Felix & Paul Studios had two experiences at Sundance this year. One featured the training of NASA astronauts in Space Explorers, and the other was a time-lapse VR story featuring characters from Wes Anderson’s Ilse of Dogs film in front half with a behind-the-scenes look at the production in the back half. Felix & Paul use their own custom camera technology, which means that they’re in a constant feedback loop of creating content, making innovations in cinematic VR camera technologies, which then opens up new storytelling possibilities. For their two pieces at Sundance, they created a cinematic VR camera that does time lapse for Ilse of Dogs, created a motion stabilization system to put a camera in a supersonic T-38 jet, created an underwater camera to shot astronauts training for space missions, and weatherized a camera rig to deal with extreme dessert heat and sand storms.
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I had a chance to catch up with co-founder Felix Lajeunesse at Sundance to talk about their latest technological innovations, the tradeoffs of haptic feedback and user control that comes with using a Positron Voyager chair, the deeper themes covered throughout Space Explorers, and the experiential modulation and emphasis on emotional dramatic effects that comes from speeding up or slowing down time in VR.
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[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. So at the Sundance Film Festival this year, Felix and Paul Studios actually had two new experiences there. One was called Space Explorers, which was kind of a behind-the-scenes look of what it takes for astronauts to train in order to go onto these various space missions. And then Isle of Dogs, which was a stop-motion experience where they actually designed an entirely new camera in order to do this stop-motion virtual reality. Isle of Dogs is a film by Wes Anderson. And so they created this special piece working with the crew and all the different models. And they created this experience of when you look forward, you're totally immersed within the Isle of Dogs world. And then you look behind you and you're able to see more of the behind the scenes footage. And this is a promotional VR piece that just actually released this past week. So it's now available that you can go check that out on the Daydream headset. So Felix and Paul Studios, whenever they create new virtual reality experiences, they're always tinkering on the back end, doing some sort of technological innovation to do different shots that were never possible before. And these experiences are no different. And so I had a chance to talk to Felix about some of their technological innovations that are going on in the back end in order to enable them to do these new pieces. as well as they use the Positron chair. So the Positron chair is something that it's like an egg that is rotating around and is able to give you a little bit more of a haptic feedback as you're watching an experience. But at the same time, there's some trade-offs between allowing the audience to look wherever they want to. And so I talked to Felix about those trade-offs between the haptic feedback that you get from this chair versus the freedom of the user to be able to look around anywhere that they want. So we'll be covering all that and more on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Felix of Felix and Paul Studios happened on Saturday, January 20th, 2018 at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:02:07.518] Felix Lajeunesse: So I'm Félix Léjeunesse, I'm the creative director and co-founder of Félix & Paul Studios, and this year we're showing two virtual reality experiences at New Frontier. One is called Space Explorers and New Dawn, which is the first episode in the two-part series about the present and future of space exploration. The second project we're presenting is called Isle of Dugs Behind the Scene. So it's a project that we did with Wes Anderson and it's a sort of a look into the world of Isle of Dugs where you encounter the characters inside of their puppet characters in a very intimate kind of mode.
[00:02:38.838] Kent Bye: Yeah, and as I watch these two pieces, the thing that I'm always looking for is kind of like the new things that you're doing in terms of like shots that I haven't seen before. And I'm just curious to hear from you, first of all, if you have a new generation of your cameras that you've been working on, and then what type of things that you were able to do in these two new pieces that you weren't able to do before.
[00:02:57.836] Felix Lajeunesse: So, for the Isle of Dugs, we had to basically design a complete technology pipeline to make 3D 360 time-lapse and stop-motion animation, so nothing like that had been done by our studio, and so we had to figure it out from the ground up. So we didn't use our traditional camera equipment, we actually had to come up with a different system. and we worked in collaboration also with their production team because they had been producing the film for two years so they already had a lot of stop-motion intelligence so we started to sort of bring all of these things together our expertise and their expertise and figure out the right pipeline for this so not only do you have the stop-motion animation in front of you but you have time-lapse of the activities over many, many hours of the animators and artists working on the film happening all around you in the background. So it was like a very big sort of orchestration of making all of that come together and feel effortless when you watch the experience. And in Space Explorers, there's a lot of firsts. For example, we placed the camera inside of a T-38 supersonic jet, so we had to work with NASA engineers. to be able to reduce vibration as much as possible, so we did some technology development just for that specific shot. We had to submerge our VR camera underwater, and with the current camera that we had, it was not possible, so we had to actually design a specific iteration of our camera to be able to capture those shots inside of the NBL, so that was a big endeavor. We shot in the desert, in the New Mexico desert with the Mars Rover, so we shot into sandstorms, with sand coming inside of our proprietary equipment, which was difficult to handle so we had to figure out creative and technological solutions to make that work and finally we shot two rocket launches which are going to appear in the second episode and one of our camera melted in the process because we wanted to shoot them from up close because in virtual reality you can't really zoom in or use those long focal lengths so we had to bring the camera as close as we could to really experience the power and the physicality of a launch and all that so So it was a very adventurous and risky process, you know, from a process and technical standpoint, doing a project like Space Exploration. We really pushed things on the edge of our, I guess, cinematic VR capacity, you know.
[00:05:12.141] Kent Bye: Wow. So yeah, I could tell that there was, you know, I didn't pick up on, uh, I picked up on some of the stuff, but not all the things that you were talking about there. It's as you're watching it, I experienced it as any other sort of 360 film without sort of thinking about the considerations of what was required to even get some of these shots. Certainly the flying in a, in a jet was amazing. It felt like, wow, this is, I'm never going to have an opportunity to actually do this. This is probably the closest I'm ever going to get. from getting the feeling of flying around in a jet to see the cockpit and to be able to look around. It was quite amazing. There's stuff like Google Earth, but it's a lot different to have that fidelity of like as you're flying around in a jet. But with the time-lapse with Isle of Dogs, so it sounds like you had to just create an entire what's essentially like a 360 stop-motion camera and a whole other pipeline to do that. And I guess the question I have is that with the stuff that I was seeing, was that a part of their film? Because I didn't see a film camera filming it. Were they just producing those little animations just specifically for this behind the scenes? Or were those little clips I was seeing, was that actually in the movie and did you somehow remove the camera?
[00:06:16.907] Felix Lajeunesse: No, it's an original creation just for the EPK in a way. So that EPK is also going to be seen as a traditional video or as a 360 video and as a VR experience, but it was really created for the EPK. So these are not segments of the film. The sets were rebuilt and the characters were reanimated for those specific audio clips for the specific purpose of that EPK.
[00:06:40.816] Kent Bye: The thing that was really fascinating about watching that experience was that I could look forward and feel completely immersed in this world and then kind of look behind the scenes and it's sort of like breaking the fourth wall and seeing everything that's happening behind the scenes and so you kind of see people kind of working and doing stuff and It's a type of experience for me that I could watch again, just facing the completely opposite direction, just to see what everybody was doing. So I think in that sense, it's something that felt completely immersive when I was looking forward, but as I turned my head visually, it felt like I was going into another world, which is something that I have experienced in terms of audio. There's some stuff that I've seen called U-turn, where audio ways you're able to do that. But in terms of visuals, I've never seen a VR experience where it felt so different to look forward and look backwards.
[00:07:26.800] Felix Lajeunesse: Yeah, and you were talking about the audio, so there's actually interactive audio going on also, so the mix really works in relation to where you're looking. So if you, let's say, look at Jeff Goldblum's character talking to you in your turn, you're still gonna hear his voice, but it's gonna go down, and then you're gonna start to hear those kind of drum beats, you know, and you're gonna start... sort of pick up the soundscape of the world behind but it's very subtle and then once you move back to the characters then those sounds kind of dissipate and then the mix of the voice comes out and it's just that it's not just a volume thing it's also in the frequencies and in the overall mix and so it plays on a subconscious level but it makes you feel like It's not just a visual payoff, but there's also something that transports you inside of that world that that world has an audio identity That has a sound identity, but it's placed subtly, you know, so yeah. No, I think you you've nailed it I mean that was the intent to do an X but you know something we had in mind was that we wanted to do a project as we knew that that would be seen as a VR piece but as a 360 video so and we wanted the piece to make sense for both these formats and And it's not always easier the case to make that work, so we wanted to make sure that we would create something compelling for both these platforms, that we consider as different platforms, you know. A 360 video that you watch on a computer, it's not the same medium in my mind as a virtual reality experience in which you are completely immersed. these are different modes of engagement, you know, these are different modes of immersion and interaction with the content and so that piece needed to make perfect sense for both these platforms and that informed the creative process.
[00:09:00.156] Kent Bye: Yeah, the other thing that I noticed in some of the shots that you had in the Isle of Dogs was that you have monitors that are kind of showing live shots of other time-lapse so you kind of see like it's it's almost like layering of time-lapse and so you're really kind of playing with time you're watching something that is Accelerated but then on top of that you're seeing the meta acceleration of things that are cut out of the scene So you see that people's hands on top of that you see like even another layer of time-lapse So it's like an incepted time-lapse within time-lapse. And so were you compositing those? images in post-production or is the new camera technology you've built been able to kind of capture whatever's on these computer monitors because there's monitors all around you when you look behind you and but also on the side. And usually that's a very difficult thing to capture what's on a computer screen. So I'm just curious if your camera technology can capture that, or if you had to sort of composite that afterwards.
[00:09:54.381] Felix Lajeunesse: It's a lot of compositing. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I think in certain screens they were actually captured. I do not remember now that we've all finished it and integrated it which one it was, but certain television screens were captured in real time as we were filming, and some others were just integrated in post-production.
[00:10:11.483] Kent Bye: Well, the thing that was really fascinating for me about that, experiencing it, was the sort of layers of time and time-lapse. And to me, I think some of the other shots that you've had and other previous experiences where you did have time-lapse, to me that is a huge strength of VR as a medium is that you start to have an embodied experience with depth that can allow time-lapse to happen. And I think there's something that's really compelling about that. I'm just curious to hear your thoughts of like, what is it about the time-lapse that's so beguiling?
[00:10:42.664] Felix Lajeunesse: So I think that a lot of things in virtual reality, everything that has to do with presence and immersion, I think rhythm and the sense of time is a huge component of that. Immersion is, in my mind, hugely dependent on the sense of time flow. And you have your own sense of time as a viewer inside of a VR experience. You have your own sense of rhythm. And the rhythm of the story, can be in sync or out of sync with your own rhythm as a viewer. And it's a little bit of an abstract idea, but to play with that creates an emotional ride, right? So for example, if you suddenly accelerate time in a virtual reality experience, whether like we did that in Space Explorers and we did that with Isle of Dogs, it just makes you feel like there's a sense of a disconnect between your time as a viewer and the time flow of reality. But that puts you in a certain state of mind as a viewer and a certain state of mind I believe of openness and being kind of alert because there's this kind of forced disconnect between the two flows of times. You see what I mean? And I think that that plays on your mind and it opens it up. I wouldn't hold a shot like that forever. You see what I mean? But I think that it's something that you can do to suddenly sort of re-engage the viewer and sort of re-engage his awareness and then suddenly you sort of bring back like a different kind of flow of time and it just kind of it creates those kind of emotional curves I believe in the story or experiential curves I should say and you know I believe in that so playing with time does that and if you went the other way around and did some super kind of slow motion shot which we did in Cirque du Soleil 0 for example the same phenomenon happens. There's this sudden kind of disconnect between your own sense of time and motion. Because as a viewer, you move at your own speed and at your own sort of physical speed inside of the experience. And so you're always aware of your sense of time. And when you feel that disconnect in O, for example, things suddenly become lyrical and poetic. You see what I mean? And it creates this kind of experiential modulation or quality that we think is interesting in this medium, much more than it is, I believe, in cinema, in a way.
[00:12:51.988] Kent Bye: Yeah, when I went to see the Isle of Dogs at the YouTube house here, I was told that Isle of Dogs was specifically designed for the Daydream headset. What's that mean in terms of, like, how do you design an experience that's specific to something like Daydream, and how is that different than making something for the Gear VR?
[00:13:09.323] Felix Lajeunesse: It's not really different. The platforms have slightly different specs. In the case of that project, it's a project that we did with Google and Fox. Because of that partnership, we really optimized the app for the Daydream platform. But theoretically, any VR content like that could be taken and re-encoded and re-optimized for another platform. I couldn't say that from a creative standpoint or from a production standpoint that it really influences. It's really at the end of the pipeline that you need to make a decision about how things are going to be encoded and optimized.
[00:13:45.664] Kent Bye: Tell me more about this process of the Space Explorers, how this project came about, and if you were able to actually go to all these places that you're showing in the piece as well, what was that like to go behind the scenes of going to places where people usually wouldn't be able to go?
[00:14:00.651] Felix Lajeunesse: So it's been a long time fascination of mine to do something space related in virtual reality mainly because we always try to go for subject matters or topics or stories that have a strong experiential potential and that was definitely something that we felt would materialize through the subject of space exploration and we approached NASA with a project and It's not something that was immediate and all the doors open. It was a gradual process where we, you know, went there and met a lot of people and then we started to meet with astronauts. And when you meet with astronauts and they become interested in your project and what you want to achieve, then doors start to open. And so the story shaped up kind of organically as we would see more and more access and we would suddenly be able to do this and do that. And you see what I mean? Like it kind of evolved in an organic way, I would say. And so we ended up filming a lot of things that were very hard to film so we talked about some of those shots. We also decided to take the viewer to Russia inside of Roscosmos to explore the reality of Russian cosmonauts and how the Russians explore and think about space exploration in the present as well as in the future and how they think in terms of collaboration with the United States and other national space program and how there's a sense of almost space diplomacy, you know, that kind of transcends the rivalries that you see in the current affairs of the world and all that. So we felt that was important to sort of also adopt like a different perspective than that of NASA. And that's why we did that for episode two. You know, and we also thought that the private space companies were an extremely important component of telling the story of space exploration today. And so we spent time in the world of SpaceX also, and that's also going to be part of the second episode, which is more focused on collaboration. And so I think that that story, you could have told it in a radio show, in television or in a film, but for it to be told in virtual reality, what we wanted to do was to really place the viewer at the heart of it and for the viewer to feel like a space explorer himself. So that's why the story is called Space Explorers and not Space Exploration. We wanted the viewer to almost feel in a non-literal way like a protagonist inside of this world. And that's why all of those shots that were so hard to capture, like being in a jet and being submerged underwater and being on this kind of foreign planet with the astronauts when they're in the desert. All of those shots needed to be as immersive and as physical as possible for the viewer to feel integrated inside of that world and inside of that journey instead of kind of a distant outside observer to that world. And so the story was also informed by that desire of making an experiential journey or crafting, shaping an experiential journey for the viewer that was also part of storytelling choices that we made along the way.
[00:16:49.382] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I didn't hear you mention that you were putting cameras in space, so I presume that, you know, in the very first opening shots, there's some very poetic shots of the Earth and the Sun that seem very clearly designed within CG, but that there's some shots that it was actually really difficult for me to tell whether or not you would actually shot the International Space Station and the Earth, but You know, I presume that it's more CG, but maybe you could talk about some of those other shots that look really good. I mean, almost like to the point where it was really difficult for me to tell whether or not you actually put a camera in space or whether or not you had sort of generated everything with the computer graphics.
[00:17:24.910] Felix Lajeunesse: So, we didn't put a camera in space for this project. We wish we could. That's going to come a little later in time. So we had to create those CG, photorealistic CG shots and it's an interesting story because NASA has this model, this very precise model of the International Space Station. The company called Magnopus used that and sort of refined that and polished that model and created the experience called Mission ISS last year. So we work with Magnopus to take that real-time model and turn it into a pre-rendered, sort of even more polished, even more cinematic model of the ISS. We really refined the shots to make them look as cinematic and photorealistic as possible. And so that's what we did. If it was like a real-time experience, it wouldn't look as good. You see what I mean?
[00:18:09.452] Kent Bye: So... So yeah, I'm curious to hear some of the reactions of people that have been able to see it. Maybe people who are even astronauts.
[00:18:18.368] Felix Lajeunesse: So I think the experience really gives you a privileged point of view into an experience that could otherwise feel like it's very exclusive. Only a few people in the world can actually experience the ISS or only a few people in the world can experience the kind of training that will lead you to go to space or a rocket launch. seen from up close. So I think there's this sense that space is this distant reality, very far away and not accessible. And I think that the experience is breaking that boundary to a certain extent and breaking that frontier. And I believe that matters, not just from an entertainment standpoint, but because when you think about space exploration, what is it ultimately about? It's not just a technology project or a scientific project. It's about understanding our place in the universe. It's about the quest for our origins. It's about the future of our civilization, the future of the human species. And there are so many dimensions to space exploration beyond sciences and technology that it's really about all of us. And it's something that should be way more accessible, in a way, for the human imagination, you know. And I believe that virtual reality can help in bridging that gap. does not literally take you to space, but it's probably the closest thing that you can do, you know, to simulate that. It's a medium that can allow you the closest experience of actually going on a journey to space. And so Sunita, one of the astronauts who was involved in the project, just tried it, and that's kind of how she reacted to it. She was like, I'm glad that finally viewers can experience being, like, submerged, you know, in this replica of the ISS in the neutral buoyancy lab and really feel what it's like, you know, to sort of be in a space suit in that sort of submerged world. I'm glad that people can feel, like, what it feels like to be in a T-38 jet and flying at supersonics because that kind of replicates the condition of space flight. I'm glad that people could feel all those things. So I think that for them, it's like you can talk about these things as an astronaut, and you can say, oh, I experienced that, and this is how it feels, the vibration and this and that. Cinema can give you an indication of that, but virtual reality can make you feel it, can make you experience it, way more than any other medium. So she felt compelled by that, and in a way happy that this came through the experience, this materialized through the experience.
[00:20:33.398] Kent Bye: Yeah, I'm curious to hear from your perspective as a director, using something like the Positron, because this is a technology where you can, it's kind of a blend between as a director, you're controlling the frame and controlling where people are looking at. Usually in VR, you can just let people look wherever they want. And so with the Positron, there's a certain sense of like, you're kind of cutting off people from what's happening behind you. because it's kind of difficult to kind of turn around, but at the same time, you're able to kind of have people feel immersed and have them rotate and move around in a way that is actually very subtle. I've had Positron stuff where I could definitely tell that I was moving, but I think that the way that you did it was in a way that was much more nuanced, in a way that was
[00:21:15.717] Felix Lajeunesse: Less sort of motion sickness inducing to do this kind of rotation without sort of deliberate knowing about it But maybe talk about that process of those trade-offs that you had to make and what you're able to do with that So first of all when we designed a piece we didn't plan to do that as a positron location based entertainment experience we just Designed the whole edit and the whole flow of the piece for it to be something that people would watch wherever you know in their VR headsets And then, as we started to think about, you know, coming to Sundance and all that, we thought, could we implement or sort of elevate the experience through the use of Positron chairs? And everything we had experienced so far with those chairs was more, I would say, in a kind of a theme park. kind of heavy-ended kind of direction, which was not in sync with our project in a way, where we wanted things to be more inspirational and somewhat contemplative to a certain extent and subtle, you know. And so we worked with the team at Positron to really design a highly curated ride where the motion is not brutal and it's not something that is meant to really sort of shake you or to distract you from the immersion. but really to sort of subtly support you through the flow of the experience. So for example, when you are in the jet, there is a subtle vibration and a subtle sense of push. You see what I mean? Very subtle gravity. When you are in space, we also implemented a very subtle elevation. So you do have a sense of elevation, but it's kind of, it's almost like a subconscious People are not necessarily thinking, holy blood, I'm actually moving, what's going on? It's not distracting you, it's just kind of sinking you a little more into the shot, into the moment. And that's really how we wanted to, it's like tea infusion, you see what I mean? Something that just kind of happens and transports you a little more into the moment. And in terms of directing the viewer attention, you're right about that. In certain shots, for instance, I'm thinking about one where you see two astronauts coming, there's a big rainbow, two astronauts are walking in your direction, and then there's a Mars rover that's coming in on the other side. As a VR shot, as a traditional VR shot, without the use of that, we would have placed our zero degree probably in the middle, you know, so that you can sort of follow that astronaut come or you can look to the right and it feels like you're sort of free to look wherever you want and the shot works well that way. In the positron we had to sort of decide a little more how we wanted the narrative of the shot to unfold so we created that subtle kind of translation motion where you go from the rainbow to sort of gradually panning through space and they got on the rover so it has more of a cinematic quality in that sense you can still look around but it's harder to look at the rover so it's kind of a trade-off you know but we feel that what you lose in terms of viewers freedom you gain in terms of physical sensations so so yeah I think it was like it's a I would say that it's a different experience in a way in my mind you know if you watch it in this kind of deluxe version you know with the implementation of the positron chair It just gives you a different experience, I believe, than what people will experience at their home. It's the same story, but you're not going to feel it the same way. I think it's because of that enhanced sense of physical motion and presence.
[00:24:33.789] Kent Bye: So as we look forward here, I know that Felix and Paul Studios is always pushing forward in terms of like the cutting edge of the technology and what's coming next. And for me, I see like the next things in terms of like digital light fields and volumetric storytelling, six degree of freedom and potentially even like on the other extreme like live actors and immersive theater type of principles in terms of storytelling. But you've also done some narrative, you have now a new camera to be able to do stop-motion, to be able to do experiences that were never possible before. So I'm just curious as you're moving forward some of the the biggest open questions are kind of driving your work forward of what edges that you really want to push.
[00:25:11.430] Felix Lajeunesse: Yeah, so we are developing a slate of, let's say, projects that are more interactive, so volumetric captures, 6DOF projects, projects that are straightforward cinematic VR also, because we're not 100% sold on everything has to be positionally tracked. That's never been our belief. There are certain experiences that we believe are better delivered as cinematic virtual reality experiences, and that also impacts, at least at this moment in time, the quality of the production value that you can get, you know, if you make your piece at this moment in time, again, because things will change in the future. you want to do like a kind of HBO level kind of production and you shoot it volumetric, you know, artifacts might be visible and you need to do some kind of CG reconstructive scenes and stuff like that. So, it's great for certain type of experiences and we definitely have projects that go in that direction and that use that. But for other projects, we feel like, for example, Miyubi was an example of that or Space Explorers is an example of that. you really want to be able to capture the shots in the most cinematic and beautiful way possible. And so just optimizing cinematic virtual reality, not just from a camera standpoint, but also from a process and encoding and app optimization standpoint, there's still a lot of improvement there to be made. You see what I mean? And even in the way we actually design the stereoscopy and all of the workflow, we're constantly iterating on that. We've been iterating on that for four years, and we're still doing it. So there's a lot of improvement on that front to be made. So we're developing sort of a mixed slate of projects between non-interactive and interactive pieces and we don't put a cap on these things, you know, like we conceive of that as dimensions of the virtual reality medium that need to evolve and eventually probably everything will kind of fuse together and the cinematic VR experience is going to be probably interactive to a certain extent with a little bit of positional tracking all the time. without it necessarily being like everything is going to be room scale and all that so it's going to depend on the content but I think everything will be positionally tracked to a certain extent a couple of years from now so yeah so we're developing a slate of projects that goes in that direction and you know the truth is every single project we've ever done we have to develop new tech you know so you know the stop-motion stuff for Isle of Dogs definitely was an example the high-speed super slow motion stuff that we did with Cirque du Soleil you know we had never done that before you know, from UB, being able to shoot perfect stereoscopy from two feet high, you know, like, so, how do we do that? Like, it's not just a matter of bringing your camera down, it just changed everything in terms of perception of depth and perception of nadir and zenith, like, so we had to rethink our technology approach all the time, you know, and it's a lot of technology development that goes through the whole pipeline, from camera to post-production to encoding And so I think it's going to be like that for the next 10 years, you know, like we're just going to keep... developing technology, and we can't dissociate those two things. I mean, that's how we've been operating as a studio for almost five years now. There is a perfect synergy and fusion between creation, storytelling, and technology development, and we do not understand how to dissociate those two things. You see what I mean? They're meant to be together in our perspective, you know, at least in those early days of the rise of virtual reality. I mean that's how we embraced it from the beginning and we want to continue to build on that model where you can have creative ambitions and find ways to develop the technology to be able to deliver that vision. And vice versa, developing sometimes technology that will just suddenly transform the way you think about creative limitations. And so it's this kind of nucleus, right, where things are kind of Very energetic and we don't want that nucleus to be divided into two. So we want to maintain that Centralized power that makes sense. And so yeah, so the future is gonna take us to other places Technologically for sure because that's just the nature of what we do and we're we're excited about that. You know, it's like space exploration We feel that way about you know, virtual reality. We feel like it's a lot about exploration. It's a lot about you know there's a frontier between the world of the known and the world of the unknown and you know you're sort of trying to push into the unknown always and it's like just a condition you just that's your fate that's what you have to do you know like
[00:29:35.192] Kent Bye: Yeah, yeah. I can imagine, yeah, just that experience of always, you know, you just kind of want to sometimes just be a creative, but, you know, the process of innovation and creation and, you know, I imagine also just, you know, unity and artificial intelligence and all these interactions, you know, I think there's all technologies that are going to all be fusing together more and more over the next couple of years. But, yeah, just to, finally, just to kind of wrap things up, I'm just curious what you think is kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality and immersive storytelling and what it might be able to enable.
[00:30:06.928] Felix Lajeunesse: Well, I believe that one day what you will see is an immersive platform, you know, so it's not just going to be going from the physical world to engaging with an immersive experience, like a story-driven VR experience. I think it's going to be first entering a platform that is immersive, whether probably a fusion between virtual reality and mixed reality that's going to come out, like there's going to be a point where we no longer differentiate those two things, it's going to be one word, digital reality, whatever it's going to be called. And so you're going to enter into that platform, into that world, and through that world you will have access to your music, to your VR experiences, entertainment, VR experiences, VR series and all that. So I think that's going to be part of the near future, you know, probably that's going to materialize in the next 10 years, you know, that I believe. So on our end, you know, as I mentioned, we're not designing like the social platform, we're designing virtual reality, story-driven experiences. I believe that, you know, in the same way that today people care about watching shows on Netflix and Hulu or going to see movies, you know, made by film studios, this connection that we have to stories that are told in a beautiful and inspiring way, people will want to do that in an immersive way, so cinema will find its evolution through virtual reality, and that's what we're completely invested into, is cinematic virtual reality, and I believe that probably, I don't really like talking about years, you know, but it just feels like if you don't, things become so abstract, so I'll just stick to 10 years, but I'm guessing that probably in 10 years from now, the idea of immersion, you know, it's going to be a by-default state, you know, you will think about a story, you will think about, of course, you experience a story through immersion, you know, and you might look back and say, well, there was a time where immersion was not really part of how we interacted with media, you know, like, I was like, your kids are gonna be like, really? What do you mean? Like, it's gonna be like, there was a time where there was no television, you see what I mean? What do you mean, no television, you know? So, it's going to be, I'm absolutely certain of that, you know? Kids will be blown away by the fact that there was a time where you did not experience things through a state of immersion because ultimately that's what it's meant to be you know and I'm just not talking about the from an industry geek standpoint I'm talking about the fact that As human beings, like me right now, I'm interacting with physical reality by being immersed in it firsthand, and I have access to my senses. And reality comes to me through my sense of presence and through my senses. And no media experience has ever really delivered that. They delivered fractions of that, little pieces of that. But I think that virtual reality is just going to be this realignment between the physical experience and the digital experience, and things are just going to feel much more natural to humans. And once that happens, there's going to be no going back. You see what I mean? Maybe for nostalgic people, just like vinyl records or whatever. But it's going to be the, by default, way to interact with the digital world. And I do not see a version of that failing. then from their imagination can run wild. Already there's a lot of things happening in the world of gaming and virtual reality, in the world of cinematic storytelling, and it's just going to become increasingly explosive and diverse and rich, and it's going to go in tons of different directions. It's going to be this exponential kind of phenomenon. We're not yet at the point of where everything explodes, but it's going to come, definitely.
[00:33:51.747] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, Felix, thank you so much for joining me today on the podcast. Yeah, it was fun. Thank you. So that was Felix Lajeunesse. He's a co-founder of Felix and Paul Studios, and they were showing two experiences at Sundance this year, Space Explorers as well as Isle of Dogs VR. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, I was super fascinated by the deeper thoughts that Felix had about time and immersion and the sensation of time within virtual reality. So this is something that they've been experimenting a little bit with going back to the Cirque du Soleil experience called O, which if you haven't seen, you should definitely check that out as well. I think it's got some very cinematic virtual reality. shots in there, and they're exploring slow motion in a way that is really compelling. And in the Isle of Dogs, they're actually exploring this time lapse. And so they've explored, you know, both slowing down time and accelerating time. And I think that what they're finding is that there's this sense of a rhythm of time that you have as a viewer, and that when you go into virtual reality and you start to mess with that, either speeding up or slowing up time, it sort of puts you into like this limbo state of your normal flow of time. The Greeks actually had two words for time. They had the chronos time, which is like the the time where you basically have a schedule, you're kind of thinking about things, and it's very routine in a lot of ways. Whereas the Kairos time is more about the quality of the moment of time and it's more akin to when you go on vacation and you don't make any plans and you kind of just see what emerges and there's a little bit more of a fluidity in terms of being super present and have this expansion of time where if you don't plan things you can have these either synchronicities or serendipitous moments that just feel magical. I think that's the feeling that they're trying to go for by speeding up or slowing down time in that it's actually kind of like this new modulation for experience. It's an experiential modulation or being able to alter the emotional curve or arc of an experience by being able to either speed up or slow down time. Now this is something that is very unique to a lot of the Felix and Paul experiences because a lot of the camera technologies that are out there don't actually enable you to be able to actually capture the different frames at a speed or a rate that would allow you to either speed up or slow down time. And so this is an example of them creating the technology in the back end. And what Felix said is that there's kind of like this perfect fusion between creation, storytelling, and technological development. And so for any piece that they're working on, they're kind of Doing these different trade-offs in order to create something new they have to do this technological development and that allows them new affordances as they're doing storytelling and Especially with this being able to speed up or slow down time I think it does have this really beguiling and compelling experience and if you have the chance to check out the islet dogs experience I definitely recommend you check it out because it is quite compelling to see all these different layers of incepted time within that experience and And just to clarify something, my suspicion is that when I was talking to the people at the YouTube house, they said that Isle of Dogs was a better experience within the Daydream. And I think what they might have been referring to was that at the Sundance New Frontier section, they actually had like this automated way with 2-Bit Circus was doing this way where they basically push a button and it allows them to automatically sync up a whole room full of different experiences. in that they actually did not allow the virtual reality experience creators to do the spatialized sound and so they are actually forcing those mobile phones into a stereo mix which i think is personally a terrible terrible terrible decision in that it actually takes away a huge part of the immersion within virtual reality and that When I actually tried to watch this piece the second time to turn around and to listen to The sound mix because it was forced to be a stereo mix actually had to cut out that background sound So anybody that saw it within the context of the new frontier didn't get that full spatial audio mix And in talking to other virtual reality creators, they were also kind of complaining that they weren't able to do the full sound mix. And I just want to emphasize that sound is so super important in that I would never want a virtual reality experience to be forced to mix down to stereo because there is something that is lost quite a bit in terms of being actually able to track the full narrative of the story. There's a lot of sound cues that were embedded within a number of different experiences that. actually made it a lot more difficult to watch. So anyway, I just wanted to clarify that a little bit because I think that's may have what they've been referring to. So also looking at what they're doing with Space Explorers and the Positron. So my experience with the Positron has not been the greatest in the past. And I think part of that is that it was very fast, aggressive motion, and it wasn't always necessarily correlated to what I was experiencing. And I think that when you're turning around in 360 degree, that is actually a very motion sickness inducing type of turn. Even in the Space Explorers, there was sometimes where I had to just shut my eyes because I could feel that to be automatically rotated without me initiating that can actually be a motion sickness trigger. But I will say that Felix and Paul has done the best job of implementing the Positron experience that I've seen so far. The key to their experience, I think, is that it was very subtle and very subconscious. You could barely even feel that it was moving a lot of times, but yet there's still kind of like this subconscious haptic experience that, you know, some people reported feeling they were totally immersed and they were just in tears after seeing it in the positron chair. So there's something about this as a location-based entertainment for cinematic VR, especially for people who are brand new to VR and you want to maybe have a very curated experience for them. I think for people who are a little bit more advanced and be able to watch a virtual reality experience and especially cinematic VR, that being forced to look in a certain direction and almost like cutting out half of the experience because it actually is very difficult to kind of turn around and look behind you. And so But at the same time, I think that you're able to find that trade-off between that additional haptic experience that you're able to give. But I will caution other VR creators that doing too aggressive of those turns and motions can be very motion sickness inducing. And it was also great to hear Felix talk about the space explorers in terms of the, I guess, more inspirational aspects of understanding our place in the universe, questioning our origins, the future of our civilization, the future of our human species, and that by giving people an experience of what it's like to go through these different training scenarios, they're trying to make it more accessible for these ideas of space exploration for the human imagination. And, you know, in terms of like the astronaut going in and saying that, you know, this felt pretty similar to what it's like to be in a T-38 supersonic jet, I will say that that was one of the most impressive shots that I've seen in virtual reality was actually feeling like I was in a cockpit of a jet going at supersonic speeds. At the same time, I don't feel the haptic feedback or the real audio that I would kind of expect to hear. And so it was certainly not like I was feeling the G-forces of being in that jet. And so I think there's still quite a huge part of that experience that I think is not being translated. But of course, there's only so much you can do with virtual reality. giving you the visual stimulus I think is still a huge leap forward because you know again like Felix was saying they had to do a lot of customizing of trying to stabilize a virtual reality camera that is going at supersonic speeds is something that no one else has been able to do and they did an amazing job. There's a lot of really amazing shots that are in this experience. So for anyone who's a fan of space and space exploration, definitely check out the first episode of Space Explorers whenever it comes out. And I'm also actually really looking forward to seeing both the Russian and as well as the SpaceX perspectives on some of this space exploration. And finally, just looking into the future, there's a little bit of me asking Felix and Paul like what their future direction is. They're very focused on innovating when it comes to the different technological stacks. And so they're going to continue to do like either digital light fields or a six degree of freedom and positionally attract people within these experiences, which means that they're going to start to do more and more integration within game engines to be able to do a little bit more of that interactions. Obviously when you're doing cinematic VR you're recording something and it becomes a little less interactive So it'll be interesting to see coming from that center of gravity of cinematic VR how they're able to add these different layers of interaction I think you're able to see a little bit of a early indications of where that might be going when you look at something like my UB which is essentially like looking around the room and trying to find different objects that are highlighted and if you find all those objects and you kind of unlock these and extra and additional scenes that are in Mayubi that give a little bit more of the origin stories of Mayubi. but that, you know, they're going to continue to do all sorts of innovations. Uh, Felix said, you know, they just imagine that there's just going to be continually updating the technology as things move forward. And that, and in a lot of ways that virtual reality is very similar to space exploration in the sense that it's like the world of the known and the world of the unknown, and that they're constantly at that threshold of discovering things as well as, you know, continually pushing forward what's even possible in immersive storytelling. So, that's all that I have for today. I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast, and if you enjoyed the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, and consider becoming a donor to the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon your donations 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.