Félix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphael (Felix & Paul Studios) have been making waves in the world of vIrtual reality (VR) since the release of Strangers with Patrick Watson at SXSW last year. Since then, they have been commissioned by the likes of Samsung, Dos Equis and a major hollywood studio to bring their signature approach to the emerging medium. Jean-Pascal Beaudoin (Director of Special Projects at Apollo Studios) has been by their side along the way creating the essential 360° binaural sound for their projects. We chatted with Félix about the importance of collaboration in this era of constant innovation, the significance of sound in creating effective VR experiences and gained his insights on immersive media.
In the early days when you first got your hands on the Oculus prototype, can you describe the exploratory process?
For us the exploration of virtual reality began many years before we actually put our hands on a VR headset. We explored the ideas of presence and storytelling in immersive media through years of artistic practice and technological development in the fields of holography, 3D stereoscopic cinema and video installations. When virtual reality crossed our path it seemed to us like a natural continuation of the work we were already doing.
When did you bring Apollo Studios into that process?
We have been collaborating and developing a relationship with Apollo Studios for a few years now. They created the audio experience for the video installations we produced in collaboration with Cirque du Soleil for the Canadian Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo in 2010. They subsequently designed the sound experience for our narrative 3D stereoscopic film and installation, The Sparkling River. When we became serious about 3D 360° live-action virtual reality, we contacted them to see if they could handle the creative and technological development of the audio dimension of our VR experiences. And they got involved right up to their necks.
It seems like for a long time VR has been tested in the gaming space and yet you guys opted to create something entirely different for your first piece, Strangers with Patrick Watson.
In our view live-action VR is a medium of interiority and intimacy. It’s a way to explore, deepen and enhance the human experience. We think of it as a way to engage with reality, not to escape from it. Strangers was created from that perspective.
You are both filmmakers, but have interesting and complementary backgrounds in programming and cinematography, how has this serviced your work with OR?
I spent about a year of my life working as a filmmaker in the Canadian Arctic, exploring how I could use cinema and media arts to communicate the unique and extraordinarily powerful experience of time, place and culture of the Inuit world and their environment. But I somehow felt like the medium I was looking for to properly manifest that experience, simply did not exist. At the time we met, my colleague Paul was experiencing a similar dissatisfaction with traditional filmmaking, and decided to resolve that problem by creating new technologies and tools to explore new forms of cinematic expressions. I thought this clearly was the way to go and we tagged teamed together. It started from there and looking back, it seems obvious that virtual reality is the culmination of everything we had done before.
For the Samsung VR Gear launch, you delved into more “spectacular” territory with work that takes the viewer around the globe and even into space, a seeming departure from Strangers. Did that experience transform your philosophy about VR?
Yes. It forced us to explore how to connect moments and experiences together in a narrative storytelling perspective. We developed many insights in regards to the medium of VR, following the making of that experience.
How involved was Jean-Pascal in the creative process on these projects?
JP has been a key member of our team from the beginning. He delved into and presented us with the possibilities of 360° binaural sound capture and post-production, assembled a workflow to make it a solid audio platform to work with, and above all helped us develop and deepen our understanding how precious and vital the audio experience is to virtual reality and presence.
What are your thoughts on the merits of collaboration in this innovations-driven era?
We are actually talking about the birth of a new medium. There is so much work to do and so much uncharted territory to explore, that doing it single-handedly and in isolation feels ridiculous. It’s all about collaborating with great people.