#141: André Lauzon on Lessons from Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios on directing attention in 360 videos

andre-lauzonAndré Lauzon is a producer at Cirque du Soleil Média and head of their Digital Studio. At SVVRCon, he was giving a preview of an elaborately choreographed 10-minute, 360-degree video called “INSIDE THE BOX OF KURIOS™ – Cabinet of Curiosities.” Kurios has now been released on the Oculus VR store and is free to download.

The majority of the experience includes a lengthy single-take shot that puts you on stage of a Cirque du Soleil performance that was specifically created for the virtual reality medium.

VRDigest’s Ian Hamilton calls Kurios, “The most technically accomplished 360 stereoscopic video yet released, it features perfect stitching to create a seamless wraparound stage, which the cast fills with comedy, music and acrobatics.” I’d have to agree with that, and it felt like one of those elaborate OK Go music videos that gets more and more impressive as you realize how much coordination and rehearsal that this must have taken in order to create. In fact, André says that it took over 6 months in all to produce, and it’s definitely the most impressive 360-video that I’ve seen to date.

Félix & Paul Studios originally collaborated with Cirque du Soleil over a three-week period to produce a short segment for the out-of-box experience video for the Gear VR. André says that Cirque didn’t feel like they were able to really fully explore the VR medium in that short timeline, and with some support from Samsung they were able to invest more time and energy in creating Kurios.

The press release for the Kurios experience provides the following description:

With INSIDE THE BOX OF KURIOS – Cabinet of Curiosities from Cirque du Soleil, Cirque du Soleil Média and Félix & Paul Studios have created an original virtual reality experience that immerses the viewer in a mysterious and fascinating realm that disorients viewers’ senses and challenges their perceptions. Just like the theatrical version of KURIOS, INSIDE THE BOX OF KURIOS transports the viewer into the curio cabinet of an ambitious inventor who defies the laws of time, space and dimension in order to reinvent everything around him. The virtual reality version allows anyone with a Samsung Gear VR and compatible Samsung smartphone to immerse themselves in a world that is an ingenious blend of unusual curiosity acts and stunning acrobatic prowess, showing that anything is possible through the power of imagination.

André says that the proprietary VR production platform from Félix & Paul Studios is the best video solution that he has seen so far, which include both stereoscopic 360° recording and processing technology.

One of the really interesting insights I got from this interview is that André said that Cirque du Soleil has always been on the cutting edge of experimenting with different mediums like 3D video, but that they’ve always fallen flat. He said that it’s really difficult to capture the kinetic energy of a live performance, but that virtual reality is already showing a lot of promise in this way.

André also talks about how live-action 360° video directors could learn a lot from Cirque du Soleil because they’ve had a lot of experience at creating productions where there are multiple points of primary focus and secondary focus. Directors of these productions like to vary the pacing, and change the primary and secondary focus over time in order to keep it engaging and interesting. It would take multiple viewings in order to really see all of the action that is happening within Kurios. As a viewer, you have a lot of choices as to what to pay attention to, and having 360-audio cues help to direct your attention to the primary focus throughout different points of the video.

It’s still early days for these types of productions, and being able to create a fully immersive emotional arc beyond the spectacle of incredible circus performances that are largely non-verbal. The Kurios production does contain either a foreign language or “Cirque-speak” jibberish that certainly isn’t critical to the overall storyline.

It’s still largely unknown how appealing this will be to the mass consumer audience, and André is just as anxious to get a wider range of feedback once the big Gear VR consumer marketing push launches this Fall. I think that it’s certainly a compelling experience, and so be sure to check out Kurios via the Oculus VR Store if you want to see some of the best 360° video that’s out there today.

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Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast.

[00:00:12.016] Andre Lauzon: I'm Andre Lauzon. I work for Cirque du Soleil Media. I'm a producer doing VR experiences.

[00:00:19.061] Kent Bye: Great. And so I just got a chance to take a look at a Felix and Paul experience with Cirque du Soleil. It's about a 9 to 10 minute experience. So talk a bit about how this experience came about, because it was really designed specifically for VR, I understand.

[00:00:33.719] Andre Lauzon: So first we did our, I would say, our first test last summer, last July, with Félix and Paul also, to see if VR was something we wanted to pursue. And it just happened it was the birth of Gear VR and the Note 4, so we were fortunate enough to be actually included in the little chip. So that was good. But then we were sort of not entirely satisfied with the result. We had to do it so fast. In three weeks, bing bang, you know, we had something out. But we were thinking of doing a more satisfying experience, a longer experience, to see if we can actually convey something, some emotion, some proximity to the performers through VR. And the challenge was, is this something worth it, basically. So we were fortunate to have Félix Saint-Paul available and also Michel Laprise, which is the director of Curios, to work together on this new experience. So basically, what we have is assets from Curios, it's funny to say assets like it was a 3D game, but artists and some acts from Curios, but repurposed and new ones being redone to really deliver like a small or a mini show from Cirque du Soleil just for one person as opposed to a full audience and this is what you have now with Inside the Box of Curious.

[00:02:03.214] Kent Bye: Yeah and it felt like There's so much stuff going on all around me that, you know, you could watch it two or three, four times just to kind of capture all the different characters and their stories and what they're doing. But just really some of the best 3D video that I've seen around, at least from the Felix and Paul cameras, of really having a comfortable 360 degree video. But there seems to be a pretty elaborate sort of design process in order to keep things happening all around you. And so what was that process like to kind of create a compelling 360 degree video piece that keeps it engaging and interesting no matter where you're looking?

[00:02:40.258] Andre Lauzon: Well, first of all, that was our intuition that Cirque du Soleil has been experimenting with what we call primary focus and secondary focus since 30 years. So when you go see a show from Cirque du Soleil, you're sitting in the audience, Vegas or a big top or an arena, and there's always more than one thing happening. But there's a bit of an art and a science behind that, which is there's often a primary subject and a secondary subject and even more than that. And the director has to compose the scene according to what he wants the majority of the audience to look at. And there's even time where there's no primary act. Or the primary act is in a stage where he knows the audience will look at other things. And it's good, it's okay, because that's the pace he wants to instill. So that way of doing things is very far from cinematography or the language of cinema or television where the director chooses all the shots accordingly. This is very different. So we had a feeling that this is closer to VR than cinema is. So that's, I would say, the talent of the director, Michel, of the Cirque du Soleil director, that understands that, and he translated it into that piece. Of course, we still have a lot to learn and everything, but I think you can see it's coming from somebody from the circus or a theater, and not from a film director. You really see that.

[00:04:14.000] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I'm sure you're familiar with Sleep No More, which is like immersive theater. And I feel like immersive theater and these types of theater experiences have a lot to teach VR in terms of how to direct attention. And so in a piece like this, what are all the different design principles that you're using in order to kind of direct the attention to these primary, secondary, or even tertiary focus points?

[00:04:36.784] Andre Lauzon: As you saw, which I encourage everybody listening to this to go and download it, is there's a primary focus most of the time. Sometimes the primary focus is competing with a very interesting secondary focus, if you turn your head a little bit, and sometimes there's nothing else but one thing. I would say it's, if it was always the pedal to the metal, I think it would become boring very fast because it's like too much is just too much. So variation in that is important. So that's what it is. It's a play, it's an artistic, it's years of knowing how to do this, which is not my specialty, that delivers this experience basically.

[00:05:18.037] Kent Bye: And so I'm a little bit curious in terms of how does this type of project be sustainable for Cirque du Soleil? Is this something that Samsung is paying for? Is this something that you're saying this is great advertising for people to come to a show? Or how do you rationalize doing an experience like this?

[00:05:34.247] Andre Lauzon: Good question. I would say that, first of all, Cirque always, in its history, tried to push the envelope into what can we do that's more, what can we do that's more fantastical. And also worked on 3D movies and series and stuff. Not all of them actually succeeded for all kinds of reasons. And one of the reasons is it's very difficult for the TV medium to actually translate the kinetic energy, for instance, you can experience in a live show. The sense of danger, the sense of human bodies pushing to the extreme. It doesn't actually work. So we were quite curious to see if VR would go a step further. And I think it does. So that was one particular... And our division, you know, Sioux Sale Media, that's our job. So that was one thing that really interests me personally. Then in terms of the actual practical feasibility, we partnered with Samsung that helped us on that. But as you can see, this is a very elaborate piece. So we invested a lot of money in this. And also Felix and Paul, as partner, invested their time in that a lot. So I think it's a way to push the envelope It's a way to be out there to say that we are interested in VR and we want to participate into the this big search for what kind of content can be interesting and also in looking at how you can Explore how do you explore? You know the 3d filmmaking 3d 360 filmmaking and that's one way of doing things. Obviously That's what's pushing us further. I

[00:07:19.618] Kent Bye: Great. So what's next with this specific piece of the rollout and what happens now?

[00:07:24.960] Andre Lauzon: So rollout is, I don't have a specific date, but we call it very soon. So it's a question of days. And then we're offering it for free to the developers and the enthusiasts out there. So it's free now, and let's see later what we're going to do when we have a bigger install base and everything. But we want to share that experience freely to everybody so everybody can look at what we do and everything. because we feel it's more like a group of developers right now are enthusiastic and it's not a general public. Eventually we'll see what we're going to do with that and how many more we'll do or which form they will take. We'll look at what people think about this, how do they respond to that, is it interesting? We find it interesting but maybe we're the only one, we don't know. So we want to look at that at the same time, see what's going on out there and what other people are doing. I think it's going to be very interesting.

[00:08:18.222] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think it's really compelling just to see some of the limits of what the human body can do and have it that close. I really did feel like I was on the stage of a Cirque du Soleil performance, which is quite compelling to kind of see all these people doing even the juggling and juggling five or six things at the same time. But you were just here wrapping up at SVVRCon, and I'm curious if you were able to see any demos here that were really inspiring or things that you've looked at that are out there within the VR community that you see as kind of design inspiration for what type of things you want to start to integrate into some future projects.

[00:08:53.369] Andre Lauzon: There's new stuff that's coming out of Leap Motion that I found quite interesting. There was a conference just now about it that I thought it was very interesting. It's far from what we have in mind necessarily, but there's another small little company coming from New Zealand called 8i that have this very interesting capture technology that is very, very interesting to look at. I like the fact that it's getting a bit more established, it's a big word, but you can see people have a bit more traction on what they want to do. It's still very pioneering with stage. We'll see in a year what happens to this in reality. Still looking for a good camera system. Right now, I really believe Felix and Paul have definitely the best. I haven't seen anything else that surpasses them or even equals them in the kind of thing we want to do. Of course, you know, there's different camera or system for every purpose. But for our purpose, it's hard to find something else right now. So good for you, Felix and Paul.

[00:09:59.421] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you see as kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?

[00:10:09.425] Andre Lauzon: That's a very good question. I'm having fun showing this to, you know, young, above 13 people, and like teenagers and young adults and stuff like that, and women in particular, because guys are always interested very fast in that. You can see, after the first fascination of how new this is, that it's a very, very powerful medium. I've shown this experience to a young 20-something woman that likes Cirque du Soleil already, when they were confronted to the proximity of the performers, they find it actually a little bit intimidating and very strong, they had a very strong reaction, a positive reaction, but very, like almost too much, they're in my bubble type of thing. So, I think with the right experience, and the right experience in line with the right audience, This is a much more powerful medium, we think. And because we're always games and stuff, and games, I mean, I've worked in games, so it can be very compelling, but you don't get that sense of immersion that VR can get you. So that's going to be very, very interesting to see how characters evolve and how you're going to be attracted to characters and how you're going to believe they're real up to a point. and how you're going to relate emotionally to 3D characters or even real-life TV, I mean filmed characters. So it's going to be very interesting to see how this goes. Awesome, thank you. Thank you very much and thank you, Voice of VR.

[00:11:49.263] Kent Bye: And thank you for listening. If you'd like to support the Voices of VR podcast, then please consider becoming a patron at patreon.com slash voices of VR.

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