#1194: “Jailbirds” is a Well-Told, Magical Realist Story Using Character-Driven Animation and Stylized Cinematography

Jailbirds is a really well-told, three-part episodic animated VR piece that uses the spatial affordances of VR to tell a compelling metaphoric story about the escapist qualities of virtual reality. It’s a character-driven story set within a prison, and it explores themes of liberation in similar ways that virtually-mediated experiences in VR help transport us into another realm. The piece continues to evolve it’s cinematic storytelling style that encourages a 180-degree viewing experience of looking forward as there are many dolly shots and fast-past cut scenes that start to penalize the view if you look behind you too much. The series has been produced over a number of years, and it’s clear that this type of hyperstylized camera movements develop over the series as they received feedback from the audiences that they not only could handle the movement, but also quite enjoyed it. The end result is a delightful journey into this magical realistic realm of story that director Thomas Villepoux does an excellent job guiding.

I had a chance to catch up with him at SXSW where he unpacks many dimensions of the story and it’s development process (warning that this conversation contains a fair amount of spoilers), but also the process of working with voice actors who were also theatre performers and how they created a new hybrid workflow of embodied performance with voice acting that was used to create this style that has a unique blend of motion capture and performance capture, but with a distinct amount of stylization in the end result for how these 3-4 characters are able to carry the throughline of the story. Overall, this was the strongest immersive story in competition this year, and is a solid reference point that explores what a story like this is a lot more powerful when you’re immersed within the spatial context of these characters. I previously had a chance to chat with Villepoux at Venice for a piece called Mandala that he directed, and I will certainly be keeping an eye out for his future projects as he’s got a very distinct idea about how to use the affordances of virtual reality for immersive storytelling.

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

Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.412] 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 and the structures of immersive storytelling. You can support the podcast at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. So continuing on my 24-episode series of coverage from South by Southwest, today's episode is with Thomas Villapax from Digital Rise. He had a piece there that was actually a three-episode story that was called Jailbirds. The first episode showed at Tribeca 2021. It was just episode one. And now a couple of years later, they're showing all three episodes. And so this is a really amazing story that is using the immersive power of virtual reality to really take you into a place and have this character-driven story that has this magical realism that works really quite well within the context of virtual reality. just a fair warning that we do actually talk a lot about the specific themes and stories and plots that could be seen as spoilers throughout the course of this conversation and so highly highly recommend as always to try to watch the piece before we start to get into it but in this piece particular if you are the type of person who likes to watch something first and then listen to it then try to find a way to catch it either on the festival circuit or it will be released at some point, made available through Estrella. The specific date of that has not been announced and I don't know when it's going to be made more widely available, but this I think is actually a really great case of immersive storytelling. of all the different stories in the context of the pieces that were in competition at SXSW this year, this is my favorite story. I think that MLK, now as a time, for me overall was probably the most powerful story, but that was not in competition. And this piece was in competition and I think uses the affordances of virtual reality in a really, really effective way to be able to tell this story. And I really appreciated going on from episode to episode throughout the course of this and excited to see some of the different innovations over the course of the different episodes and just to hear a little bit more about what it took on the back end to translate these voice actors and embodied performances that are coming from these actors to be able to create this piece called Jailbirds. So we're covering all that and more on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Thomas happened on Tuesday, March 14th, 2023 at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:24.736] Thomas Villepoux: I'm Thomas Villapox. I'm from France. I'm a director and I'm the creative director of a company called Digital Rise. And we've been around VR for a few years now. Our latest projects and my latest projects as a director, they were Mandala in Venice and then Jailbirds here in South by Southwest with the last chapters of Jailbirds.

[00:02:48.532] Kent Bye: Maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into making these types of immersive stories in VR.

[00:02:54.501] Thomas Villepoux: My background is really from traditional cinema. I've been a DOP for 15 years, and I've been a director of traditional films for almost as long. I was always interested by immersive technologies, so I started to work with 3D, stereoscopic 3D films, and autostereoscopic devices, and like glasses, like 3D with glasses, stuff like that. And then I fell into VR like everyone else when I put a headset on and I felt all the possibilities that could be there. I had the journey like everyone else starting with like 360 degree videos. Starting quite early I think, I was working with a big studio in France called Divi Group, and we started experimenting in a lot of directions. We did, like I said, interactive videos, we did animation, and we did one of the first experiments with a live mocap performance, for example. So we experimented in a lot of directions. I would say that my skills, my personal skills, are really into storytelling and this is really what I push in VR and I'm talking about this because I sometimes have the feeling that it's not the focus on many experiences and I think I'm really working on how to entertain the audience, I would say, how to keep the audience interested and excited about what you are presenting, what you are telling in your experience. So, I learned the tools of traditional cinema to do that, and, I mean, we are inventing the tools, the same tools for virtual reality.

[00:04:43.556] Kent Bye: Yeah, maybe you could give a bit more context as to how this project of Jailbirds came about.

[00:04:49.602] Thomas Villepoux: So Jailbird is really one of our first projects in VR. And the fact that when we created Digital Rise, we wanted to do that story in VR. Jailbird is an adaptation of a comic book. It's a Belgium comic book. It's a very short story, a very powerful story with a lot of potential. And we felt it has something to do with, it resonates with virtual reality as we know it. It has the idea of being somewhere and seeing somewhere else or feeling somewhere else or something else. And also talks about what is freedom and what is freedom of movement. where you can move or not move, what is your perception of space. So all this was already in the very short six pages comic book. So we had this project from the beginning, but the history made that we had the possibility to produce other projects first, and then we could finally produce Jailbirds, first the first chapter, and then now finally chapter two and three, which finish the story.

[00:06:01.826] Kent Bye: It sounded like it was a catalyst for you to get into VR in the first place.

[00:06:05.149] Thomas Villepoux: Actually, it was. And there was a lot of planet aligning at that moment. That's why I don't really know what way to get into the story. But it was the story that drove us. We wanted to tell that story. And of course, we had a lot of experimentation about interactivity, about special formats in VR. But Jailbirds is really about the story. So we spend a lot of time, instead of working on a format or a user experience, spend a lot of time of how to get that story on screen and how to get the audience immersed in the story. So practically I just had the comic book in my head and I just started to work on the adaptation and this is actually quite a long journey through the adaptation to find the right technology, to find the right the development of the visual style, because what is very important in Jailbird is the visual style. The original author of the comic book is Philippe Forster. He was published in a French magazine, Fruits Glaciaux, and he was in the 80s. So a lot of short stories like that. So he has a very special style. It's all in black and white with big shadows. It's very like German expressionism a little bit. And it's very special. So we needed to have something like that in VR. But obviously not exactly the same because his style is very flat. And we needed to work a visual side that works with volume animation. The start of the project, what really triggered the project, is the support we got in Belgium, from Wallonia and from our Belgian producer Beer Revolution. We were in a festival and we were pitching it and we won the prize of the best project in that festival, Stereopsia, in Brussels. And then we had that producer come to us and say, this is a great project and I want to help you to realize it. we really could go into a development phase, the development phase with the Belgium studios and it was all using the very modern tools to achieve that very old style look and it goes not only through like textures and digital art but also with shaders. So shaders is the way 3D objects react to the light, the lighting that you put in the scene. So we have two special shaders to make it like the shadows are hand-drawn and the characters have an outline. So we had that idea to give that a little bit of hand-drawn look, but at the same time we wanted to keep the volume of the characters. So we had that quite long artistic development phase before really we could go into production and produce the first chapter.

[00:09:19.838] Kent Bye: Yeah, I feel like in a piece like this, I mean, for a lot of stories, there's a question of why VR? Why does this need to be in VR? For me, you're situated in the context. It's also a very character-driven story, so you actually get, like, close, intimate interactions with these three main characters that are in the film. And so, yeah, I'd love to hear why you thought this piece, as you were looking at the comic book, what were your reasons for why you thought it was going to work so well in VR?

[00:09:46.185] Thomas Villepoux: Maybe I can start by pitching a little bit what the story is. It's a dark fairy tale. It's a dark fairy tale happening in a horrible prison of the end of the world. And in that prison, there is a character, Felix, who is always happy, is very calm, has achieved serenity and peace of the mind. The chief warden of that prison is infuriated by this character. It makes him mad because he thinks the inmates, they are here to suffer. They are supposed to pay for their crimes. So to see that big guy that probably has a very violent past be so calm in that prison, it makes him mad and he's going to do everything he can to understand why is this guy so strong in his mind. we're going to realize that this guy actually has a power that gives him the possibility to escape every night. He is in prison, but he's also free. He can go around, he can see things, he can enjoy the freedom. And then when he comes back to his cell, he has this artist capacity, he makes very nice drawings of what he sees at night and so he feels he lives in a very grim cell but he fills it with very positive and nice drawing of sceneries and stuff. So he's bringing the positive, he's bringing the word to him. I think that that was actually one of the first thing that I thought it made sense in VR. It's also because the story itself talks about the freedom of movement and maybe being in a part of the world and seeing another part of the world and getting all the beauty of the world into your room. And it's kind of a metaphor of VR. And I like to tickle the brains of people. So I like to give them, of course, if you come and see Chapter 2 and Chapter 3, you're going to see that this power that Felix has, at one point, it's going to go against him. It's going to push him into limits that he didn't want to go, forces that he does not control. I'm also saying with that, hey you have VR, it is so cool, it gives you this possibility to be on top of mountains and to be at the North Pole and you're just sitting in your room and then maybe at some point you need to think about what it implies and what it gives you but also what it takes out of your soul. So that was one of the things. The other thing is that I had when I first started to work on that project I had the feeling that so VR is a very powerful tool to manipulate emotions and even physically touch you have a physical effect on audience. It's so raw emotion, raw feeling that you can have in VR, that you feel them physically. And at the beginning of VR, you had a lot of experiences that just take advantage of that, but without using them. What I mean is, take a rollercoaster. Well, the first experiences in VR, there was a lot of rollercoaster, like, oh, scary moving, and you could feel the vertigo and the speed and everything, but It was just that. Like, oh, you could feel vertigo. Oh, awesome. So what I wanted when I worked on Jailbird is to use those tools that VR has, but use it for a story. It's exactly like you go to the cinema, you can have dolly shots, and you can have special effects, and you can put dinosaurs and lasers and whatever. But if you don't use that in a good story, then it's kind of wasted. And it was my same feeling with VR is that we are wasting a lot of good emotions by not using them to push something, you know, to anchor them in something, in a character, in a story or in a message. So that was in the story, there's a lot of flying scenes, and there's obviously the feeling of oppression when you are in the cell. So all those are, to me, feelings that I had in previous experiences in VR, but I didn't feel they were used in a story. So I could use that in a story. Those are direction tools. To me, it's not an end. It's just a tool to achieve the end, the goal you have.

[00:14:44.871] Kent Bye: Yeah, my first experience with this piece was back at Tribeca in 2021 with the virtual exhibition. And so I had a chance to see the first chapter. And then here you have chapter two and three. And so I had some memories of what was happening in the first chapter. But the difficult thing for me is that when I watch like a series and it's just like an episodic series and I don't get the full arc in that same moment, then my memory of it just is very faint. I have, like, these scenes, but I was glad to have a chance to go back and watch each of the different chapters, especially to see the progression of the techniques as well, because there seemed to be a pretty static approach of mostly in a single room in the first episode, and then other episodes you start to go out into other locations, and maybe more camera movement, and more, you know, I felt like, in a lot of ways, It could have been mostly a 180 experience, because if I were to turn around, there wasn't really anything there to look at most of the times, and then there would be a cut, and then it would sort of be disorienting, so I just ended up mostly looking forward, but I feel like with that, you're still able to give me the sense of space and scale in some of the different scenes that I felt like, wow, I understand why this works better in VR, whereas in the first one, it was mostly in the prison cell, and it's very character-driven, and you have this intimate interactions with the characters, but it wasn't using the expansive nature of VR in a way that I think came later in the series. And so, anyway, I'd just love to hear you go from the progression of getting the first chapter done, and then what you were able to do to expand your own storytelling techniques as you progress through additional chapters, as you were learning about the medium itself.

[00:16:15.463] Thomas Villepoux: Well, you're exactly right. The first chapter was also a pilot, was also a test. And when we did the first chapter, there was a lot of people telling us that we cannot make the camera move. So Jailbird is a 6DOF experience. You can actually move around. It's not a large scale. You're not supposed to move 10 meters, but you can move around. And we also have some dolly shots, in a way. So we were actually not sure that would work. And it's also, like you said, a very cinematographic experience. So it's very driven, in a way. There's some point of view, there's some direction. So you are free to go around, but you're also driven to follow the story. And we were not sure if that would work. And obviously, when we did chapter one, a lot of it was testing and showing it to the audience to see if we could tell a story that way, basically. And you're right that you don't have to spin around a lot. It's mostly driven in front of you or like 180 degree. I think it's also because to me, it's VR lies in the immersiveness of being somewhere and you don't need to look behind you to have that sense of space and presence, embodiment, I think. But VR is also very frightening for some people and I know that when i'm in a story or where something is happening behind me all the time or i'm afraid to miss something because i know something can happen behind me it kind of takes me out of the story a little bit so i think the audience right now in vr they are beginners we are all beginners in there so Our first goal is to reassure them, create a safe space where you can enjoy the story and you're not afraid, not of something frightening, but afraid of missing something, or not understanding something, or looking like a fool because you're not at the right place at the right time. So that's why Indie Chapter One was very conservative. in that and we saw that it was working quite well. We saw that the best shots that people love were the moving the dolly shots and the flying outside with the snow and so we felt more free to work on that on Chapter 2 and Chapter 3. And we also experimented with other situations, like in Chapter 3, you end up inside the boiling soup. So we still wanted to go further and find some elements that is going to talk to your body, is going to talk to your feelings, and that we can use in the story.

[00:19:20.903] Kent Bye: Well, because it is such a character-driven story, there's three different characters. And I'm wondering if you could elaborate on how you did the performance capture, if you started with the reading of the lines with different voice actors, and then animate around that, or if you had any motion capture. So yeah, how did you create these characters in the VR piece?

[00:19:40.600] Thomas Villepoux: But that's actually very interesting because I feel like we did not do like most people do in VR. So what we did is first we got the right actors for the role. So obviously they are voice actors, so we choose them for their voice. They are actors in cinema and theatre, so they can act with their body also. And what we did is that we put them in situation and we actually played the scenes, like all the scenes, not just read the lines, but really play the scenes and we filmed that. So you had them both, like all the actors together? Yeah, all the actors together and then we even have a little bit of set design to look like the cell of what we needed and we shot videos of that and we sent those videos to animators. So at first we made some facial mocap also but in the end we found that the facial mocap and the videos we made were just good references and it's mostly traditional animation. So obviously there's a Belgium studio that does that. So Belgium Studio is Pulpio and the animation studio is Atomic Peaks. It's actually a special team that does only traditional animation. They are really good, really good at what they do. And in Jailbirds you will see that the animation is It's very realistic for a cartoon, but it's very cartoonish for something real. It's just slightly exaggerated because we are in a fairy tale, we are in a fantasy world, so it's not like motion capture. So it's still very human, it's very precise, but it's a little bit exaggerated because the characters are a little bit exaggerated and a little bit fantasy. So yeah, that process and the actors we have are amazing. The evil chief warden is played by Thomas Lemarquis. You probably don't know his name but you know his face 100%. He played evil mutants in some Marvel films and he played some also in amazing indie films. We have Barry Johnson that has an incredible voice for Felix. We have Eliotte Delage which is an actor that played with us on our live mocap performance so he's really good with VR mocap interactive stuff like that. And we had the chance to have Victoria Abril, which plays the grandmother in Chapter 3. The grandmother is a character that has five lines in the film. But in five lines, she can create a character, like such a strong character. And so she's amazing.

[00:22:32.049] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah, I was asked because it is such a the characters play such a an important part and there was like this Animated aspect, but it also felt very realistic in the way people were moving around So it's interesting that you use that as reference and most most animation don't they just start with the pure audio? and and what was it that you made the decision to have it as a

[00:22:51.040] Thomas Villepoux: It's actually, we also did that in reverse because usually you do the animation and you do the audio to match. Like you have a reference voice and you do the animation and then you re-dub the animation. So usually the real voice actors only do the second dubbing. so that would be for most animation films. We did that in reverse, that we had the actors play the scenes and with all the facial expressions that they needed, especially the chief warden is very colorful in his facial expressions, and we recorded the voices in the studio, and then we did the animation based on that. So I come from traditional cinema and I've worked with actors my whole life and I think what they bring to a character is incredible and I didn't want to have a character that is already animated, that already has a personality and then ask an actor to match that. They know how to do it but it was more interesting to me to have those actors bring me something. and helped me create the characters. And all the characters, the good giant Fedex or the evil Chief Warden, they are really strong characters, really real characters. And even if actually the story is very short and you don't have them for a while, but you know exactly their personalities. And that's because we had that work with actors and they helped me know those characters, who they were.

[00:24:29.908] Kent Bye: And I know just in most VR projects, it's an iterative process of having to experiment with having different iterations. And so did you find that you had to bring back the actors to do different stuff? Or do you feel like you were able to get everything you needed with them running it through and capturing the video with that voice? And were there other phases where you had to call them back in and start to fine tune things?

[00:24:49.040] Thomas Villepoux: We did a little bit of retake, but it was more like, oh, I need a... But not really anything artistic. I think because we really had that process before, we really had actually worked with an acting coach to have sessions where we would just explore the characters. Not really read the lines, but just explore the characters, who they can be, and how their body is moving. It's actually funny to say that I worked with voice actors and we worked on their body language. But that's how we could create the characters. So after that, we had everything we needed. The animators were extremely happy when they got the videos and all the material from the session with the actors. They say it's great to work on that because it's really everything we need. And I was actually surprised that we did all that work for Chapter 1. And then when we came back for Chapter 2 and 3, because Chapter 1 was produced first, I was expecting to redo the same process, and actually very fast. the lines came, the characters were just naturally there. Because we had worked so much on this character for episode one, then it was much easier to do it with episode two and episode three. It was just natural for the actors to, you know, a few hours to, oh yeah, that was the character. And then afterwards, it was just roll out.

[00:26:24.178] Kent Bye: Yeah, imagine that they could just watch the VR experience and then, you know, get back into the character. What were some of their reactions to the VR piece from the actors?

[00:26:32.598] Thomas Villepoux: Oh, they love it. They love it. And it's very strange for them because none of them actually did VR before. Also, the actors that we chose have very different personalities. Like Victoria is all Latin energy going everywhere. And Thomas is actually from Iceland. So you imagine the personality is very different. He's very internal and spiritual person. So they have very different reactions to VR. But I think when I first, actually even before we started to work, I showed them some VR experiences, some of my references. I think I showed them the Google Story Time Untied or Oh, what's the name? I forgot. It's a Google Spotlight story with the sailors, the old sailor and the little girl.

[00:27:28.361] Kent Bye: Yeah, I know. I forget. Yeah, it's on a ship. They're on a ship, right?

[00:27:32.522] Thomas Villepoux: They're on a ship. And she falls from a ship. And this old guy gets her back. And then they have this strange connection created between the little girl and an old grumpy guy. And to me, that was one of the best pieces for storytelling and for Like I said, using the physical effects of VR to help the story, because it's on the sea, and then there's a storm, and then you fall in the water, and you really have that embodiment, and you're afraid of being in the water. You feel everything, but it serves the story. So I showed them that, and they saw the potential right away. They were very excited to work in VR.

[00:28:20.230] Kent Bye: I'm hesitant to dive too much more into the story because I think there's something to be said for people to just watch it and have it unfold but for me I think it's one of the more satisfying stories that I'm seeing it especially here at this year at South by Southwest to be able to have that full arc of a story with the characters and to have that magical realism and have the different scenes that really like oh yeah this is like a perfect moment to be in VR and kind of see the different aspects of scale. And yeah, I just really, really enjoyed the piece. And so yeah, what's been some of the reactions that you've had from the audiences here?

[00:28:52.807] Thomas Villepoux: Honestly, it's amazing. I didn't expect the feedback to be that good. Also because we're super happy to be here but we finished the pieces really at the last moment. I still have some things that I want to change and polish a little bit. So I was kind of afraid of the reactions and so far I think everybody loves it and they are Most of what we wanted, like the reaction we wanted at the right moment, we have that. And we have that, and they are in the story when they take the headset off, they talk about the characters, they talk about how it's sad for the character to have that. And that's one of the things I said already, but it's very important to me. When I succeeded in VR, when one of the first documentary we made was, it's called The Real Thing, and it was a documentary shot in China about architectural copies, like copy of the Eiffel Tower and copy of Venice in China. And when we showed that to people, and they would take the headset off, and they would say, wow, these Chinese guys are crazy. And it was a victory for me. They did not take the headset off and say, oh, the VR is awesome, and oh, this headset is awesome. It was the first time that we did not talk about technology, or format, or style, but really about the content. And I think what I love here is, again, that people talk about the story, people talk about the characters, like when you're out of a movie and you say, oh, this character deserves better, or something like that. and to me it's the best feedback we can have. I had great feedback yesterday by someone that actually knew the original author and that told me, oh I really find the spirit of the original author in there. That is really nice to me because I had to adapt a lot. Obviously the original story is very short. It had a lot of potential, but it's very short. So I had to adapt it. I rewrote a lot, but I tried to keep the same spirit. And I also talked to the author. I showed the first chapter to the author and he was very impressed. He was a little bit confused because VR is very new to him. he was very happy but he was very concerned about really keeping the same spirit especially when he was his spirit is very special because irony this poetry it is horror and this irony and sometimes ridiculous things he makes all this and As I was changing a little bit the ending and stuff one time he said oh you're gonna change that okay? But it's still gonna be ridiculous right it's still gonna be funny And I said yeah, yeah, I got that you want to be dark, but also a little bit ridiculous So it's like a funny ironic feeling of oh, it's horrible for him, but it's also a little bit funny and stuff so I I'm happy that I think we could achieve that.

[00:32:04.398] Kent Bye: Yeah, if I were to imagine what a lot of the people experiencing it here would experience, it would be seeing one chapter and then saying, OK, sorry, your booking's over, and then not being able to see the full story. That would be probably frustrating for a number of people who get kind of on the cliffhanger and want to know how it ends.

[00:32:24.052] Thomas Villepoux: When you're in a festival, there's two signs that you made a good job. It's when people come and say, oh, I only have time for chapter one. And they say, oh, OK, maybe I can watch chapter two. And also, you have people coming and saying, oh, my friend said that I should come to your experience. We've had that and yes obviously you know how festival is, you never have time to show to everyone and everyone's super busy going from one to another but I think it's very promising. People sometimes just see one chapter but they get the feeling of it and the project is not gonna stop there. Of course we're gonna have it on the platforms and available for everyone. The idea of Jailbird, the project, is to be easy to access for the audience. So that's why we did not do a format that requires special settings or special technology or everything. It's going to be playable on every headset. We're going to make a version for every headset. And we also, from the start, wanted to make a traditional short film out of it, using the same assets, using Unreal and shooting traditional film in Unreal. And we are pushing into that direction, and we think what we are promoting is a story and storytelling techniques. And yeah, we will bring that story to everyone.

[00:33:53.299] 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?

[00:34:03.924] Thomas Villepoux: It's always the... I think you asked me that question before, and it's always really hard to answer. I think I'm open to anything, but what I know is that in the end, it always comes down to It's just a tool. It's just a tool to communicate. So there will be communications through stories. That's what I do. There will be communications through factual documentaries. And there will be social interactions. And I think everything else is technology steps. and obviously technology and user experience has a big impact on what you can create, but to me it doesn't change much of what is the human experience in the end. It makes it stronger, it makes it better maybe, but it's still about communication between humans and communication between one team and an audience. But I'm really excited also by our other project using Metaverse platforms and with live performance and big free rooming and we are actually working now on integrating virtual reality in a venue that will actually not focus on virtual reality, but that will focus on immersiveness and that will focus on a human experience in that venue.

[00:35:46.803] Kent Bye: Is that through the OA system projection mapping or something different?

[00:35:51.384] Thomas Villepoux: Yeah, exactly. Yes, like projection mapping also is something that is today. It's strange because it was starting as projection mapping and building and stuff. And now it's becoming like a format, like you have people building black box and showing content just like it's a format. whereas it's just video projection. But I think all this, it should be a tool for something else. I don't think we should say, oh, I'm going to Atelier des Lumières, you know Atelier des Lumières in Paris. We will have one when we say, oh, I'm going to seize a new experience by blah blah or about blah blah, and it happens to play at Atelier des Lumières. You know, it's just a venue and it should be about what's in it, what's the content. And what we are trying to do, we are working, it's kind of new and confidential, but we are working on as a curation for a venue. And the idea is that when you will go there, you will not go there to see VR. There will be VR in it and there will be immersive content in it, but you will not go there for that.

[00:37:03.885] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader Immersive community?

[00:37:09.168] Thomas Villepoux: Thank you very much to the Immersive community. It's just always such a pleasure to be there. It's my first time in South by Southwest. I was never there before, and it's an amazing festival. I should have been there three days before, and I should have stayed three days more, because I have the feeling that I really couldn't enjoy a tenth of the festival. So thank you very much to everyone.

[00:37:34.460] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, looking forward to Jailbirds getting out. For folks, I know Astraea is going to be helping publish and get it out into the world. And I'm looking forward for people to have their own experience with it, because I think it's a really compelling story that's really well told. So thanks again for joining me here on the podcast.

[00:37:48.391] Thomas Villepoux: Thank you very much.

[00:37:49.932] Kent Bye: So that was Thomas Villapox. He's the director of Jailbirds, and he's also the creative director of Digital Rise. So a few takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, Well I always like to see like a full complete story. I first saw this piece when it was just the first episode and a lot of times when it's an episodic you don't get a sense of the full arc of where it's going and so I had to re-watch that first episode just to remind myself of the characters. I had some vague memories of different aspects of what had happened but I'm really glad that I watched all three all at the same time because there is quite a nice progression from each episode to the next to be able to have this full arc of a story that was really quite satisfying and is starting to use the affordances of virtual reality in a way that makes it compelling to be able to transport you into the spatial context, but also use different dimensions of this magical realism, but also this interesting hybrid between the animated versus the embodied performative aspects of this piece. I think, you know, Thomas was saying that they we're kind of doing things a little bit different of having the actors actually move their bodies and have things like staged out a little bit more you know it's taking place in the context of this prison cell and so it's got already a constrained space and in the context of the South by Southwest exhibition that actually created an additional installation component where you're putting into this square like metal thing that is restricting your movement I mean the piece itself you're not really meant to move around much anyway you're just kind of turning more or less and It's got a very stylized directorial approach where even if you were to turn around and look around you, you may be penalized because things are editing at a quick enough pace that you really should just look forward. Look left or right a little bit, but more or less it's a 180 type of experience. And there's certain moments when you get that full spatialized experience where you're kind of tilted down looking at the sense of scale and depth at different points of the story. Yeah, overall the techniques had advanced from the first episode into the second and third and just from to be able to capture not only the voice actors performances but also their embodied movements and to translate it into more of a kind of stylized animation but based upon some of the foundation of these core movements that they have. Yeah, kind of this interesting fusion of animation and embodied performances with the overall using the affordances of storytelling within virtual reality and trying to evoke this sense of embodied presence and in a sense a place of being there, but more as a disembodied ghost as you're watching it, so. Yeah, really enjoyed this piece. And it's the type of thing where there's a bit of, you know, at the end of each episode, you kind of want to know what happens next. And in that three arc series of like 10 to 12 minutes each, overall, somewhere between like 35-40 minutes to watch the whole thing. So yeah, just really great immersive story, and I think is really showing the potential of immersive storytelling within virtual reality. Not in a way that is really leaning much into the interactive components, but more of like transporting you into a spatial context and be able to have a character-driven story and using the aspects of animation to give this transportative nature of magical realism that's contained in the core of the story. 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 this coverage. So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

More from this show