#1099: “The Infinite” Location-Based Experience Expands Cinematic VR Footage of the ISS into an Interactive Exploration

The Infinite is a location-based VR experience that allows you to freely roam around an architectural abstraction of the International Space Station with friends and family, and it has 360 video photospheres that transport you to nearly 60 excerpts and outtakes from the Primetime Emmy Award-winning cinematic VR piece Space Explorers: The ISS Experience. The experience is produced by Infinity Experiences, which is a joint venture between PHI Studio and Felix & Paul Studios that leverages the physical VR exhibition & art curation experience from PHI Studio, and the VR design & 360-degree footage shot in space by Felix & Paul Studios. Overall, The Infinite is really compelling set of immersive experiences that taps into the many moments of awe and wonder from Felix & Paul’s cinematic VR work, but is grounded in a shared social experience with friends and family that also integrates other cutting-edge immersive art.

Structurally, The Infinite starts by walking into a completely white space where cohorts of 14 people walk into a triangle room that plays audio clips to help set the context for entering their space experience. It then moves onto the VR on-boarding section that is finely tuned to yield a maximum throughput of 168 people per hour. It features instructions from docents in to enter an augmented Meta Quest 2 VR headset, and then further virtual instructions helping to guide you through the experience. You can see your immediate party members in VR as an outline of a person with glowing yellow sphere at their heart, and other people within your cohort have blue spheres that only show up if you’re close to them. They have 3 rules to not run, not walk backwards, and to not swing your arms around to help to prevent collisions between people, but rendering other visitors in the experience helps to mitigate that. The experience automatically distributes other users throughout the more than 10,000 square feet tracking volume, which has green lights on the floor that serve as fiducial markers to help maintain consistent tracking.

The VR portion of The Infinite is split into two parts with four 8-minute chapters in the first part, and a 10-minute cinematic VR film in the second part. The bulk of the 35-minute VR experience is walking around an abstracted depiction of the ISS in order to go into one of the nearly 60 cinematic VR clips represented by a glowing photosphere. The four chapters chronologically track the journey of astronauts training other astronauts how to live in space starting with Chapter 1 of Adaptation (14 unique video clips), Progress (14 clips), Unity (13 clips), and concluding with Expansion (11 clips). There’s also 5 video clips outside of the ISS that are available within each chapter. The VR portion of the experience concludes by showing everyone the 10-minute Spacewalkers which is the first-ever, cinematic spacewalk captured in 3D, 360° virtual reality shot outside the ISS on September 12, 2021.

Cohorts of 14 audience members then are taken out of VR and then exit through a series of three pieces of immersive art that feature a Powers of 10 inspired piece about scale, a hall of mirrors wormhole, and then finally a piece of art based on Earth as you look at a virtual window on the ceiling with sunlight beaming down onto the ground.

Overall, it was a really satisfying combination, and a really well thought-out onboarding and offboarding user journey. This experience will likely serve as the first highly-polished VR experience for many people, and it is able to facilitate enough of a shared experience to connect with friends and family, but also enough variation and difference as there nearly 60 clips included but only time to watch a dozen or so.

The Infinite originally opened in Montreal on August 17, 2021, then moved to Houston on December 20, 2021, and recently opened in Seattle-Tacoma, Washington on May 25, 2022. It will opening up in San Francisco for five months later in 2022, followed by Chicago, and then potentially opening in smaller venues after that. Tickets can be bought on their TheInfiniteExperience.world website.

After, I had a chance to go through The Infinite in Seattle-Tacoma on June 2nd, then I was able to break down the experience and process of creating it with Félix Lajeunesse, Co-Founder and a Creative Director of Felix & Paul Studios and Julie Tremblay, Executive Producer at PHI Studio creating VR exhibits for the past five years.


This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So today's episode, I'm going to be covering the location-based experience called The Infinite, which is a co-production between Felix and Paul Studios and Five Studio. So, this is an adaptation of an existing experience that is expanding it into a whole other dimension of an experience. So, it's starting with the Space Explorers, the ISS experience by Felix and Paul, which they've been shooting cinematic virtual reality footage on the International Space Station for the past three years. So, that's a linear piece that they put together. It's about an hour or so footage so far. It's split up into four total chapters, three of which have been released. Adapt advance unite expand is coming here soon And they've mirrored that and they have four chapters of the infinite which is chapter one adaptation progress unity and then expansion and so each of these they have anywhere from 11 to 14 different clips that are unique to each of these different chapters and the clip is essentially a photosphere so you're walking around what looks like a a outlined version of the International Space Station to get the architectural context of the space, but then as you're walking around, you're able to go into a much more high-resolution cinematic virtual reality footage of that location excerpted from Space Explorers. So for me it gave me this experience of being able to walk around this space and then correlate the overall architecture of that space with these individual moments that are being spread out across these four different chapters. The other thing is that there's a whole other social dimension so you can watch it with your friends and family and you can try where they're at within the experience and at the end you watch the whole spacewalk that was released and yeah there's also then a whole series of immersive art that you see as you exit the experience and so overall it's about an hour's worth of experience and you know the tickets range for adults for $48, students at 13 plus around $28 and then children from 8 to 12 $15 and so It's a good immersive experience, especially for people who have never been able to have any immersive experience before because it's space and it's really compelling content. And it's also a unique structure for how they've been able to work up all of this different workflow. They can have a throughput of up to 168 people per hour, which is pretty amazing. So I had a chance to sit down with representatives from both Felix and Paul, as well as Fi Studio to be able to get the backstory for how this project came about and all the specific details for what they had to do in order to pull this experience off. So that's what we're coming on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Felix and Julie happened on Thursday, June 2nd, 2022. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:50.660] Felix Lajeunesse: So my name is Felix Lajeunesse. I'm the co-founder, creative director of Felix and Paul Studios. I've been creating VR projects for a decade now as part of Felix and Paul Studios.

[00:03:01.039] Julie Tremblay: And I'm Julie Tremblay, executive producer at Fi Studio, and I've been working, creating VR exhibits for the past five years.

[00:03:10.173] Kent Bye: Great. Maybe you could each give me a bit more context as your background and your journey into VR.

[00:03:15.676] Felix Lajeunesse: So I started creating VR experiences in 2013, mainly cinematic virtual reality experiences. We initially, Paul, Raphael, and myself, the two co-founders of the studio, created an experience called Strangers with Patrick Watson. And that really, I would say, launched our exploration of VR and our company as well. And over the past decade, we created projects with President Obama, President Clinton, LeBron James, Eminem, Cirque du Soleil, Jurassic World and many others. So we've been exploring fiction. We've been exploring nonfiction. And in 2016, we started a collaboration with NASA that eventually evolved and led us to filming on board the space station for two and a half years. And so we're talking now in the context of the launch of the Infinite, which is really the result of all of that work that was done in space.

[00:04:06.892] Julie Tremblay: And my background is pretty different. I come from the advertising industry. I've been working on producing ads, mostly stunt, for the past 20 years now. So I love the entertainment industry and I came this way through FI, starting to produce these VR exhibitions for FI, looking for what was innovative, what was the new form of storytelling, and I kind of blend into that universe this way.

[00:04:33.072] Kent Bye: OK, yeah, so I've been tracking the evolution of the different pieces that you've been doing over the number of years. And we've had actually previous discussions about this series of the International Space Station that you've been working on. And so maybe you could talk about the moment that you decided to try to turn this into a location-based experience of trying to take these 360 videos and add a whole other spatial context to create a whole immersive experience here with the Infinite.

[00:04:55.938] Felix Lajeunesse: Yeah. So in 2019, January 2019, we started filming on board the ISS after about a year of just preparing the technology to be able to do that, certifying that technology, working with NASA to build all of the processes and workflows to be able to work with astronauts remotely, to be able to download the footage that we were filming. So it was a year of preparation. And then once we started, we worked with the astronauts, captured some scenes, and then got to process that initial footage. And in those first few weeks of production, I think we really realized the power of what we were capturing. And at the time, it felt to us that we could not limit the distribution of that just to the people that had VR headsets at home. It felt that that was, even though it's a fast-growing group of people, it felt too small of a distribution for the scope of this project, and really I think what we wanted to achieve with that project, which is, you know, really get audiences to space, really get them to connect with that story in a deep way, and we felt that that had to get to people, whether or not they have VR headsets, so we had to build some kind of exhibit or a device that would get that experience to different cities and we didn't really know what that meant at the time so we started to think about different ways we could do that and eventually the idea just came that we should create a full-scale space station that is completely virtual and that we could geolocalize the content that we're filming on the real ISS inside of that virtual construct or representation of the space station. And that felt like the right creative for what we were doing. And we were in production in space while we started the development of that idea. But we had never produced large-scale exhibits before, so it was not something that we knew how to do. So we turned to FI, which are our longtime allies, strategic and creative partners at Felix and Paul Studios, and we said, hey, we have this ambition, this is what we want to do, this is the source material, and we believe that we could create this, but we need you guys to partner with us to try to do that. And not only did they come to the table with that expertise, because as Julie just evoked, they had been in the business of creating those super beautiful high-end VR exhibits and touring them around the world. So not only they brought that expertise, but they also brought their sensitivity for contemporary art and offered a way that we could really enhance this experience with art installations and stuff to make it something that could

[00:07:30.478] Kent Bye: Travel as a premium experience all across the United States and then across the world So that was really an iterative process of discovering the format of this show through that collaboration with them And I'd love to hear your perspective as you're coming on on board and if you've had a chance to see any of the footage and then the process of trying to create the whole onboarding and all the logistics of actually facilitating this type of immersive experience

[00:07:55.370] Julie Tremblay: What I would say first is that when Felix and Paul started talking with Phoebe, our founder, about the possibilities of creating that exhibit, for us it was a dream. Because how can you dream of talking about a better IP than the space? You know you can reach a lot of thousands of people. Everybody's passionate about space. Everybody has a story of being a kid and dreaming about stars. And it's the best VR studio in the world. So we knew that we will have access to something that's so exclusive, that's so well done, that we have all the ingredients to create that experience. So starting from there, the narrative journey that we wanted to put together for that story was really to recreate an astronaut journey from their ascension to space to when they come back to Earth. And we've worked with Marie Brassard, which is a screenwriter, actor, conceptor in the Quebec market, mostly well-known in Quebec, but has a creative vision extremely strong. And we work with her to develop that journey and making sure that from the beginning, when people enter the space until the end, that it was continuously storyline and story world that we were emphasizing on.

[00:09:10.102] Kent Bye: I'd love to hear a little bit more of an expansion of this structure because I've been able to see all the individual 360 videos that you've done and it felt like it for each of those you're able to track individuals as they're going through and different storylines and themes across that but this felt like little excerpts of that but in a way that allowed me to have a much better understanding of the spatial context of being able to walk around and to understand, oh, this was shot here, this was shot here. Because for me, when I watch that 360 video, all of those compartments look fairly similar, and it's hard for me to understand where they're located in the context of the International Space Station. And so after seeing this experience, I have a much better idea of the overall layout of the space. But maybe you could just talk about the way that you were able to take those existing structures and then translate this into more of a spatial structure.

[00:09:56.398] Felix Lajeunesse: So when we set out to create Space Explorers, the ISS Experience, which is the series that people can access going on the Metastore for free and see those episodes. So there's a series of four times 30-minute episodes. When we initially created the architecture for that story, what we wanted to do was build it as the evolution of a journey. that goes from adapting to life in space, to working on the space station, to becoming a member of a family with the other astronauts, you know, and feeling that sense of unity, to eventually reaching that state of maturity where you can start to dream about the next steps in human space flight and reflect on the role of space exploration in regards to our culture down on Earth. And so that was really the psychological and emotional journey that we wanted to find with our astronauts. So we documented them from the moment they arrive on the space station, through their phase of adaptation, through their work, through their communion as a group, and preparing for the return with that transformed perspective, you know, going back to Earth. And so we did that with 10 different astronauts over several expeditions. And so we decided to build a series in a chronological way. So it's very chronological. It begins with Expedition 58, and then you see them training Expedition 59, and then you see them training 60, and then 60 trains 61, and then eventually arrives SpaceX Crew 1, and then eventually arrives SpaceX Crew 2. So it really captures close to three years of continuous story of astronauts, training astronauts, training astronauts in space. And so that was the linear narrative that we wanted to get out of ISS experience. But that, to your point, is a narrative logic. And when we started to look at how we would bring that as part of the infinite, we decided to, to a certain extent, let go of the narrative logic and go with a geographic logic. So what we did is we broke down those content that were filmed in the different modules of the International Space Station. And so we thought about, OK, all of those modules, let's say the Japanese modules, this is where we actually filmed all of those scenes. And so you have the US laboratory. This is where we filmed all of those scenes. So we started to organize the different scenes in a geo-specific way. And then once we did that, we felt a need to actually still have the sense of a narrative evolution inside of that. And we also wanted to avoid populating a module with too much content. So we needed that evolving story to be able to change the content progressively. So we actually went back to the story structure that we had designed for ISS Experience, which is basically the four titles of the episode, Adapt, and then after that is the Work, and then the Unity, and then the fourth one, which I... the departure, but the way we framed it was expand. So the idea of the expansion. So that is really that narrative structure that we actually brought back and we named the chapters of The Infinite, the four different chapters, according to those four phases of the story. So when you watch the experience, when you watch The Infinite from beginning to end, you still have a sense of a narrative evolution But it turns out that since there are way more content available than what you will have time to see, you're not going to have the same journey than the person that came with you, which is completely different than if you watch it as a pre-baked, pre-conceived episode as part of ISIS experience, in which case everybody gets the same journey.

[00:13:26.623] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'd love to hear a little bit more context of the onboarding and the offboarding because I feel like that's such a key part of location-based experiences and I felt like that this had a lot of narrative components that help to set the larger context that you're going into this and then you walk around and then you have an experience of the spacewalk film, and then you are able to see three different art pieces that have different immersive art that is really evocative within its own right. So there seems to be different phases of the overall user journey. So maybe you could just talk about what you were trying to do in terms of not only take care of all the logistics, but also think about the experiential aspect of trying to give aspects of people building anticipation or giving some context, but also deal with all the logistical technical stuff at the same time.

[00:14:08.985] Julie Tremblay: Yeah, that's a pretty big challenge. Of course, we want to make sure that people are ready to experiment what they will do, that they have all the tools to be able to do it. And you want to do it with some poetry to it. So it was important for us to start with this monumental impact when you arrive in the scene. So these big white walls with the light, it's bigger than nature, it brings you to the space mindset. At the beginning, for us, it was important also to capitalize on the feeling that you have when you left everything behind. So we decided to play with an audio voice from different astronauts that bring you into that mindset of how they feel when they're ready to take off. And then you will enter this onboarding zone, which is probably the most challenging and the hot spot of the experience, the onboarding, because you have a timing and you need to make sure it's a Pulse experience, that we are able to really let 14 people go through every five minutes. So you need to make sure that the timing they put their headsets on, that it's simplified, that they know how to put it, that they have the right instructions to do it. And we changed it a little bit in the beginning because in Montreal there was no tutorial in the experience. So it was all the mediator that was briefing you on what you have to do inside. And we found in Montreal that it was a little bit inconsistent because sometimes instructions will be really well done and sometimes people will forget to tell you something quite important. So we've decided with Felix and Paul to really recreate that inside the headsets with the tutorial. So now we make sure that everybody has the right information to be able to enjoy it. But since it's time, it's really important that you keep the pace. And if you have any problem at the onboarding when you're loading the app, you're recreating an effect at the end. So flow is extremely important. And then when people are taking their headset out of that experience, they are emotive, you know, they've just experienced the first spacewalk. Most of the people need a time to digest what they just experienced, take a breathe. So you don't want to be too aggressive on the outboarding. You want to make sure that you respect the pace of every visitors and you hallow them for that moment. We really wanted to follow that with another strong aspect of the installation with Ryoji Ikeda. And you have this music of Ryoji that's really... Even when you're in the VR, you can still hear it a little bit, so that it makes sure that it's more fluid into the experience. The Ryoji Ikeda piece, it's also about the universe. It's really looking into different... There's 20 scales of the universe that are explored in this piece, from really the microscopic to the macroscopic. And then you're going to experience the wormhole, which is really a feeling of what it is to come back to Earth, to arrive at the final scene where you're back to Earth and you just have this beam of light that show you your home.

[00:17:03.970] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's really quite beautiful. And, you know, as you're saying, every five minutes, 14 people, you do the math and that's basically around like 98 people. It's a 35... 168 an hour. Oh, wow. 168 an hour.

[00:17:16.860] Julie Tremblay: Okay, so that's quite... So, like, it's a 35-minute experience, so, like, around... It's a 35-minute experience in VR, but when you calculate, you know, people waiting at the beginning, the liftoff experience, Ryoji Ikeda is a 10-minute piece, so it's about a 50 to 55-minute experience overall.

[00:17:36.692] Kent Bye: Okay. So I guess the challenge of trying to organize people so they don't run into each other, I had the opportunity to see it during the press time, so it wasn't very crowded, but what I noticed is that as I was going in with my wife, she had a golden circle around her heart, a sphere around her heart, and everybody else was blue, so I knew who I was with, but also, there's a space that I would imagine that you, because it's VR, you have the potential to potentially map over the International Space Station Separately to maybe control around the how do you prevent people from running into each other? I mean you're doing some level of pass through and tracking other people But maybe just talk about the tech that you had to do in order to actually pull that off

[00:18:17.335] Felix Lajeunesse: So everything that you see in The Infinite is the result of prototyping. So none of what you've experienced was figured out from the start. We actually had in Montreal a very large playground to be able to create that show so we could go there and create in space, in situ, in context to figure out those problems because that was the first VR experience of that scale with that kind of throughput of people that was made. A lot of different experiences had been made in the past environments, but not with that kind of high throughput. So the big issue that we saw coming was conflict between people that bump into each other or creating an environment where you see so many people that it becomes a source of distraction for you, the viewer. And so we came up with a series of rules through the phase of prototyping that we implemented. The first one was that everybody is going to have an avatar that looks the same. It's the same shape. It's like a sort of gender neutral shape. And then we decided for a color code. The people that are in your group, let's say you come as a group of four. So you get connected, the four of you, as warm-colored avatar. So everybody sees sort of a glowing star in the middle of their heart, and that radiates on the shape of their avatar. And so they will all be warm-colored in your group, and everybody else that you encounter during your experience is going to be blue-colored. So it's super simple. But it works. And then the other problem we had was if you see too many people, then effectively that becomes a source of distraction. So we created a zone of influence around you that from a certain distance, all the others, the people that are not in your group, they disappear. You don't see them, but you just see them appearing if they come close to you when it matters so that you avoid to have contacts. But the people that are in your group, the warm colored avatars, they stay visible even if they're super far away. So it gives that very strange sense that even though you might be four in your group inside of 150 people that are strangers, it still feels super intimate because you always see where your others are, you know, the people in your group, and you feel that sense of connection with them even though they might be 100 foot away exploring another part of the station. It's also pretty interesting to see that when you have families, we have a lot of families that come and see the show, you get to see small avatars. We also have wheelchair avatars, so it's a very safe environment for people to explore. And I think we're pretty proud of that, because that creates the conditions for smooth, safe experience, and then it creates the opportunity for a real emotional connection to the content, because your mind can really be there, you can experience presence without filters when you feel safe.

[00:21:00.215] Kent Bye: You mentioned that there was a 14 people on a cohort So I went in with a group and I saw other people that had the blue avatars and then the warm How do you manage like if you have 168 over that whole time period you to pick out? Specific regions of that big space to direct people towards or do you kind of have everybody? How do you kind of spread people out in a way that doesn't have everybody kind of stomping on each other for the whole time? Yeah

[00:21:23.087] Felix Lajeunesse: So the space station itself is a very strange looking building in terms of shape. It looks like a capital H more or less. And this atypical construct, our build, is a virtual build inside of our show. So what we do is we actually stack different space stations in the physical space that we have. So think about that capital H. positioned vertically, positioned horizontally, or sometimes in diagonal. And so when the experience begins, everybody sees the space station up there in the sky as a beautiful silhouette against northern lights. You get that introduction, that large shot, let's say, on the space station. And then as it comes down, it's going to take a different orientation for different people. But as a viewer, you're not aware of that. You think that everybody else sees the same thing as you do. But it turns out that it's not the case. And so, therefore, we get to spread people across the space based on that. So that's the advantage of working with those kind of gigantic holodecks instead of working in a physical world with real constraints, is that you can recalibrate the logic of where things are in that world to spread people and reduce the density of humans inside of a space.

[00:22:35.087] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I'd love to hear a little bit more about the logistics in terms of we're in the middle of COVID, it's a pandemic. And so just even if that wasn't happening, you'd still need to have like the hygiene and the cleansing. And so there seems to be a pretty good workflow in terms of having the headsets there that you pick up, you know, that they're charged up and that you are able to, once you've done, then you put them back onto a conveyor belt and they kind of are taken away. And so maybe you could talk about some of the challenges of trying to figure out all the other logistics of how to produce an event like this that is able to actually get the headsets technically ready, but also onboard people and then have them be able to have this whole circle so that you can keep everything flowing.

[00:23:14.927] Julie Tremblay: I would say that there are 16 employees operator working on a shift to welcome those guests. And part of that is what I call behind the UV station where everything is sanitized. You have around four people that are there just cleaning the headsets, recharging the headsets, making sure they have enough time that the battery is still good before they relaunch the application and put them back in service. And to operate the show, we have 400 headsets to be able to welcome this 168 people an hour. So it required a lot of logistical steps for sure to make sure. We have create new role that we didn't have in the other exhibit with this show. For example, now we have people that we are working at the onboarding. We've developed a system also where with the iPad, they can know exactly what's happening in the headsets of the visitors. So if you have a problem, you raise your hand, we will know which content you've seen, which content was not working, why it was not working, and how we can assist you to really bring you back to your experience as quickly as possible. So we call them now the VR guardian. They are monitoring the floor, making sure that all the visitors are having an optimal experience. And you will also have one person that is dedicated to the seating area to make sure, you know, even if we found it extremely clear where is your seat, you always have some visitors that are not too sure if there's really a seat, if they can sit down. So you need to accompany them in that area as well. And for the other zone of the experience, we will have Guardian as well, just to monitor and making sure the show goes well. So I would say that the Nairre de la Guerre, how could I say that? Like the war zone area is really like the UV station, where when we are sold out, the days that we are sold out, there's a lot of actions going on there. And we've also have these headsets that at one point, you know, you need to tear the app down quickly because you're going to have too much headsets on your network. So this is all of the details that we need to monitor with this kind of a large-scale experience.

[00:25:28.569] Kent Bye: Yeah, I've got one more technical question, one more question about the content. So, technically, the room is pretty dark. I mean, you don't see a lot of lights, and so you have a bunch of, like, green lights on the floor, and then some sort of tracking that's on the front of the Oculus Quest 2 that has a nice headset, nice headphones, with the QR codes, you know, all kind of, like, streamlined. But how are you tracking everything? And maybe you could talk about if those lights on the floor are helping to help do all the tracking, and what technically are you doing there?

[00:25:55.494] Julie Tremblay: It's a big QR code. The floor is a really huge QR code. So you have a camera on your headset that's really tracking and decoding the code and making sure they're sending you the right content at the right moment.

[00:26:09.097] Kent Bye: Okay. And then I guess the other thing that I noticed is that as you're kind of ending of a chapter, everything kind of starts to move away and then it kind of has like a cut scene in some ways where you're able to move everything around. Is that, is that something that everybody in a cohort is seeing at the same time?

[00:26:23.875] Felix Lajeunesse: Yeah, so going back to the story structure, we divided the flow of the 35 minute experiences into four times, approximately four times eight minutes, more or less. And so at the beginning and end of each chapter, there is a transitional moment where you see the sun rising and setting. And there's a voice of an astronaut, a testimony that was captured in space that really sets the tone and the theme of the upcoming chapter. And so during that moment the space station disappears and we use that opportunity to reposition the space station strategically to accommodate for the next wave of people that are coming into the experience. So it's a very smooth way and very few people notice that they're actually being redirected into space. It's done in a very subconscious way because we're bringing the audience's attention to what the astronauts are talking about, to the beautiful sunrise and sunset, but we're actually helping ourselves in the meantime by making those changes to the layout. And so that's how we build the experience. And then between Chapter 2 and Chapter 3, the middle moment is basically an entracte or intermission, you know, and we wanted to kind of in a way pay homage to intermissions in old cinema from the early 20th century. This very strange practice and beautiful at the same time practice that films had at the time to just stop, you know, for a minute in the middle to give audiences a break and then re-engage with the story. I was always fascinated with that so we wanted to create our version of an intermission right in the middle of this experience and so we created what we call the Cosmic Ballet. And it's just a pure moment of contemplation where a space station goes and positions itself right in front of the sun path. And so you get that beautiful moment of seeing all of the planets of the solar system. There's nothing else to process. It's just being in that moment. It's poetic. It's lyrical. And there's music. And then, boom, you're out of the intermission and back into the story. So that was the way we looked at that.

[00:28:23.160] Kent Bye: Yeah, I really enjoyed those pieces, particularly having seen a lot of the International Space Station, Space Explorers pieces. And the other piece of technical feedback that I would give, I guess, is that the first couple of 360 video photospheres that I jump into, I think I moved my body out of position, so then it stopped, and then there was no way for me to go back in, because I kind of accidentally exited it, because I was just wanting to move around, but I think I probably moved my body. But by the end, I kind of figured out how to keep more centered, not move out of a certain radius to keep it in there. But I became more interested in trying to map out the 360 photo spheres with the larger mapping of the full space station because I've seen a number of the clips. He said there may be around 20% of the clips that are not been shown before. But I found that it was like an exploration of trying to do this spatial mapping of these different locations. And I found that that was really fun to be able to explore, but then to see a low fidelity representation of that spatial context, but then to go in the full version and to map out and kind of remember different scenes that I'd seen, but to be able to do that mapping in my own mind.

[00:29:26.162] Felix Lajeunesse: Yeah, I can say something to that. So the space station is one of the most crowded buildings ever made by humans. It's an incredibly packed with detailed space because there are four walls basically that are all packed with functionalities, devices, computers, racks, and so there's details everywhere. to the extent that it's overwhelming. And filming that content and capturing those 360 3D, there is so much information that you could literally spend, you know, if a shot is a minute, you could spend a whole minute just watching the ceiling and a whole minute just watching the floor. And there's so many things to look at. So when we thought about creating that virtual space station, that life-size space station, we just felt that we needed a drastic contrast in regards to the 360 3D video that are hyper-realistic. Stylistically, we just decided to go with like super minimalistic design of the 3D station. So it's beautiful, the rendering is beautiful, it's real-time rendered, but we made it in a simple shading, no colors, and semi-transparent. We simplified it to the minimum so that when you go from the virtual space station to activating an orb that will reveal a 360 3D video, you get that shock of Yes, the environment looks the same because it's the same build and geometry and perspective, but suddenly all the details appear and there's like a zillion tons of details that appear. So it creates that nice modulation between minimalistic to hyper-realistic that contributes into crafting an emotional experience for the viewer that has modulations, you know, and so that was an important part of the design.

[00:31:05.431] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you each think is the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?

[00:31:15.451] Felix Lajeunesse: Look, you know, we've been profoundly convinced for the past 10 years that that was a medium, at least for us, that would become what we do with our lives, with our time on this earth, developing that medium, exploring that medium. What I've seen in the last 10 years is a complete transformation of this medium being something extremely niche and something that, you know, 10 years ago we were just a community of creators that everybody knew each other and it was like a very small world and I started with that and I've seen that transforming into today where we have a show that is on the road, that is profitable, where you have hundreds of thousands of people per city that comes and see the show. So it evolved from being something very niche to an actual viable industry where you can tell powerful stories and embark great partners like NASA and astronauts and international astronauts, so convince people all around the world to embark on projects like that. So I've seen that growth, that extraordinary growth, and that growth was also reflected in the scale of the projects that we decided to explore and take upon. We started in the living room of a musician, you know, in Montreal, And we ended up doing three years of filming in space and capturing the first ever spacewalk in cinematic virtual reality. So the ambition keeps growing. So when I look into the future, I just see that curve continuing, you know, to expand. And I'm super excited about the future of this medium as an art form, but also as an industry. And I just, yeah, every day just validates that for me that it's what we have to do, you know.

[00:32:51.820] Julie Tremblay: I'm really excited me to continue creating experience that will really blur the lines between the physical and the virtual and see, you know, where we can go and make sure that we trick our mind to what's real and what's not real.

[00:33:04.271] Kent Bye: Awesome. Is there anything else that's left and says like to say to the immersive community? I know you've had in Montreal and Houston now in Seattle, I don't know if you have future plans or anything else that you'd like to point people towards.

[00:33:16.553] Julie Tremblay: Yeah, after Seattle, we're going to be moving to San Francisco for a five-month run, and then after we're going to Chicago. And we're also working on a new format as well, because the show here is a premium show, it's pretty big. So looking at a different format that will accommodate smaller venues as well.

[00:33:37.039] Felix Lajeunesse: Yeah, I really wish that if people have seen Space Explorers, the ISIS experience in VR on headset, don't think that you've seen the infinite, is what I would like to say. I would really encourage people, I'm guessing that a lot of people who listen to you might be in the San Francisco area, so the show's gonna be there for six months. I think that's a great opportunity. If you're friends with me, just reach out, I'll get you in for free. If I don't know you, then you'll have to pay.

[00:34:02.965] Kent Bye: Yeah, I have to say after seeing both now, I feel like that there is a qualitative difference in terms of having that full spatial experience. And plus the onboarding and the offboarding and all the art that you have as well. I think it's a whole experience, especially if you do it with other people. It's something to kind of share with friends or family as well. So Felix and Julie, thank you so much for joining me today on the podcast to help break down the infinite.

[00:34:22.500] Felix Lajeunesse: Thank you. Thanks for having us.

[00:34:24.201] Julie Tremblay: Thank you for being here with us today.

[00:34:26.601] Kent Bye: So that was Felix Lajeunesse. He's a co-founder and creative director of Felix & Paul Studios, as well as the creative and artistic director of The Infinite, as well as Julie Chombley. She's an executive producer at Fi Studio, who's been creating VR exhibits for the past five years. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, Well, overall, the experience of The Infinite was, I think, really well put together. There's just a lot of really compelling content that I think will appeal for a wide range of different people who may not be into VR at all, but I think it's just super compelling to be able to go into space. You know, for people who have already seen the Space Explorers ISS experience, I think there are a lot of other additional elements that you're getting here in terms of being able to have this experience of wandering around and being able to correlate where each of these different clips are happening. And it's a different narrative structure as well, and so it has a different vibe. If there's any one complaint that I would have, it's just that there's around 57 total of these little excerpts, and it would probably take you three or four or five times to go through the entire experience just to try to see everything. literally impossible to see everything, and so you kind of have to pick and choose which one of the 11 to 14 of the unique photospheres that you want to see. And then there's five that are external to the ISS that are in each of the individual chapters. So 57 total of these little sections, 14 in both the first and second chapter of adaptation and progress, 13 in the third chapter of unity, and then the fourth chapter of expansion has 11 total of those photospheres. So it's focusing in on those themes of adaptation, progress, unity, and expansion, and it's shot chronologically. So as you go through the experience, then you're seeing footage that is from the 58th, all of the 62nd, 63rd International Space Station missions. They've been shooting it since like 2019 or so. They shot the actual spacewalk on September 12th, 2021, and then a month later showed some of the initial footage at Connect 2021. So this is a showing in Seattle. It's going to be going to other cities. It's going to be going to San Francisco. And like I said, you know, the overall my experience was that there's so many different awe-inspiring moments within the footage that they're shooting here. And especially I just love seeing the footage from the outside as well. And for me, like each of the different compartments within the International Space Station is so detailed and it's kind of difficult to know where you're at when you're watching it more of a cinematic linear experience of it. And so this gave me an opportunity to be able to walk around and give a little bit more of an understanding of the spatial context. Yeah, I would have liked a little bit more ability to go back and forth quickly in terms of 360 photo spheres, but maybe that's just me because I've seen some of the footage already and I'm just trying to explore what's new and different. You know, I was moving around quite a bit of the space and trying to get a sense of the overall architecture of the International Space Station. So that was cool to be able to walk around in such a huge space and then have it correlated to the International Space Station and to walk away with it with a little bit better understanding of how things were laid out. And they have a map outside of the experience that shows each of the different chapters and the names of each of those different compartments, as well as how many of the segments that they have in each of those sections. So, yeah, really fascinating just to hear about their own process. Felix said, when I started, they didn't have all this figured out. They had to really iterate and try to figure out how to make all this happen. And they have some of these interstitial transitions. That's the other thing in terms of the things that are new or the transitions between each of the different chapters from Habitation to progress to unity expansion. There's these little vignettes that are really really well done. I quite enjoyed those as well That's something that's also new to the experience. And yeah, if you haven't seen the spacewalk footage as well Then that's definitely worth watching on its own right and then as you leave the experience There's three different immersive art experiences that are really quite engaging and compelling as well. The first one is exploring Fractal understandings of you know almost like powers of ten where they're looking at different scales of different things so going for the micro scale and going in between a lot of those different scales of representation and you're looking down into a mirror and You're seeing the reflections on the ceiling so it feels like you're kind of looking to a portal but it gives you this additional perspective that I don't know I just found it really compelling because you're I Seeing more 3d spatial effects as you look into the mirror versus if you looked up straight onto the ceiling So it actually became a little bit more of a comfortable experience to look down into the mirror Which created this portal like experience because everyone's standing around this mirror and all the lights are reflecting everything So it's really quite compelling Immersive art and you walk through kind of like a hall of mirrors that gives you this wormhole effect And then you have at the end this experience of like a window that is having this sunlight that's shining down so you're kind of metaphorically going back from space down into this wormhole back into the earth and then you exit the experience so overall just really well thought out and well produced and yeah it's just a fun experience to see with your friends and family so if you want to go see a really engaging immersive experience I definitely recommend going to check out the Infinite Check their website that is listed down below there on Twitter at the infinite AXP the infinite experience They're gonna be going to different cities around the world. They're gonna have different scales and sizes and so the one that they're doing now is a really big scales and I think they're gonna be having more smaller venues that can maybe have less throughput but be able to go into more places because it does require quite a large footprint and overhead to be able to run everything that they're doing there at the Seattle Tacoma version which I think is the same that was at Houston as well as in Montreal and they've been iterating and changing and adapting as things have gone on as well, so anyway, definitely worth checking out and I'm really glad I had a chance to check it out and Yeah, that's all that I have for today And I just wanted to thank you for listening to the voices of VR podcast And if you enjoy the podcast and please do spread the word tell your friends and consider becoming a member of the patreon This is a this is support a podcast and I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring this coverage So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voice VR. Thanks listening

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