360˚ Video Creator Voices: Adam Ravetch

It would truly be an understatement to say that wildlife 360˚ video filmmaker Adam Ravetch has had an interesting career so far. We chatted to him about manta rays, shark hotels and the responsibility of filmmakers to inspire change.

How did you become involved in 360˚ video production?

Bill Macdonald, an underwater filmmaker and friend of mine, got interested in VR about 4 or 5 years ago. I am always interested in new technologies and how that can be used as a tool to immerse audiences into the natural world. VR is about immersive as you can get, and so Bill shared this technology with me. I’ve really been experimenting with the medium and how to get the greatest impact out of it to tell stories. 

Are you working on anything exciting at the moment?

I am working on three VR pieces as we speak. A narrative-driven sea lion adventure off the Channel Islands, California; and I’m finishing a VR piece for Planet Expert that brings attention to the Indonesian palm oil industry, and its destructive impact on the Sumatra rainforest as well as its inhabitants, elephants and orangutans. And, I’m currently in the edit stages of a VR underwater experience in Yap, Micronesia; centred around manta ray cleaning stations. Manta rays slow down and hover, and just like a car wash, an array of reef fish swim up to the manta ray and bite off their parasites. It is one of nature’s great collaborations; the manta gets rid of its blood-suckers and the fish get an easy meal. 

Is there a piece of content you’ve seen that you really like? If so, why did it have an impact?

There was a VR piece where I was hovering above and in the middle of a massive team of wild horses galloping at full speed. As a pure experience, it felt very real and authentic. It was extraordinary, I felt like I was there, in the moment, flying side by side with these wild horses. 

To me, an amazing shot or experience is one element of the story. One way to make the experience compelling is to be surrounded by action or activity and slowly build up to the payoff while keeping the viewers immersed in an amazing environment. It works naturally when you are, for example, swimming surrounded by a dense school of fish, or even swimming through a giant forest of kelp. Both the action and environment is wrapped around you.

But even then, I feel as if something needs to happen. The story needs to take you somewhere. If sharks are attacking a school of fish that you are swimming in, and birds are dive-bombing past you from above to feed on those fish, then you are like, “Wow, I’m in the moment, side-by-side with wild animals, witnessing an extraordinary part of their lives!” 

If you had an endless budget for an immersive project, what would you do?

I think a ‘Planet Earth’-like VR series in the oceans would be phenomenal. It is the one place on Earth that really very few people venture into, and VR is a perfect tool to take people there. Viewers can submerge into that world without the dangers, and without getting wet, while engaging in strong, compelling live action shorts, highlighting some of the greatest creatures on our planet.

Have you ever felt scared filming a 360 video? If so, can you tell us why?

I have been working a lot with tiger sharks as of late. They are one of the known man-eaters in the world of sharks, although I don’t think people are really on the tiger shark’s food list.  


But anytime you work around large predatory animals, you have to be careful and avoid being complacent. On a recent trip, an aggressive shark approached and as I held my ground he went to bite, taking my entire VR Rig into his mouth. It turned out to be an amazing shot. Few people have ever experienced the inside of the mouth of a tiger shark and lived to tell about it. But what was really amazing was when we slowed down the footage, we saw a tiny fish that lived in a pouch in the gums of the tiger shark’s’ jaws. The fish had adapted an amazing strategy. The fish lives with this shark, which is like a huge floating, swimming hotel, complete with first class accommodation, food, protection, and all that he needs to survive. When you see something that you never knew existed it’s extremely inspirational.

Some of the animals in your videos seem like real characters, is there one who sticks in your memory?

I think of animals as people, and people as animals. In my film Arctic Tale, we were with a polar bear cub named Nanu, and a walrus calf named Sila, for 8 years of their lives. It so happened that they were part of the first generation in the arctic to experience a warming world. The abilities they exhibited, and the decisions these two characters made to overcome insurmountable odds, was nothing short of remarkable. This story was meant to inspire people, to look at their own lives, and see how they could make a difference and impact of a global problem we all face. 

In my 3D film Ice Bear, the main character was a teenage polar bear, who hadn’t eaten enough yet to last a normal arctic ice free season. And then suddenly, summer came faster than expected, and the ice broke up even earlier than in previous years. He was alone, forced into the water, into danger; and now had to figure out how to survive a longer hotter summer than ever before. On his own for the first time in his life, and with limited wisdom because he was only three, the strategies that the bear utilised to survive were phenomenal. To me polar bears are so inspirational; they are masters of survival. They are also some of the best swimmers on the planet; to witness their abilities to swim and dive from underwater is extraordinary.

What have you learned from filming animals such as sharks?

Filming predators like sharks actually teaches you about the body language of that animal.  Some patterns are common in all sharks of that species, but others are unique to the individual shark. Like humans, each has their own personality. You can tell when an animal is more curious and you have nothing to worry about, and then there are others you know will bite. Other attributes that are strong in animals, where I wish I could be more like them is patience. Predators are some of the most patient animals on our planet. Their survival depends on it, and that is something for sure we all can learn from. 


Herds of walruses are very social, very human-like in that each walrus has an individual role in their society for the betterment of the herd. I once witnessed and documented an amazing display of a herd of walruses working together to protect their young from a polar bear attacking. The sacrifices were remarkable, and the strategy worked. It made me think that if only humans could drop some of our grievances, and come together on some bigger issues, like climate change, racism, or others, we could do so much more good for our own species. 


In Arctic Tale, when the lights came up at the end of the movie, we were left with great respect and awe for these incredible animals and their abilities to survive. I think movies on some level should have both a literal meaning, and much bigger message; what we take away with us as we leave the theatre. It can move people to act or just sometimes purely inspire, it is a filmmaker’s job. It has the potential to change the way we think and even who we are.

Do you have any advice for other videographers and cinematographers looking to create 360 videos?

Creating content is about expressing your own voice and vision, so you mustn’t hold back in doing this. VR is in the early stages where there are no hard-fast rules and we all have the opportunity to express how we see the world. 

All photo credit goes to Connor Stefanison