Venice-based startup Wemo Media has introduced its new animated underwater environment called "theBlu" that is designed as a global art project and educational platform.
The digital ocean was announced Friday on the giant video billboards in New York's Times Square.
The project was inspired by the planet's oceans and serves as a digital art exhibit of ocean habitats and species. The Huffington Post reports that Wemo Media co-founder Neville Spiteri's close-up, eye-to-eye encounter with a humpback whale made him recommitted to "telling a big story about the ocean."
The underwater environment was created by some of the world's best artists and developers, including Andy Jones, an Academy Award winner for visual effects for 2009's "Avatar" and Kevin Mack, another Oscar visual effects winner for 1998's "What Dreams May Come," according to a press release from Wemo Media.
The application allows users to navigate underwater and access information about species, explore geo-located habitats, tag fish and buy species to grow a personal collection and create a unique experience. It also features photo sharing via Facebook and social activity streams.
The launch version has social exploration across eight ocean habitats, including more than 100 life forms. New habitats and species will be released monthly and 15 "ambassador" species have been sponsored by non-profits to raise awareness and funds for ocean conservation. The inaugural non-profit cause collaborators include: Mission Blue, OceanElders, Oceanic Preservation Society, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and WildAid.
"Scripps Institution of Oceanography is one of the oldest, largest, and most important centers for ocean science research, education and public service in the world, and we are proud to collaborate with the forward-thinking creators of theBlu," said Tony Haymet, director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, a part of UC San Diego, in a statement. "This ocean-inspired project creates the opportunity to educate people around the world, raising the visibility of the ocean and its inhabitants."
Users of theBlu will be able to purchase the "ambassador" species or habitats for their virtual ocean and 25 percent of the sales proceeds will go directly to the non-profit collaborators.
"I am grateful and honored for the meaningful relationships we have established with our non-profit collaborators," Spiteri said in a statement. "theBlu reflects the very special and powerful intersection of art, technology, and social change."
The application is available for download on PCs and Mac and will be available soon on phones, tablets and smart TVs.
Wemo Media was co-founded by Spiteri and Scott Yara and is located on Rose Avenue in Venice.