania.

South Australian Museum: Justine van Mourik.

Justine is Head of Public Engagement at the South Australian Museum.

Mawson Centre (SAM): Mark Pharaoh

Mark is Senior Collection Manager at the Mawson Centre, South Australian Museum.

Curation point of contact

TMAG team: Melissa Kemp – Head, Exhibitions, TMAG

SAM Team: Justine van Mourik, Head of Public Engagement, SAM

Scientific curatorium: Dr Aleks Terauds, AAD

Historical curatorium: Mark Pharaoh (Mawson Collection, SAM)

Expressions of Interest

Current expressions of interest (including pre-existing collaboration partners and informal contacts) have been received from:

  • Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (inception partner)
  • Australian Antarctic Division (inception partner)
  • Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (confirmed)
  • South Australian Museum (confirmed)
  • Western Australian Museum (confirmed)
  • University of Tasmania (informal)
  • Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies (informal)
  • Questacon (informal)
  • Australian Academy of Sciences (informal)



Macquarie Island High Priority Science

World Heritage Area

Main Base Renovation Island Life

MI Wildlife

AAD 360º degree Tour


VMI uses the Unreal® Engine. Unreal® is a trademark or registered trademark of Epic Games, Inc. in the United States of America and elsewhere. Unreal® Engine, Copyright 1998 – 2021, Epic Games, Inc. All rights reserved.

Related Work

Dramatisation of the historical discovery of Macquarie Island (2020)

Flyover demo (2020)

First person demo previz (early 2020). Test shots of VMI. Includes DEM scale accuracy test, character/terrain interaction, seascape & volumetric sky.

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