If a herd of elephants broke their enclosure and charged at you at a regular zoo, it would be considered a catastrophic failure.
At the world’s first ‘Hologram Zoo’, located in Brisbane, Australia, however, it’s one of the unique selling points of a spectacular immersive experience.
Axiom Holographics opened this ground-breaking family attraction in July 2023: an augmented reality zoo that allows visitors to marvel at life-like holograms of animals, suspended in mid-air.
There are dozens of experiences to choose from – you can walk through African savannahs or marvel at Arctic animals, or – well outside the capabilities of a real zoo – journey to prehistoric terrains and be rushed at by a T-Rex. There’s also a 4D element: wind, temperature, and even smells are introduced to heighten the experience.
It’s the brainchild of Axiom CEO, Bruce Dell, who claims that hologram centres ‘[are] the future of entertainment’.
Located in Brisbane, Australia, the Hologram Zoo is a ground-breaking family attraction – an augmented reality zoo that allows visitors to marvel at life-like holograms of animals, suspended in mid-air. There are dozens of experiences to choose from – you can walk through African savannahs, marvel at Arctic animals, or journey to prehistoric terrains
CEO of Axiom Entertainment and creator of the Hologram Zoo Bruce Dell said ‘the biggest application for holograms I think, is in the fact that they are fun – when a giant whale swims past you, everyone goes into a reverence’
Bruce says the zoo allows people to see animals that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to encounter
Axiom Entertainment’s relationship with holograms began with contract work for what Bruce calls ‘boring holograms’, for example hologram maps to allow military strategists an interactive means of assessing war situations (‘like Game of Thrones’, Bruce said, ‘but you can zoom into the map, zoom out, change the angle, stand inside it’).
They also provided hologram representations of the human body for medical science.
Axiom chose a zoo for its first venture into entertainment, not just because they’re inherently fascinating, Bruce said, but ‘it’s like licensed IP (intellectual property) you don’t pay for. If you want Barbie, Hello Kitty, Transformers – those cost lots of money. Whereas with [animals and] dinosaurs, nobody has a copyright on a T Rex.’
The zoo even has a 4D element – wind, temperature, and even smells are introduced to heighten the experience
The Hologram Zoo projects holograms into the air using laser light, and visitors thanks to special position-tracked glasses that follow their gaze around and a powerful graphics engine, perceive the ‘animals’ correctly and in full depth
How does it work? Axiom developed a proprietary ‘depth’ technology voted one of the Best Inventions of 2023 by Time Magazine.
The Hologram Zoo projects holograms into the air using laser light, and visitors thanks to special position-tracked glasses that follow their gaze around and a powerful graphics engine, perceive the ‘animals’ correctly and in full depth – no matter where they move. Quite unlike a 3D movie, which ‘flattens’ when someone watching moves at all.
Everyone in the zoo has a tailored experience. Is it VR? Definitely not.
Bruce said: ‘If I’m watching the Lion King in 3D, and an elephant comes out of the screen, I can’t get up out of my seat and walk around the elephant, I can’t walk around him and see his little tail.’ At Hologram Zoo, you can.
Everyone in the zoo has a tailored experience. Is it VR? Definitely not
The technology developed for and exhibited at Hologram Zoo was voted one of the best inventions of 2023 by Time Magazine
It’s remarkable what the added depth adds to people’s experience, Bruce believes.
He said: ‘People at first think, “Oh, that’s nice, the animals are coming up to the wall.” But then the animals walk through the wall and into the tunnel with them. If you can imagine – a dinosaur putting his head through the wall coming out to eat you. That’s where people go, “Wow, this is a long way ahead of anything I thought I was ever going to see.”
‘[Or] an elephant stampede comes at them through the wall and [some children] are screaming and ducking.
‘And it’s terrible, but I want to see those tears! I want to make them feel something. One of my nieces calls it Uncle Bruce’s house of horror.’
(It is worth noting that while there are some jump scares, the zoo features no violence and is advertised as suitable for all ages.)
Bruce says that Hologram Zoo is in the process of rolling out as a franchise – ‘there will be UK Hologram Zoos by the end of the year’
The zoo has been thoughtfully designed to provide vantage points visitors will otherwise never experience.
Bruce said: ‘You go under what we call a sky roof because we realised that sometimes the best view is actually underneath. To get a sense of a brontosaurus, if you are looking up and he’s walking over the top of you – people are really, really impressed by that view.’
Bruce believes that holograms will loom large in our future, saying they will be at the heart of the next technology war.
He said: ‘The biggest application for holograms I think, is in the fact that they are fun. When a giant whale swims past you everyone goes into a reverence. You see things that you’ve never seen before.’
Holograms won’t integrate into our future in precisely the same way they do in films –in Back to the Future 2, for example, when a giant shark from movie Jaws 19 ‘bites’ Marty McFly, or in Blade Runner 2046, where enormous interactive holograms stalk the landscape.
Bruce explained: ‘Holograms have their limitations. If you want to view them without glasses, a hologram can’t be bigger than a shoebox.’
Bruce anticipates these smaller holograms will be part of our future landscape, though, predicting that we may, for example, see floating hamburgers above our heads in fast-food restaurants to help us choose our order.
Axiom Holographics opened this ground-breaking family attraction in July 2023
He said: ‘That makes everything look a bit more futuristic.’
As with all new technologies, the Hologram Zoo has some sceptics. Some reviews complain that people should be heading outdoors to experience the natural world, rather than inside to a virtual reality. But Bruce dismisses this idea.
He said: ‘I believe [many] zoos do excellent work in conservation. And I like the idea that humans are in touch with real animals.
‘But you can’t see dinosaurs in the zoo. No aquarium has a tank big enough to have the blue whale. Cherry blossoms in snow do not fall on command. The elephants aren’t going to charge you at the zoo. So, we can be a little bit more creative. I think there’s room in this world for both.’
The zoo is designed to entertain visitors of all ages.
Bruce said: ‘Toddlers absolutely love it. I see little children and they’re looking at penguins. And they’re reaching out and they’re touching them. Or baby dinosaurs are hatching … and the children are playing with a little baby brontosaurus.’
Overhead tunnels in the Hologram allow enormous creatures to ‘walk’ over the heads of visitors, allowing a sense of scale. Pictured: An Aptosaurus
Bruce said: ‘Toddlers absolutely love it. I see little children and they’re reaching out and touching them. Or baby dinosaurs are hatching… and the children are playing with a little baby brontosaurus.’ Pictured: A baby Aptosaurus
The elderly have a great time at the zoo, too.
Bruce revealed: ‘We’ve had lots of 80 to 90-year-olds come. They say, ‘This is something we can do. You’re not giving me an Xbox controller. All we do is walk and they say, “This was just amazing.” You send them into the river with the hippopotamuses!’
The technology is proving incredibly popular. In addition to contracts with Airbus and US Corporation Honeywell, and an extremely popular exhibition at the Sydney Museum, Axiom recently worked for Bill Gates. The company designed a hologram aquarium room for his Four Seasons luxury hotel in the Maldives, to allow guests to have the experience of ‘swimming’ with Manta Rays.
And the company is about to take Hologram Zoo global – it is launching as an international franchise.
While Bruce isn’t allowed to specify how many zoos are being launched, or precisely where, it will be in quite a few countries, he intimates, including America and Japan.
If you’re itching to see the hologram in the light-projected flesh, you don’t have to book a flight down under.
‘Keep an eye out,’ Bruce said, ‘we’re opening in different countries. There will be UK Hologram Zoos by the end of the year.’
For more information visit hologramzoo.com.au. The images here are renderings of what the zoo looks like as holograms can’t be actively photographed.