Virtual Reality professorat Mines ParisTech
Former President and co-founder
of the AFRV (French Association
for Virtual Reality)
- Les interfaces de la réalité virtuelle,
1996 [not translated into English]
- Director and co-author of the collective book Virtual Reality: Concepts and Technologies, 3rd edition in 5 volumes, 2000 pages, 101 auteurs, 2006 - 2009
- Virtual Reality Headsets – A Theoretical and Pragmatic Approach, CRC Press, 2016
- Théorie de la réalité virtuelle, les véritables usages, 2018 [not translated into English]
The oxymoron “Virtual Reality” is making its way back to mainstream media, as it did in the beginning of the nineties, a quarter of century ago! Indeed, the year 2016 wasn’t year 1 for Virtual Reality. But the drop in prices of VR headsets allows us to envision the wide-scale uses of tomorrow. It led VR to a second birth, to democratization. It also brought its lot of effective and suitable applications for the public, but also raises questions on the new uses of VR, mainly in the artistic field. The question of “immersive content writing” is one of them. For artists, a recent community has arisen, reuniting cinema and audiovisual professionals, eager to work on Virtual Reality.
Thanks to new 360° cameras, they can immerse the user in an artificial world. They wish to create a new art form, following two related approaches: either direct “360° videos”, where the user remains a spectator, but with 360° bodily immersion, or create “VR fictions” where the user can interact, becoming a “spect-actor”, called “VRonaut” by Gérard Bernasconi. The VRonaut can act on the progress of the scenario, on their artificial environment, or with virtual characters. These new “cinema experiences” offer immersion and interaction to the user, and are related to the concept of “interactive numerical arts”.
Starting from the end of the eighties, French and international numerical artists used Virtual Reality techniques to create interactive pieces (“The Dandelions” by E. Couchot, M. Bret and M-H Tramus, 1998; “The Other One” by C. Ikam, 1991; etc.). But those numerical and interactive pieces have no pre-written scenario. They only consist in exploring a numerical piece, feeling its aesthetic, its artistic message. Nowadays, for new “cinema experiences”, you have to elaborate and experiment on new approaches to include a scenario in “VR fictions”, with a paradoxical constraint: the director wants the VRonaut to “live the story” written in their scenario, while also giving them some freedom of action and experimentation.
The question of “immersive content writing” must take this into account. In the early nineties, a journalist from French cinema magazine “Les Cahiers du Cinéma” interviewed me, and enthusiastically said “Virtual Reality is the future of cinema!”. Strange words, when you know how antagonistic cinema (where the spectator is passive) and Virtual Reality (where the user is active and interacts with their artificial environment) are! Another journalist getting ahead of himself. Yet I couldn’t imagine, and neither did most specialists, that, twenty years later, 360° cameras could create artificial worlds and immerse the user in shot scenes.
By allowing the user to interact, you enter the realm of Virtual Reality. Conversely to cinema, it’s not about “telling a story”, but rather making someone “live a story”. This new situation raises issues for artists:
• which status does it create for the user?
• how best to exploit Virtual Reality techniques in order to master this new art form?
• how to write a scenario?
My last book, “Theorie de la Réalité Virtuelle” [not translated in English], deals with the behavioral status of the user, and offers perspectives on new VR uses; but it doesn’t deal with the artistic approach of “VR fictions”. In this book by Gérard Bernasconi, experienced director, immersive content writing is dealt with rigorously and effectively. He knows that writing is the core issue of the future of “VR fictions”. Since he found few new ideas to implement, he decided to create his own” lab” and make it available to artists. In this book, which reflects the author’s questioning and ideas, “VR fiction” directors have a deep source of information, which will allow them to develop effectively their pieces and to write relevant “immersive contents”.
This book is more than a source of information. It is an initiation to substantial discussions about the artistic future of Virtual Reality. Among others, the fundamental question that Gérard Bernasconi raises: “Which stable form, if any, will the writing of VR productions take in the future?”… The arrival to a stable form doesn’t seem like an obvious conclusion, because of the complexity of Virtual Reality, its human, technological and artistic dimensions. Its possibilities are almost endless; it is a utopia to want to trap it in a fix art form, like cinematographic art.
- Founder and CEO of VRrOOm,
a media network that distributes
and co-produces Virtual Reality
and Augmented Reality content
- Ex-vice president of THX,
a society that develops reproduction
standards for movie theaters and video games, founded by George Lucas
- Owner of the French Théâtre du Minotaure (where musical events and theatrical plays meet VR activities)
- Author, director and producer of the experimental feature-length film “Cinder”, and of the animated VR interactive experience “The Last Footprint”
Since the dawn of time, human beings have grown through the stories that parents, teachers, friends and even professional “story-tellers” told them. Those stories are social and communitarian in essence; they grew out of human needs – transmission of memory, education practices, political or religious propaganda, or sheer entertainment, and were told to us in a more or less sophisticated manner, throughout millenniums, throughout cultures, throughout civilizations.
Art tells us stories with images, with sculptures, with melodies, with choreography or scenography – and narration is an art too, since any topic can become interesting and even fascinating when told correctly.
A story needs to appeal to emotions and imagination to be effective. As techniques and technologies evolved, narrators always seized new representation and transmission tools to better convey their message, to try out the new possibilities, to subjugate the public. Virtual and Augmented Reality is the most recent of those innovations; artists can use it to offer their audience new, “oversized” emotions.
Gérard Bernasconi’s book is essential, because it will lay the foundations of the narrative techniques and the methodology that those new realities require. I hope, as technology progresses and creators explore new territories, that this book grows richer and becomes the masterful guide of immersive narration, which we still desperately lack.
Even though talent can’t be learned, “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% transpiration,” as Edison said. Since the arrival of headsets destined for the general public, many narrative works have flourished, exploring the medium with more or less inspiration. One of this book’s most important mission will be to bring some answers to ameliorate the overall quality of those VR/AR narrative contents, since, as Bernasconi says, the first question that should come to a creator’s mind when telling a VR or AR story is why they want to do it like this.
We should be wary of the preconceived idea that “immersive” contents, as Virtual Reality is advertised, can, de facto, give the public a feeling of immersion and presence. Technology without “art” (in the broadest sense) is an empty shell. We have all felt magic when listening to a beautiful melody or a daring painting, regardless of how limited those mediums might be; those works had the power to induce strong, intense emotions and open unlimited horizons. For that reason, we wait impatiently for the creative genius that will take us to unknown dimensions, with inspiration and talent – the way all XR contents should be.
Extended reality (XR), which include Virtual, Mixed and Augmented Reality, is still far from being able to hold its promise of total sensory immersion, by calling to the five human senses – hearing, vision, smell, taste and touch. Still, we might get there soon; even though the stories we see in VR and AR are still mainly audiovisual, the new technologies that can apply to XR call more and more to our other senses, which promises more complexity in terms of narrative techniques in the future.
Until we get to a point where Virtual Reality becomes a whole new plane of reality – and I know it will come !- I remind myself of George Lucas’ profession of faith: he was convinced that sound and music constituted half of the cinema experience. When it comes to present-day Virtual Reality, which is too often reduced to an audiovisual experience, I can say without hesitation that sound plays an even bigger role, if only because our vision field is limited, whereas our ears hear at 360°.
However, and it is surprising, the resources dedicated to sound remain meager in VR, maybe because of the legacy of the cinema industry, where image often mattered more than sound, and whose representatives were quick to appropriate the science of immersive arts for highly questionable reasons. In this sense, it seems to me that a conventional cinema director is neither more nor less legitimate than a choreographer, a composer, or a stage director, to take part in the construction of immersive narration – and it might be at this level that a first revolution has to occur.