#1191: Closing the Distribution Gap: Atlas V’s Astrea Aims to Port, Publish, & Market the Best of Immersive Stories

Astrea is the publishing arm of Atlas V that aims to close the current gap in distribution for immersive stories that debut on the film festival circuit, but then often don’t make it wider distribution. There’s a lot of optimization, porting, and marketing involved in this process, and I had a chance to catch up with Astrea’s head of distribution Danielle Giroux to talk about their curation and publishing process as well as some selections from their full lineup. We also talk about other distribution options for immersive stories including projection mapped experiences and location-based entertainment. Distribution is one of the biggest open problems for these immersive stories, and Giroux talks about how the festival debut is just the very beginning of the life cycle for an immersive story and how they’re taking a bespoke process for each story that’s in their line-up.

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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. It's a podcast that looks at the future of spatial computing, as well as the structures and forms of immersive storytelling. You can support the podcast at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. So today's episode of me covering Estrella, which is coming out of Atlas five, which is out of France. They've been producing a lot of really amazing immersive stories. And as I've been producing these immersive stories, the distribution question of, you know, how to get these pieces out into the world, whether it's through location based experiences or whether it's through these different distribution platforms from Oculus and five port and. Pico, all these emerging ecosystems would get distribution across all these different platforms. They need to do this big translation a lot of times. These immersive stories are showing at these festivals. They need to be optimized and converted from PC VR into these mobile experiences for the MetaQuest and these other standalone headsets. So there's a lot of barriers for seeing the types of pieces that we're talking about here at these festivals like South by Southwest, Tribeca, Sundance, Venice Immersive, and if a doc lab You know, sometimes some of these pieces will make a festival run, and sometimes there'll be experiences that only show there and never are shown again. But Estrella is trying to represent some of what they see as the best of of these immersive stories that have been showing at these immersive festivals over the last number of years. And I think around this point, they have maybe 20% of those that are more widely available. And so they're in this deep, long process of trying to optimize and create their strategies for getting these immersive stories out into the wider world. whether it's through these different translations into projection mapping or the location-based experiences or in all these different distribution outlets. And so they're really at the forefront of trying to figure out a lot of these different problems. So we'll be covering all that and more on today's episode of the WSYS VR podcast. So this interview with Danielle happened on Monday, March 13th, 2023 at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:09.158] Danielle Giroux: My name's Danielle, and I'm head of distribution at Astraea, which is the third branch of Atlas 5, dedicated to the distribution of immersive storytelling, publishing, and localization, and porting, and marketing. And also, we work with getting it out there in physical spaces as well.

[00:02:28.645] Kent Bye: Maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into VR.

[00:02:32.908] Danielle Giroux: So the interesting thing about Atlas 5 is that they grow from within. So I connected with Antoine, Carol and Fred and Arnaud and Pierre about going on four years ago and started out really with Antoine and very shortly after the pandemic hit. So I was originally brought on to represent their work at festivals. So to go in person and that was kind of my background. more on the contemporary art side, but fairs and events. And then when the pandemic hit, I was still on the team. And so Antoine and I, every day, pretty much during the pandemic, were having meetings and was doing missions and looking into the published works. And the question was, well, VR is out there and people have headsets. How can we make the works that are published or the works that are not yet published touch audiences? So what's going on in the dashboard of the different platforms that exist already? And how can we optimize that? And just really, I didn't know anything about that side of things. I wasn't coming from a digital publishing or marketing background. But at the time we had nothing else to do. So it was really exciting and really interesting. So it was kind of like a crash course. I remember 8 to 10 hours a day just like getting into on my couch all these different things, getting into Reddit, just trying to understand what this world meant. But interestingly enough, from the consumer perspective, because I wasn't going to festivals, I didn't know about the industry, I only knew about what people were doing online or I was trying to find out what they were doing online. So that was kind of like the plunge into things. And then as things opened up, it became clear that, yeah, I mean, Antoine, he had always wanted to start a distribution branch, I guess, from the stories that they've said that it was, you know, 2019 going around, like many of the creators having these discussions about how frustrating it was because they were making things and it wasn't going out. And so, From what I've heard at that time, he was already talking about, oh, we're going to start a distribution branch. But it was kind of a stretch. He had to convince the others, because there's four founders of Atlas. So they really work on a committee, four-brain model. And so he planted the seed. And then they were like, fine, start with someone, but just one, and just temporary. And then things started to work, not in the way that it's like a bursting dam and the water flows, but in the way that a trickle, which you can see, leads to other things. And so that's really, yeah, I mean, my hats have changed many times over. I was managing the festivals and there for all of the virtual, you know, Venice and Tribeca and South By and Kaohsiung and how it was really fascinating to meet people virtually in these panels. And again, coming from a different perspective, And the past year and a half, as things have opened up, I've been going to different events. My first one was Cibersauce in Halle. And it was normally Fred who was supposed to go there representing Spheres, but he said, you go. And then there was also a French delegation and we went to the Kiek Festival in Belgium. And just starting off small and being able to understand what's happening bit by bit. And the past, you know, six months it's been these larger festivals incrementally, which have been really eye-opening. So, you know, starting with Tribeca and then Venice and now South by, and in between that there was also Kaohsiung, which is smaller, but it was really, really insightful. Every festival has been giving a more view on what's happening and the need for what we're doing. and is helping with the vision, which I think, I know Antoine and Fred and Arnaud and Pierre have had this in mind. So, yeah, that's, I guess, the background up until now.

[00:06:37.017] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I guess from my perspective, what I've seen is that you have Meta being a really dominant player in the industry, where they've been really focused on gaming. They've had certain aspects of storytelling, but they haven't had, I guess, as much of a excitement to take a lot of the different types of experiences that are shown at these festivals. sometimes they're like a PC VR experience that needs a lot of like back end and a lot of these builds that are happening at these festivals are kind of like the festival builds that were kind of like duct tape prototype working for one specific context but not necessarily like optimized to be working on a variety of different machines or even like optimized on mobile platforms and so you have a lot of amazing stories that were happening but yet there was a closed loop ecosystem that I see that happens with new technology becomes available artists push the limits of what's possible with that technology to be able to tell stories. You know, they have to have money and resources to be able to do that, which is another vector. But then eventually there's the distribution channels and the film festivals, you know, everything from like Sundance and Tribeca and South by Southwest and Venice Film Festival, Kaohsiung Film Festival, as well as like IFADocLab. You have all of these different international and regional festivals that are showing these works. And then you see the audiences get to see that and you have this closed feedback loop. But then to go into the next phase of actually taking those experiences and getting out to the mass consumer audience, you have the location based experiences that you're able to do that and go through the museum route to have an outlet for some of these different immersive stories. But with the pandemic, that all got shut down. So you're kind of left with all these artists and creators that are creating these amazing pieces of work. they may be showing at these different festivals, especially maybe like a virtual festival, and then they kind of disappear. And it sounds like Atlas 5 was on the frontiers of making these different pieces and trying to solve some of these problems that they themselves were facing, but also trying to help other people solve that problem of getting these amazing pieces of immersive stories out into the hands of the broader public. So, what are the vectors and the channels that you're looking at to be able to actually do that?

[00:08:33.834] Danielle Giroux: Yeah, so that's a great overview. There's a lot of challenges with every single pipeline that exists right now. But at the same time, there are different, as you said, channels and pipelines. So publishing is an important pipeline. The glass ceiling is, of course, it makes sense in some ways that Meta is I mean, if we take a step back, we can probably see that their hands are tied in a certain way as well, because they're a big company, they need to have an answer to shareholders. I don't know exactly how Meta works, but at the same time, we can understand that they need to be very strategic, and everything they're doing is a bit of a risk when it comes to content. So these independent, artistic explorations of storytelling in the medium, which are so crucial to the advancement of this art form, They can't take precedent in their strategy at this point. So for us, what we're seeing is there's some power in collectivity. Because the audience, there are people that are interested in this content, they just don't know about it and they just can't reach it. So our way of doing this is to work with existing tools, So Steam and App Lab and yes, and Viveport, and any new newcomer on the scene that has their hardware and their platform and is seriously investing in content and reaching the public. And to use those tools of the platforms to publish. So it sounds easy, it sounds like, okay, publish, but there's like, As you said, the builds are not super ready, usually. If they're not aligned with some meta or another investor, there's different things that need to happen so that it gets up to speed. So our approach to this is multi-level. The first is with these really strong storytelling pieces, what strings can we pull to help support the team to find the funding? So for example, End of Night. We added that to the catalog. That was the winner of Venice in 2021 by David Adler and Macropole, a very strong storytelling piece, long format, epic. You know more about the tech than I do, but I know they did a huge amount of volumetric capture and all these things. And the thing is the build, what you need to make it so that it runs is you need a heavy duty, hefty computer. So what we did is we worked with Macropole to approach the DFI, the Danish Film Institute, with a very clear, this is what we're going to do, you've already invested so much. So how about just a little bit more so then we can make it so it's up to a certain standard. So now that's going to be coming out this spring on App Lab. It will be on App Lab, which yes, there's not a lot of traffic, but that's the second tier of what we're doing. So we find that we work with the team that we can try and pull the strings we can to get it ported or optimized, whatever we can do. It's a lot of pivoting. Every project has a different strategy. There's no blanket statement for anything. And I'm just talking about publishing, which is just one format of the experiences, and really publishing sick stuff, because we're not really publishing 360. 360 is a different, I could talk about that, but I'll stay on track with the publishing side of things. So with the next step is how do we harness the traffic of audiences? So we developed with Albion, the studio of Atlas 5, a proprietary code that can be rather simply integrated into a build. So then at the end of the experience, it recommends you another storytelling experience. This is something that exists in YouTube and Netflix and other models of entertainment. If you like this, maybe you'll like this. And it will bring you to the store page of another published build. So that's really great because that also can help us in the long run appeal, we can harness the traffic, we can understand what's happening, who likes the content, what. I mean, users, the community of VR fans at home that enjoy storytelling, are quite vocal. They're small, but they're vocal and they show support. You know, Rough Talk VR, they're doing their podcast. They went in, they watched Madrin Noir and were like, this made me cry, I love it. He left like a paragraph on the Madrin Noir store page because the storytelling was so meaningful for him. So it's just about keeping going and it's a numbers game. The more that we can get up to the speed, the more studios we can connect with in advance to show like, hey, these are the standards you need to reach. plan that in production, please. And then the more we can experiment with what does the community want? You know, something I'm really curious about that I've been pushing for for some time that will happen soon is like what happens when we integrate like the bonus features, the BTS videos that we're making for the award circuits, you know, the Emmy and the Peabody and all of these awards, which are very important for the lifespan of a project as well. What happens when we can add that into the build? We have debates internally in the office about Some people don't like to watch 2D in VR. I like it. And I think that what people care about, if we look at the video game model, is they want to feel close, people want to feel close with the team that made it. You know, we feel inspired by people that make things, because we want to make things too. So how can we make, humanize these stories? How can we do that? Well, we can bring the creator closer to the audience. So this is something, you know, hopefully with End of Night we'll get there. We're working on Ayahuasca porting. Thanks to the French government, they're supporting this art form very well.

[00:14:01.898] Kent Bye: It's a VR experience that was at Tribeca a number of years. Ayahuasca, not that you're putting Ayahuasca in VR, but yeah, there's an immersive experience that I think it was at Tribeca 2019, right?

[00:14:11.138] Danielle Giroux: It was, exactly, exactly. And that's an experience that we actually co-distribute with Diversion Cinema. So they've done a lot of the LBE side, they have a network in France. We also want to get into LBE but there's a slightly different approach there. So we've collaborated the last few years with them on this project and we're really the publishing side of this one. And yeah, there's some exciting stuff coming up with Ayahuasca. I'm planting a seed, I don't want to say everything right now.

[00:14:38.182] Kent Bye: Is that because that was a PC VR experience? I mean, you've actually ported it to the Quest.

[00:14:42.484] Danielle Giroux: It's in progress. So this is breaking news. It's not really announced yet that it will be coming to. But the community online has been asking for years, you know, since 2020. When is this coming to Quest? Especially because the Quest came out in the pandemic. So like there's a few you can go into the community hub and see like it's coming. But yeah. Yeah.

[00:15:04.455] Kent Bye: So it's in the works. You don't know when. We don't know when, but it's coming at some point.

[00:15:08.240] Danielle Giroux: It's coming this year. It's coming this year and then hopefully bonus features. Yeah, so it's just, it's like, there's a lot of behind the scenes. I see it as like a machine. Like, I have a really strong team behind me, and I'm coming from the strong team of those, like I said, those four founders. Yeah, it's amazing. I didn't plan to end up here, but I couldn't be more grateful for, like, the opportunities and the collaboration of Antoine, mainly, because he was the one that spearheaded this and convinced the others and has been ongoing for some time. So he's a visionary and an inspiration. And I think that being able to go in person to these industry events, these festivals, like you said, IDFA and every major festival that has been taking the risk and investing and putting it on a priority and sees the value of the medium, has helped me get perspective as well and see the potentials and why it's important and what it means in this current time. So it's, yeah, yeah, I would say that's a big motivator.

[00:16:11.605] Kent Bye: So I think one of the things that I've noticed by going into Laval Virtual and talking to different people from the Ministry of Culture there that I've like there seems to be a lot of support for the arts and culture from the government and Europe and France in particular. and Atlas 5 has been really at the forefront of so many amazing projects and I've done a number of different interviews with a number of different projects and sometimes I'll see a project and it'll be a year, two years, sometimes three years later that it'll come out and then it'll be like I've since tried to when I go to festivals do a batch like download of like here's 24 hours of coverage from Venice I don't know if any of these ever will see the light of day again, but here's at least what happened. But then sometimes there's like these gaps of like, you know, I'll go in like in 2019, I went to 18 festivals, and then just got backlogged. And then the pandemic happened. So like, I have like a bunch of like interviews with different projects from Atlas five, that I need to get out at some point, because there has been just an amazing backlog of not only innovations and storytelling, but also, you know, just trying to, to push the medium forward and there's a lot of larger cultural context in France that has a government that's supportive of this kind of innovation and supporting of the arts and so I think that's worth maybe mentioning a little bit maybe you can elaborate a little bit more in terms of like in the US context there's not as much official support for pushing forward something like immersive storytelling but in France it's something that like you go back to the history of cinema it's a lot of French filmmakers that have like done all these different innovations and so I feel like France in particular has been also at the forefront of pushing forward immersive storytelling. So yeah, I'd love to hear any additional context you have about how Atlas 5 is situated in the context of France and being able to make all these different innovations.

[00:17:53.854] Danielle Giroux: Yeah, yeah, definitely. I mean, I would say that Part of trying to understand my role at Astraea and how to move a needle in any direction has been understanding the different financial models and supports of different countries. Because I think that there are clues there. We all know that the distribution pipelines are kind of broken or like very, it's like trickle bit by bit. It's not easy to get things through. And I think part of the solution is understanding how projects are made because right now the production is very disconnected from the distribution. And the production is, this is an expensive medium to work with. You know, it's not one artist that's creating this, but it's a whole team. It's a very collective process of creation. You know, you need sometimes 40 developers to make an immersive experience. And so that requires a budget. And so, yeah, I mean, France is really unique because there's still broadcasters supporting this. They had a grant for team studios to apply for porting funds. I mean, I think there's a lot of reasons why it makes sense for a federal agency to invest. And I think that it definitely has an impact on the production process because French creators are able to explore without the pressure necessarily to make something that is perfect for the market which is needed for again what we talked about like how does this medium you know how do you tell a story is a big question so I mentioned Kaohsiung going there they had a selection it was like the Taiwanese art pieces and they have They have a program because they're trying to teach the population, the creators, how to tell stories in this medium. And it felt very important. It felt very political. Because what does it mean when, yeah, you can be relevant in this emerging tech in terms of geopolitical circumstances?

[00:19:49.742] Kent Bye: Yeah, in Taiwan I had a chance to talk to the Kaohsiung Film Festival and the Taiwan Creative Agency is there that is helping to really also be leaders in a lot of 360 videos but also, yeah, just have Taiwan being a leader in trying to push forward the medium of virtual reality and storytelling. So yeah, there's a lot of innovations in Kaohsiung Film Festival being kind of the epicenter of that.

[00:20:10.937] Danielle Giroux: Yeah, yeah. And so it was really cool to see, for example, there was a selection of five, I think, this year, and some were from creators that were from cinema, and others were young creators that were just very, what I call, VR native. And, you know, sometimes cinema people will really try to control the view of the user. And when you're VR native, maybe you're really exploratory, and it's like, oh, you can run everywhere. This is big generalizations, but I think the whole point being, There's public funding for it, so there's exploration. The same in France. There's public funding with a lot of structure also in France because there's a process. Methodology is really an important part of the culture. So because of that, there's a lot of refining and a lot of elements of a lot of different steps. And yeah, every country is a bit different. What I'm finding fascinating as an American that has been a little bit curious and wondering how VR creators in the US are able to make. Yeah, it's been interesting seeing that because it is really, without public funding support, you have a pressure that is different than in France. And, you know, for example, I'm thinking of Gumball Dreams, which was a project that was at Venice this year, a performance VR piece in VRChat and I met the creator and his name is Christopher and he was talking about how it was the pandemic and it was the subsidy checks that allowed him to invest in the material and then he spent his free time going into Unity and learning Unity himself and then because of that he created a world that he wanted to live in. As a queer person, he made a space that was safe, that was fun, that he wanted to be something that he could imagine that his younger self would have felt safe in. And he was saying, you know, there's like sometimes up to 30,000 people that are coming through this gumball reality, this gumball world, and that are listening. He made it originally for his music and, you know, this is This is interesting because it's very circumstantial, but at the same time it's inspiring. I think it is an important part of understanding how to distribute these works, is understanding what is working, why are people going in there. I think that a big disconnect with distribution, well there haven't been that many distributors. And I think that the main thing is the artists are a bit far from the distribution. So to me, getting closer to understanding why someone is making this is helpful for this than finding the ways to communicate that passion and that need to audiences. I mean, it's still, I will not say at all that we found the way. There's so much more to go and there's so many steps, a lot of behind the scenes. So I can talk and talk and talk. It's important to take a long view, a long-term view on this. The projects that premiere here, their lifespan, I mean it's just the beginning for them. It's really just the beginning. And even the works that are from 2016, if you think Notes on Blindness you mentioned earlier, the project by Arnaud Collina and many others, it's a big team that made it with Arte. we consider a cornerstone piece, and also MIT has added it to their archive. It's a documentary, episodic and interactive, which at the time was cutting edge and using point cloud. That team, they made this piece in 2016, and just last year we adapted it for immersive projection spaces with a partnership with Oasis in Montreal, which is one of the first venues. There's venues projection mapping all around the world, many, they're popping up daily. seems like. But this is one of the first that took the plunge to adapt this type of storytelling documentary. And so it's running right now. It's called Transform, Transformé. And so we have three pieces that are part of this, but there's eight total that were VR originally and now projection mapping.

[00:24:12.115] Kent Bye: It's just like the kind of idea of like this immersive experience of Van Gogh and I saw a Van Gogh experience back in like 2015 at IEEE VR that was in Arles France in this big cave and so but that's certainly been continuing to progress out so this idea that you'd walk into a space and have this projection map kind of fill the walls with an experience in that a lot of it was like art or abstract art but now we're moving into translating these 360 videos or 360 experiences into projection map experiences so people could be kind of like there's a similarity into like dome experiences but yet a dome is like a collective experience but this is more of like you are completely immersed into it and usually it's been like get washed over by these images but to have a story I guess maybe you can elaborate on what has been that translation? Do you just kind of play the story or do you have to like adapt the story to make it so that it's more ephemeral? Are people going in and out of spaces or like are they expected to just stand there and watch it as if they would be like similarly standing in a VR headset but instead of a VR headset they're standing in a room and it's being projected map. So yeah I'd love to hear any elaboration of like what's that translation mean.

[00:25:14.046] Danielle Giroux: Yeah, I think, Kent, we got to get you to Montreal so you can see it. I saw different test samples. I wasn't there for the opening. It was in January. But it's true. It was a new production and it was produced internally with Astraea and then the original teams that made it. So Arno creatively directed and Archer's Mark as well. Steve and Mike. And yeah, I mean, the thing is, when you have the story that's strong, an immersive story that's strong, it can go really well into these spaces. It depends. Not every experience is made for this, but certain ones are, especially ones that play with light. The Notes on Blindness adaptation is interactive because they have an infrared floor. So you're walking around and you're pushing the point cloud and while that's happening there's the story of John Hull and his experience being blind and the response has been really excellent but it really is just the first. So we have big plans with this. Goliath is one of the pieces that is part of this collection. There's one from Diversion, as well Diversion Cinema, the French distribution company. And then we have Notes on Blindness, On the Morning You Wake, which was the winner of South by Southwest last year. And Vestige, which is a project written by Lisa Ellen that is also a documentary, a very moving documentary. So, I mean, that I'm sure, I feel like there's probably a whole podcast episode that you could talk with the producer and the creator about how the decisions they made

[00:26:41.584] Kent Bye: I probably should see it and then break it down, yeah.

[00:26:44.547] Danielle Giroux: Definitely, definitely. We'll get you out there. But I know that they put the camera inside Unity and then captured it, but then they definitely did make some modifications. And then Arno was in person. We went there in the summer and we saw what they were doing and then he gave feedback. But the thing is, like I said, the story is already there. So there's just already a foundation. So it makes the process of production for these venues a lot easier. And if we know it's a strong story because it's, you know, the curators, the experts who know storytelling and what is moving, if it's projects like that, you know, that's the IP. It's not the solution for VR, but it's another pipeline for the medium.

[00:27:25.353] Kent Bye: Yeah, trying to think about these multimodal distribution channels, whether it's a dome, whether it's these projection map experiences, or, you know, just finding other ways to get this work out there, which I think is really great to see how you could take the immersive medium and then have these different distribution channels, which is, I think, is, like, the thing that I see again and again is that it's already a miracle that any of these creators are able to finish any of these immersive pieces with all the different limitations and constraints and lack of funding and just the technical difficulties everything that they're able to actually produce something and then when they get it then on top of that sometimes they have to pay a lot of money to travel and then do all these installations and display it and like you know and then on top of that then after that there's not like in the film world like a festival circuit there is a festival circuit but at the end of the road is just a lot of money that's being spent and not really going back into their pockets so it's basically out of their own pockets a lot of times without a lot of like upside of having the opportunity to sell it and make it widely available so it feels like it's been like a whole model that is adapting off of like a film but at least in the film world you have the ability of things get sold but It's a gathering of people together to be able to see the work, just to see what's possible, but there's still been that gap. What's it going to take to actually get this into the mainstream, or get people so that they don't feel like they're coming to this experience, to these different festivals, seeing like 30 different amazing stories, and then maybe two or three of them are made available afterwards. So that's a problem that you're trying to solve, and so what are some of the other hurdles that you have to overcome, or obstacles to jump over in order to make that happen?

[00:28:57.217] Danielle Giroux: It's a lot. I mean, like I said, the most clear, straightforward phase one part of what we're doing is the publishing and the deep linking, the ecosystem of storytelling online, the marketing, the finding the ways to communicate about the project, where audiences feel connected to the creator and inspired by the medium and want to come back. And so there's a bunch of projects that probably make sense to be part of this ecosystem. So everything we do, we start with Atlas because it's the least risk because we're connected to them. And then we can experiment and they have a lot of support, you know, because like we said, they're connected with Meta. It has been an amazing partner, really, you know, the team behind storytelling that is difficult even for them to push through. They've been a very, very helpful partner in the past, since the beginning. And then, like I said, there's other broadcasters in France that are unique to that country, and then the public funding. So there's, Atlus is really well positioned to just push things through. And then with Astraea, what we're doing is, you know, we're signing with creators right now that are aligned with us in terms of expectations and reality. you know we can't promise what's not possible but at the same time we know that if we have more together our foot is in the door and then we can keep it there you know and so that's part of what we see when it comes to the B to C side the B to B side that side of things is tricky because it shifts constantly so it's a bit like be at the right place at the right time know the right people so that's why it's good to be part of the Atlas 5 network because they just have been here and are connected and are telling the stories that have been able to be successful on the market in the market that we have. So for me, I think that the main thing that would be good to communicate is just I would love it if we were more aligned on industry standards when it comes to production, what we talked about before with what does your build need to look like to have a high-quality enough build that it is able to get out there, but also in terms of being aligned on what this content is worth. Because the thing is, when a creator invests so much time and money and heart and soul into their work, sometimes for years, all they want is to get it out there. Fair enough. It makes a lot of sense. All you want is to just connect with the people. And so festivals are amazing because you get that direct feedback constantly, and it's inspiring. And then, like I said, this is my first time at South by Southwest. There's huge amounts of crowds coming in, and I can see why a creator that comes here would then feel really inspired to keep making and to keep going. Because sometimes there's that question, well, why make in VR? Why? When you see the direct reaction or you see how they feel during and afterwards, it makes it worth it. But it's really rare to have such a direct feedback. I've seen this happen where someone is like, I'll do anything, put it for free online. You know? And to me, like, I understand, like, that has, like, a moral value. Like, sure, put it for free. And even broadcasters, they're like, we want this to be accessible. Let's put it, we need it to be free online so it's the most amount of accessible. But that's the thing. If the consumer at home that already has a headset, They've already invested several hundreds into something. That's not the accessibility line. Accessibility is not free. Because what free online is doing is telling people that this medium, that this type of storytelling is not worth your money. And there's a psychological element of that. When something is free, then you say, oh, it's less valuable. So even with, you know, there's in France and in Paris, a metaphor example, there's like a big spoken word and comedy night scene there in English. And the thing is, when you have a ticketed night, even though you really want it to be free, so people come, when you have a ticketed night and a reservation, people come. And that's because you invested. You invested a little bit of time to reserve a spot and you invested a little bit of money, even if it's one dollar or one euro. And so the thing that we're doing is, and advocating for, is that do not publish your work for free, first of all. please don't. And with broadcasters, if we can work with them to find solutions that, you know, they have their standards and the like that they must be obliged to follow, that's important. And then what I want creators to know is to never give your work away for free. Even if you have to wait, it's better to be patient. And I know that's a hard thing, but I'm hopeful that the industry will move in this direction. It has to, it is. But it's really important for both setting standards with the consumer, but also even more importantly with the buyer, which there's very few buyers, and they have a lot more power and say, of course, because there's a lot of creators and a lot of content. But it's very important that we are aligned, especially as the few distributors, on what industry prices need to be. So that's a crucial element to distribution.

[00:34:02.186] Kent Bye: Yeah I was talking with Alvin Graylin from HEC and just talking about the amounts of subsidies that Meta has put into VR in general and how in a lot of ways they've skipped past the enterprise phase of like having things in these more corporate environments and like to go direct to the consumer and then by doing that they've tried to create a lot of focus on games, but yet if you look at the Oculus TV and all this stuff, they do actually have a lot of free storytelling content, and there's not a lot of opportunities for it. Maybe the subsidies that they have done, do you think that that's in some ways done a disservice where there's not an equivalent immersive storytelling market that they've created? Because most of the stuff that they're funding and creating is just the Netflix model that you buy a headset and you get this associated content but you're not necessarily like even subscribing so you're not like paying for this recurring so there's like a energetic exchange that happens when people pay for something where they're like committing but also like paying for something of value but by having all this larger subsidies that Meta has and that storytelling ecosystem do you feel like that that's devalued the other people that are trying to come in and have more of an independent publishing aspect?

[00:35:11.792] Danielle Giroux: Oh yeah I mean I would agree with that again it makes sense why they're doing that you know there's there's probably some logic on the very business side of things and you know the objective is the hardware and the platform so of course the content is if you can have I mean It makes sense for any, even if a cinema could have content for free, they would be very happy because then that would cut so many overhead costs and then you could just have more people and you can, you know, but that's why distributors exist to lobby and to represent and to kind of be like a safeguard between those buyers and the creators. Because, of course, the most exploited are the artists. That's normal. And it's not the fault of any individual. It's really just the system and structures that exist and that we're in, especially when it comes to free market.

[00:36:04.253] Kent Bye: Yeah, maybe you could just give a bit of a rundown of some of the highlights from the slate that you have there at Astraea when it comes to some of these immersive stories and stuff that is either already being distributed and published by Astraea and stuff that maybe has shown in other places and is coming soon. So yeah, maybe you could just give a bit of a rundown.

[00:36:22.046] Danielle Giroux: Yeah, sure. We have quite a few that we're working really hard with the team to get up to standards for publishing this spring. So we're in March, so coming up quick. Obviously, we're representing all of Atlas V content, so we have these older works like Gloomy Eyes, Battlescar, I mentioned Notes on Blindness, Spheres is in our catalogue, and then the most recent Atlas works are On the Morning Awake, and we also have Walls and grommet that's coming this year, which we're excited about working with big IP and how we can harness that traffic for some of our more independent creators outside of Atlas. So outside of Atlas, we work with amazing teams internationally. We have a project here at South by that we signed the first chapter in 2021 and have been connected with Digital Rise and B-Revolution, that project is called Jailbirds, an animation, passive animation, about 30 minutes, three chapters, that is what we'd call evergreen edgy. So it's adapted from a cartoonist, Belgian cartoonist called Philip Forrester, and that one will be published by us and France TV, it's also a France TV production. And then coming up, we signed the project Glimpse in our catalogue. We have Cosmogonic in our catalogue. We have Gondwana. I mentioned End of Night. We also have Shadow, which is another Macropole production. Also in our catalogue, we represent the Mutec Collection, so we work alongside Mutec. We have a project called Norn. 9 Daughters of Ran, which is the first chapter of a longer series that will be coming out. We signed Rock, Paper, Scissors, which was at Venice this year. We have a lovely comedy called Kidnapping in Vostok, which is a French production. It's very funny, very cute, lovely animation. We have Biolume, which is one of the early works like Digital Rise, like Jailbirds that took the plunge with us at an early stage. We represent Delirium VR's content, so Labyrinthos and Gravity. I work closely with Fabito. We also have the collection of Cinema Leap. So they have three productions called Feather, Beat, and Clap. These really sweet, lovely, interactive animations that have been premiering at Venice that are really the main Japanese studio that goes to that festival. One of the really early works that we signed into our catalog is an HTC original called The Sick Rose.

[00:38:43.992] Kent Bye: So that's a 360 content, which... It's like a stop-motion animation that's really quite sophisticated in what they've been able to do there. Yeah, really a distinct aesthetic there.

[00:38:53.013] Danielle Giroux: Yes, yeah, traditional Taiwanese clay dough figurines that has been, yeah, again, they were an early opt-in to what we were doing, believing in us before we really had models and systems. We also have Construct in our catalogue that we published on Steam last year. And some of the other bigger works that we represent, I would say, we're working to bring Child of Empire into the catalogue, and also the piece that premiered at IDFA this year called Missing Ten Hours. We also have Missing Pictures series, which was at Tribeca last year, and that's a five-part series. produced by Orianne Aurel and directed by Clément Deneu which is an exploration, a really connection of what is cinema and VR and a close connection with film directors.

[00:39:42.586] Kent Bye: That's a really amazing recap of a lot of immersive stories and I've probably seen maybe 75% to 80% of those and then maybe done interviews with maybe half or maybe a little bit more than half and then released interviews of those with maybe like 20 to 30%. I'll have to go back and look and see but Yeah, so of all those things you just mentioned, what percentage of those are already released or you're kind of in the pipeline of getting them into like the store and because basically it sounds like most of these experiences we're kind of moving into like a very mobile VR slash console like with the Quest. standalone VR where it's just basically like a mobile chipset which means that a lot of these pieces that you're mentioning like premiered on PC VR and then you have to like optimize it down to like even be available to be on the Quest and so I guess as you have like these new platforms you have the next version of like even more powerful capabilities with like the Quest 3 that's rumored to come out sometime in 2023 So you have the capability maybe, like the optimization isn't as intense. So of all those things that you mentioned, like how many of them are already available? And how many, like are you planning to make all of them available on like the mobile chipsets?

[00:40:55.958] Danielle Giroux: Well, so I mentioned before that each project has a little bit of a bespoke strategy. So we have to pull the cards that exist and there's no blanket statement for each one. But I would say that a major player in bringing a lot of PC VR pieces to standalone has been the company Pico. which they launched their headset. They have the Pico Neo 3 and now 4 and they have a platform and they were originally just China-based. We connected with them in 2020-2021 and brought some of early pieces. The Gloomy Eyes was the first one that we ported for the Pico headset. Just as a test, we didn't know we'll work really with anyone who wants the content. So since then it's been really great because we've ported a collection of these PC VR pieces that are coming very soon to Pico including I mentioned Biolume or Biolume in French which for many years was said it would never be able to be brought to standalone and actually it was. It does take a decent amount of time and effort manpower and therefore budget but Gravity is another piece that's part of that. I didn't mention this before, but the Dawn of Art, a PC VR piece with the voice of Daisy Ridley that was nominated for an Emmy by Atlas 5, that's coming to Pico. Yeah, so each piece has its own specific pipeline, whether it's we can pull that public funding card and show the value. of direct connection with the consumer if there's a little bit more investment or if it's whether a partnership you know HTC is a great partnership for some of these but you know the people in charge of this they do the best they can and there's a lot of content so what we're finding is that if when we can group things and especially with our in-house production of porting production we can streamline the process make it easier and what I'm pushing for is next is a standardization of pricing when it comes to this porting. Being able to understand, I'm not from a tech background, but being able to understand really how much does it cost to bring them and why and what and how long. I think that we need to move in that direction.

[00:43:04.377] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah, and there's also like the Steam and Viveport, which are actually more PC VR based, and so you do have at least some options, and I know that Ayahuasca, for example, is on Steam that people can watch. And also, I've also been surprised over the time how much of the pieces that have been on the festival circuit do end up on Viveport. You know, that seems to be like an option for at least some of the different stuff. I don't know how many of the different pieces that you've mentioned there may be already available on either Viveport or Steam.

[00:43:31.731] Danielle Giroux: Yeah, quite a few of them are available on Viveport and Steam. You asked before the percentage. Most of the ones, I would say about 20% of our catalog is available on at least one platform. We want to make 70% minimum available across platforms. 360 is obviously the most challenging for publishing. That's why that's not really the format that we're bringing into the catalog at this stage of things. Yeah, there's a lot of steps that go into bringing it up to each different platform. Viveport is the most accessible for publishing. And in terms of the market and the most amount of traffic, it's obviously the Quest store and App Lab. But it's great because Steam, for example, you can really get close to the consumer. You get close to audiences that way. It's very video game based, so it has a lot of features built in that you can have a community hub and there's different ways of activating and it's just a matter of thinking about that in advance and then also having a strategy for release. So that's why it's happy to have the team behind me that I have at Astraea that is working on this very, very hard, you know, with Atlas projects, but also other projects that we have in the catalog. So, you know, I mentioned the projects that we have coming out this spring. So Glimpse is one of them. Kidnapping in Vostok is another. Norn, we're working really hard to get up there. And End of Night is coming out in May.

[00:45:04.408] Kent Bye: Yeah and like I said I've got like some interviews with some of these different projects and from my perspective with the lack of distribution it's been you know unless I do all of like a big dump of all the interviews all at once which is now is kind of my preference just so I don't feel like I'm putting things into the backlog to kind of There's a moment of the event coverage, but then there's a moment of when people can have access to it, and then experience it for themselves, and then listen to the conversations that I've had. And so as you go from 20% to 70%, do you imagine that there's going to be a slow trickle out? Or are you going to have these moments where you're like, now there's 10 projects available? Or is it like you kind of launch each one independently? Or are you going to have one moment where you're going to just launch all these things out into the world? How does this get trickled out from going from 20% to 70%?

[00:45:50.359] Danielle Giroux: That's something we're working on as a team, you know, to see what's the best approach. Sometimes we're a bit forced to push the needle to publish a bit quick, but with every publishing that we do, we learn a lot. And with the deep linking, we're harnessing the audience. But I mean, it's obviously great to create a dialogue between different experiences. So End of Night is a documentary. You know, we're adding Child of Empire to the catalog. That's another longer format documentary. So what's the dialogue we can create between those two projects if we publish them at the same time? There's a lot of steps, as I said, that are involved in that. But it's definitely a key part of the process is to have a lot of works or just a regular publishing, you know, so that we can lay this groundwork of audience building and connection with those people that care about this type of storytelling.

[00:46:39.881] Kent Bye: And when you say deep linking, do you mean just like publishing those two projects together, or do you mean actually within the projects, have them link to each other in some way that they could watch the end of one. And if you like this, then, you know, push this button, you can go buy this other experience and then experience that.

[00:46:54.352] Danielle Giroux: It's exactly that. So we came up with a proprietary code that you put into a build and then at the end of the experience it will suggest, you know, hey, maybe you want to see this. And we have the back end where we can modify which experiences they're connected to. So the exciting thing about that is when we have a project like Madre Noire, which is an Emmy award-winning, published on the official store, with traffic, we can implement the deep linking with a project like that, so that those projects that are on the App Lab store can benefit from that traffic. I have to be honest, it's not the same amount of traffic if you compare it to video games. Video games, they have a model, they have a lot of people already interested, so if we compare to that, it's not huge, amazing numbers, but at the same time, it is a pipeline and it's an important part of what we're doing, in addition to, as I said before, the bigger IP of Atlas as a traffic harnessing as well.

[00:47:51.012] Kent Bye: Yeah, it kind of reminds me of something like you watch a YouTube video and then they have like the recommended videos to watch next that you can go from there. So it sounds like you're kind of doing that, but in the way that you're able to do the deep leaking and suggest people other experiences that are in your catalog at the end of some of your other experiences.

[00:48:05.970] Danielle Giroux: Yeah, yeah, and I mean, the thing about Atlus is Atlus and Astrea, we shift constantly. So we are really interested in the gaming publishing side of things as well. We have a lot of internal discussions about the line between interactive narrative and gaming. And so, you know, we do want to move in that direction. But at the same time, the backbone of what Atlus has built is, you know, curiosity through storytelling. So, That's important to us and we just have to find that balance between what can make us so that we can continue on and be strong enough to have our team and have all the manpower that we need. And that's something that is, there's the four founders that are working very hard to find this balance. between what can be good for the market and profitable and sustainable, but at the same time fall within the values of storytelling. So there's this dance that's happening and the publishing side is the same. So we only have so many hours in our day, we only have so many people, and everything takes a lot more time than we would expect. So there is a part of us that we do want to bring a more gaming side of things, but the way that we see it is, again, in this long-term view, it's about harnessing audiences, because that's important.

[00:49:23.730] Kent Bye: And I saw just within the last four, six weeks or so, an announcement that CAA is representing Atlas V, and then you have Wallace and Gromit. So as you move forward, you have some big projects that are coming up. So I don't know if anything you can let us know about some of these other upcoming projects that we might be seeing here soon.

[00:49:41.665] Danielle Giroux: Yeah, so I mean Wallace & Gromit is the big one on the docket. We're super excited to have this partnership with Aardman Studio and we have No Ghost on there as well and for us we see that it's just with these rich IPs you can really explore a lot in terms of storytelling and then it's also helpful because audiences that were connected with the IP, with the characters, We're hoping and we're thinking and we're pretty sure that they're going to want to get into the headset. So it's both the publishing side and then finding the right partners for in-person activations after the festival. So really the festival is the launching point for what we see as the long lifespan for the projects.

[00:50:22.973] Kent Bye: Awesome. And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality and immersive storytelling might be and what it might be able to enable?

[00:50:32.037] Danielle Giroux: What I found interesting about South by Southwest, for example, being here is seeing the different variations and having these different discussions about what the medium can engender. So there seems to me like there's some spectrums about movement in the virtual space and then laying down and being still. in the virtual space. So what I'm coming more from a contemporary art background or art history background. So what excites me is really what's being made and how history will look upon it. I'm not so much on the side of things where innovation push, push, push the technology to the limit. I'm more curious, how are humans, how are people and studios and creators using things and why are they pushing? And so it's hard for me to say the potential, the potential. I really don't know.

[00:51:24.112] Kent Bye: What is it that drives you or inspires you to keep working on it?

[00:51:28.675] Danielle Giroux: I mean, I guess just going into these virtual worlds and having my mind blown all the time is really the inspiring thing. I'm really fascinated by why people create. And so, seeing the different projects out there, and the different ways people approach this medium, and I think that's something that I'm looking forward to, is really getting, I just, I want to understand everything about VR. Maybe less on the tech side, but more on the, how decisions are made in the virtual creation process, for example, Understanding how From the Main Square was made was quite inspiring because that was a collaborative approach with, you know, it was a student process. I was talking to the director, Pedro, at different points. You know, there was just a lot of collaboration that was needed to make this production. And I guess I'm more of an observer and a sponge. And it's really hard for me to say something definitive because I think that the medium and everything is just evolving and so the potentials I don't I have no idea but I I'm glad to have no idea you know like I'm I'm okay to not have an opinion because to have an opinion is to make a decision about something that is just so new and so changing constantly so so I'm I'm really just glad to be able to be here and and hopefully to be part of some ways publishing is archiving the stories we decide to tell and share and talk about matter and so I hope that with what I do it will be Useful in some way for the medium because I do believe in it Awesome is there anything else that's left and said you'd like to say to the broader immersive community. Thanks for listening It's been great to talk to you Kent

[00:53:25.228] Kent Bye: Awesome. Yeah, thank you. And I look forward to seeing how you're helping to bring a lot of these other experiences out into the broader market and overcome a lot of these hurdles. And yeah, and looking forward to seeing all the other projects that I haven't seen and wish you the best luck as you go forward with Astraea. So thank you.

[00:53:40.702] Danielle Giroux: Thanks, Ken.

[00:53:41.934] Kent Bye: So that was Danielle Giroux. She's the head of distribution at Estrella, which is coming out of Atlas 5, and they're working on trying to figure out a lot of the different problems around the distribution of VR and XR and AR immersive stories. So I have a number of takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, Well, there's a lot of that is happening behind the scenes for them to actually make this happen to not only optimize all these experiences and port them over so that they're at a certain quality that, you know, when you show something at an immersive festival, it has to only work on your machine in order to actually distribute it out widely. It has to be like highly optimized. It has to be maybe even ported from a PC VR into a standalone version. And so, yeah, they're doing a lot of work and able to take some of the best of immersive stories that I've seen over the years. And so they have quite an epic collection of different pieces that they're going to be helping to get out into the wider world and defining other opportunities like these projection map opportunities, maybe even more of these location based opportunities. So I know that when I talked to Eddie Lo, he has some of these different pieces that have been showing in China. And so Yeah, just finding new opportunities to have a full life cycle for some of these pieces. Because as Daniel said, the festival circuit is the beginning of this journey for a lot of these pieces. And that even pieces like Notes on Blindness, which I saw at Sundance in 2016, has continued to have these different iterations of being released on these different platforms. And now is, you know, showing as a part of this projection map immersive experience that's happening in Montreal. So yeah, lots of different problems yet to be solved, but I'm really happy that Atlas 5, that has been producing a lot of really amazing pieces themselves, found it worth their while to create this other publishing arm to solve the problems they're having themselves, but also to help other creators and to represent some of the best of that we've seen on the festival circuit. So yeah, looking forward to seeing, you know, going from 20% of these being more widely available to 100% over time. They're aiming for like 70% in the short term, but yeah, in the long term, they're trying to get all of them available. So, that's all 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, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you the next coverage. So you could become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

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