Felix & Paul (Ep. 53)
BY Future of StoryTelling — December 22, 2021

Filmmaking duo and cofounders of Felix & Paul Studios, Félix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphaël, discuss their journey to becoming experts in virtual reality cinema, how the role of storytelling in VR has evolved, and the process behind their groundbreaking collaboration with NASA, which brought audience members space (virtually) for the first time.


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Episode Transcript


 Charlie Melcher:

Hi, I'm Charlie Melcher, founder and director of the Future of Storytelling. Welcome back to the FoST Podcast. My guests today are filmmaking duo and virtual reality rock stars, Félix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphaël. I've had the pleasure of knowing Felix and Paul since the early days of their VR company, and I've always considered them one of the very first open my eyes to the unique potential of virtual reality as an art form. The two began their collaboration as young filmmakers in Montreal and their passion for cinema played a major role in their nascent interest in virtual reality. They founded their company, Felix & Paul Studios in 2013, combining their patent pending technology platform with award winning creative expertise to produce cinematic VR and groundbreaking immersive experiences. Their Emmy award-winning studio has become the go to place for such notable collaborators as Barack and Michelle Obama, Wes Anderson, LeBron James, Google, Samsung and NASA.

 

Yes, they've brought us virtually to space. Their Oculus VR series called Space Explores: The ISS Experience, is as breathtaking as it is groundbreaking. The multi-platform immersive production is created with hundreds of hours of footage filmed by astronauts aboard the International Space Station, and gives the audience the out of this world experience of being in space alongside the crew. Recently, Felix & Paul studios launched a multi-sensory and immersive VR experience of it, called The Infinite, which is traveling to different venues across North America. I am so excited to have my friends, Felix and Paul, here to join me for the last episode of the year. Felix and Paul, I am so excited to have you on the future storytelling podcast.

 

Félix Lajeunesse:

Thank you. Thanks for having us.

 

Paul Raphaël:

It's a pleasure to be here Charlie.

 

Charlie Melcher:

It's so exciting for me because you are the two gentlemen who first exposed me to virtual reality. I remember when you came to my office years ago and you brought this VR headset and the whole computer and you put it on me. And all of a sudden, I was in this experience called strangers sitting there watching Patrick Watson, the musician, at his piano composing a song. And I was just transported into his studio. I forgot where I was, I was just there with him and his dog and the music. And I just had this incredible sense of being someplace else and no longer in my office. I remember one point turning and accidentally hitting my elbow on the conference room table. And being surprised that there was this table there because there wasn't one in Patrick's studio.

 

Félix Lajeunesse:

Paul and I have been working together for more than 15 years now. So, Paul is almost like a brother, we literally grew up together in our professional life. And we directed music videos together, we directed documentaries, and then commercials. And then we started to look into fiction and directing fiction together. And we were known as Felix and Paul, the two directors from Montreal. And the common passion that we had as we were working on all of these projects was to explore the world of experiential cinema. And I'm not saying experimental but really experiential. And as we were two guys thinking about these things and pushing each other to try to experiment with things and test out new ideas, we started to explore 3D cinema. And we started to look at how we could use 3D cinema not so much to create big spectacles, action films and stuff like that but really to create a sense of immersion. What does it feel to be for like four minutes in front of someone inside of a 3D film where you can just watch a person.

 

Like really going back to the basics. Like the very first experiments that we did in 3D cinema was putting a camera and looking at people, very, very, very simply, and then sitting down in front of a 3D television and looking at that and seeing how over time after like two minutes when you stop wondering about okay, what's going to happen? What's the next scene? What's the next big moment here? Because we have all of those anticipations, right? That comes from watching television and films for so long and expecting narrative. So we thought if we move narrative out of the way to start with and just look at the pure experience of watching a person in 3D, how does that feel like? And then we realized that that was actually quite powerful. And that was years before we did VR. So we were fascinated by that. I'll ask Paul to continue the story there.

 

Paul Raphaël:

This 3D cinema we were doing, we were already treating it more of as an installation art rather than cinema. And then what did which really segues into VR I think quite amazingly, is we were creating these installations where we were basically locking down all the variables of the capture and the playback, so that you wouldn't, when you watch a 3D film in a theater, or at home if anyone still does that. You don't control the size of the screen, you don't control where people are sitting. And it creates a film with volume with well, yes, right? But it's not a replication of reality. And what we were really interested in is, well, how can we create this transparency of the screen? How can we turn the screen into a window into another world?

 

Paul Raphaël:

And by locking down these variables, such as size of the screen, the position of the viewer, relatively small, sweet spot. So relatively small crowds, the screen literally became a window into another reality. And really what it was was a narrow field of view VR. Of course, when the Oculus DK1 came out, there were only really tech demos, a few games. And there was no such thing as live action in VR. We did a lot of tests, kind of built upon those initial rigs we had designed for our cinematic installations, and eventually got a working prototype of a very first scene that was of a woman sitting next to you in a church. That was the first thing we actually started showing before we recorded Strangers with Patrick Watson.

 

And that was like a 20 or 42nd loop, something like that. I think there were various versions and that we started showing around. Whatever effect the films we were making had, this was like on another level. People were crying, people were having these quasi spiritual experiences watching this woman just sit next to them. And at some point look you in the eye. And we were just as blown away as everyone else. Because as artists we were always like Felix said, interested in experience and experiential storytelling. But why? Right? Because ultimately, storytelling is about the effect that it has on someone, right? The medium itself and the format is really just a vehicle towards an effect, right? We dropped everything we were doing and put all our investments into expanding on this small demo.

 

Charlie Melcher:

Okay, so that was an incredible epiphany for you of the power of this medium even when there was almost no storytelling going on. And then you decided to go and create this longer piece with the musician Patrick Watson, and just record him playing in his loft in Montreal. It's an amazing piece because in a way it seems so simple. I mean, there's really not a lot going on, there's no narrative really. What I think you are after and what everyone sort of responded to with Stranger was this idea that you had a sense of presence, right? That you felt like you were in that room with him instead of in your living room or in a cinema watching something, you are no longer separated from the action, you were there. Tell me about how you thought about capturing this idea of presence in VR.

 

Félix Lajeunesse:

I must start by saying that for us the concept of presence isn't born or this idea of presence and cultivating presence through immediate experience isn't born through VR. It's born through the work that we did before in 3D cinema and just the experience of just watching a person. And again, I put that emphasis because a filmmaker that I really like once told me something that really blew my mind. He told me "How often in life did you allow yourself to look at someone for five straight minutes? Like, how often did you do that?" And I thought about it. And I said, "Well, maybe never," Including with my own kids, did I ever look at my own kids for five straight minutes. And I realized that I had never done that in my life. And I told him that and he said, "Well, that's something you should try. And if you can't do it with your naked eyes, do it with a camera and see the result of that." And I was always fascinated by that tough. It was about being with another person inside of a space, whether that space is a studio in the case of Patrick Watson in Montreal writing music for his new album, or in the Mongolian steps to capture a moment with a nomadic family.

 

For instance, the first ever time we met with Colin Trevorrow, who has directed the New Jurassic World movies and produces all of them. We met with him and he watched Strangers. And we were in his office in Hollywood and he said, "Can you do that with a dinosaur?" And we said, "Yes." And then we set out to create just the dinosaur version of Strangers in the world of Jurassic. Because we told him at the time, look, we don't exactly know yet what this medium can do from a storytelling standpoint. But we know that if we create a single moment where you're with a dinosaur and it's a continuous moment, and you're just experiencing it as if it was really happening and it's unbroken, just like reality is unbroken, uninterrupted. We know that that's going to be powerful and affecting for audiences.

 

Charlie Melcher:

Well, it's true. When was the last time you sat and spent five minutes just looking at a dinosaur?

 

Félix Lajeunesse:

Exactly. Did you ever do that? So, that's what we set out to do. It was this one shot, you have this dinosaur that is sleeping and gradually very slowly, the dinosaur wakes up and then the dinosaurs starts smelling around and then smells you. And then very slowly approaches you. And then it comes and it smells you and then it becomes distracted by something, then it eats some leaves in the tree and then eventually it goes back to sleep. And that's all it is. And it's a continuous almost five minute experience. And eventually, we had to figure out, okay, we have to make that a little more complex, we have to start utilizing presence to tell narrative stories. And we need to take that leap, and that was another big I guess, turning point in our journey.

 

Charlie Melcher:

I just want to spend a second more on this idea of presence. And whether you think that that is another way of saying the suspension of disbelief. That's something that people who create big movies want to have happen, right? They want their audiences to forget they are in the cinema, to forget that some things maybe don't make sense in this world, and just go along with the story to get lost in the adventure if you will. And I wonder, when you talk about presence, I think of it that way that it's a little bit of this getting people to forget where they are in real life and to give in to or suspend disbelief and to give into being in the world of the VR film that you are making. Is that what you were trying to do? Is there that another term for this in VR presence, another way of saying that?

 

Paul Raphaël:

So, I think they are related but they are different, especially when it comes to virtual reality or immersive storytelling. Suspension of disbelief implies something is not true, right? Storytelling and other mediums like more older mediums like film and literature have evolved over decades and centuries if not more, such ways to do that, right? Ways to suspend disbelief. And this is trickery much like a magician, a sleight of hand, sleight of narrative, sleight of storytelling to trick you into believing something that is not really actually happening. Even if it was real, right? Even if it was a documentary or you are actually not watching that real thing when you're watching any sort of medium that has captured it.

 

So we were ultra concerned with that. We couldn't just bring the tricks of storytelling directly into virtual reality for example. Why are those things different I think to come back to your original question of suspension of disbelief and presence. I think that immersive storytelling and in this case, virtual reality has a specific kind of presence that other mediums such as immersive theater definitely have presence. Film has this form of presence which is more abstracted, it's more further removed than the type of presence I believe is in virtual reality and in something like immersive theater. A great film will certainly make you, you'll be invested in the story and the characters, you may forget you're watching a movie. But the configuration of the medium keeps you "physically" apart from the piece, right? In a way that I mean, some films kind of do that a bit more than others.

 

But if there was a baseline, then that baseline just starts way lower in terms of presence with a medium like filmmaking in our opinion. And virtual reality, you just start, you can lose it very easily, right? Especially if you try to incorrectly suspend disbelief and then all of a sudden you are watching a piece of 360 video. And by that, I mean it's that you are aware that it's just the video playing around you. But if you're careful not to mess that up which is why we were so careful in building up this language, right? As long as you don't mess that up, you can keep that presence. And you can maybe build on it if you do the right things.

 

Charlie Melcher:

I love that reference to language like that. I really felt watching you guys iterate and a number of other VR makers, that there was this intense learning going on to unearth or discover the unique language of VR. And so, I'm curious about how you felt like you were discovering literally the tools. I don't mean the hardware tools although that too obviously, you were building hardware and software tools. But I mean that the storytelling, the directorial tools to get to have more freedom. How did that work for you? What have you learned?

 

Félix Lajeunesse:

Well, look, it's a huge question that could warrant a very, very long answer because we started exploring that a decade ago and we're still discovering it today. So, and we're probably going to be discovering it for honestly, for the rest of our careers. What is interesting about virtual reality's storytelling, is that it's built on technologies that are transforming every six months. And so the moment that you think you figured out something then the platforms are evolving towards something and then suddenly it goes from linear to interactive, and then the linear content needs to fit inside of an interactive platform, then interactive merges into the metaverse and so all of that is in constant flux and evolution unlike cinema that had a relatively stable ride when you look at the sort of technological environment of cinema in the 20th century. It was relatively stable. And I say that because yes, there was an evolution from silence to movies with sound, and then from black and white to color.

 

But fundamentally, the cinema that was practiced at the time of Charlie Chaplin is not fundamentally different than the cinema that is practiced almost 100 years later. While in virtual reality a year means that the medium is like transformed to another stage, and then to another stage and then to another stage. But at the core of that is presence, that's the sort of underlying reality of this medium, or the underlying power of this medium. And that doesn't change, that remains the sort of fundamental holy grail or force from which everything emanates for us. And so, that's how we cultivated that presence. And we sticked to that rule in a very almost rigid way in the sense that we tried to really, really, really apply that rule.

 

Paul Raphaël:

It's funny because one of the things we did in almost every project, in fact, I can't think of any right now where we didn't do this. But we would position the camera at sitting height in almost everything we ever, in every shot we ever did. Sitting height or lower in the case of BUB because BUB was a smaller toy robot. But this was really to mimic the physical position that the viewer would be in when they watched our content. So we would always of course, recommend people sit down if we were there with them. When you are standing up, you have a very distinct sense of your height when you are standing up and everyone has a different heights. But when you sit down, no matter how high or how tall you are, you might be sitting down on a tall chair, on a short chair, on a couch, on whatever and on the floor.

 

You lose that sense of I need to be at a specific height to be seeing this, right? And so, almost everything we did was at average sitting height or lower. And the first time that I could think of right now that we stopped doing that was when we were in space where you are floating, right? And so that was one of the most liberating aspects of shooting in space where we could totally let go of that concept.

 

Charlie Melcher:

Before we jump to space because I definitely want to talk about your experience with the ISS. I'd love to talk about Traveling While Black, which was a piece that I just found to be unbelievably moving. Myself and everyone that I showed it to ended up in tears in the VR headset. And I remember thinking this is the most mature VR documentary filmmaking I've seen to date. I mean, I felt like all of those lessons that you had learned about how to make VR film or VR storytelling were being employed there in these incredibly subtle ways that let us forget about the camera or use the sense of presence and the ability to tell stories and VR in this way that just enhanced the power of it. Incredibly emotional and moving content, I'd like you to tell our listeners about it. But I also just want to mention that it really brought me back in a way to that yurt and having and the Nomad series where you would have us having a meal with family, right?

 

To then be transported to Benny's Chili Bowl, and just sort of be sitting there in a booth. And in a space where again, we would be in theory sharing a meal and have that be this place to have a kind of intimacy with people. Whether it's family or it's a mother telling a story about the loss of her child in Benny's Chili Bowl, and then doing it in this way with the presence that you so cultivated through VR that made it all the more intimate, and therefore all the more emotionally powerful.

 

Félix Lajeunesse:

But you know even that film was built around an idea around a concept for presence. Initially, Roger Ross Williams came to us with his team and they wanted to do a virtual reality experience that would explore the notion of the difficulty of traveling for African American in the 50s, 60s, 70s. And explore if that situation has really changed today and try to compare the past and the present. And they had that thought that idea that they had developed for a film. They had never done virtual reality so they wanted us to help them adapt that idea into that format, that medium. And so, what we proposed researching the subject, looking at the work that they had done, was to try to find one location, one place, a single interior location ideally, that we could use as a time traveling device. A single location that would be able to embody the 50s, 60s, 70s, and that would still be an active place today that still exists and that people go into.

 

And maybe they are aware of the history of that place, maybe they are not aware. And Roger mentioned Ben's Chili Bowl in Washington, DC, a restaurant that has been at the heart of the African American community in Washington, DC for many, many years, going all the way back to the civil rights. And that restaurant has played a very important role throughout the last 70 years. We went there and we were looking for an idea, we were looking for a way to tell a story in that location, we did not know what that was at the time. When we went there we saw those mirrors inside of the restaurant. And we thought, oh, it could be interesting if everything happens while you are sitting at a table and you have this very intimate setup. And you hear some conversation between people. And when you look in the mirror you see a representation of the exact same restaurant but in the past, maybe 40 or 50 years in the past.

 

And that becomes in a way a portal that literally transforms the whole environment and now you are back in the past as the story continues. And we could make that interactive in an invisible way so that when you are experiencing the piece, depending on how you engage with the mirror or just remaining in the space, the main space where you are, the story might take one direction or another like visually, it could evolve and transform. Which would make you feel even more connected to that environment and to that narrative. We really started to go into that idea and dig that idea that that place is alive, that place has a consciousness, that place has a memory. And then everything started to kind of fall into place and that's this kind of dreamlike quality that allow the emotion and the depth and the poetry of that experience to flow I think.

 

Charlie Melcher:

So, as we go from basically the simplest of storytelling to much more complicated, I mean, what you just described Felix is a very elaborate set of metaphors and construction to tell a story. You've evolved, you started to explore storytelling in different ways. But the most recent one which is truly out of this world, is the work you've been doing with NASA on the International Space Station. And again, I think it's a tribute to the success that you've had that you would be able to be the one chosen if you will, to be a partner with NASA to create this kind of cinematic qualities, VR storytelling of life on the International Space Station. So just briefly tell us how you got that and then the outline of what that project is.

 

Paul Raphaël:

The idea of being able to take people off the planet in the presence of people who are off the planet and who are adapting to life off the planet. Who are prototypical of probably a future form that we will one day if we significantly migrate away from this planet. It was just one of the most fascinating prospects to us. As we were making our way building this studio, exploring the medium, there was always a thread that was out that was running. Put this together somehow, right? We actually had our first conversations with NASA I believe, in 2015, 2016 at the latest. It was through a concerted effort and pulling any string we could take to make these conversations happen. And sure enough, after seeing what we were doing and expressing what we wanted to do, even though it sounded improbable and incredibly ambitious to everyone involved.

 

What ended up happening was we decided to take it one step at a time. And that led to the creation of the first few episodes of Space Explorers which was shot on Earth. And we thought that was a great first step for many reasons, obviously, to get to know each other, ourselves and NASA. And also get to understand what it means to collaborate with such an entity, right? And to start working with the astronauts as well. And also what was great is that we would be able to take the audience on the journey to space, right? And tell the story of, the first episode was, what does it mean to become an astronaut, right?

 

Félix Lajeunesse:

Yeah, I mean, it was a dream that we socialized NASA overtime let's just say it this way. We ended up showing the first season of Space Explorers to thousands of people at NASA. And every time we would show the episodes that had been shot on Earth mainly in the US and in Russia as well. Telling the story of astronauts and cosmonauts, and the international collaboration and making viewer feel themselves like a crew member, like an astronaut training to go to space and trying to build that narrative and share it yes, with an audience but also internally at NASA. And that really helped us to talk about what we wanted to do next. And every time we had an opportunity, we would mention that the second season we wanted it to be set in space. And by that time we had also done a lot of projects including effectively projects with two American presidents.

 

And so I think the studio had a credibility that it could deliver on complicated projects inside of complicated environments such as working with Secret Service for instance. So, we wanted to send a camera that would become a crew member, a camera that the astronauts would welcome on board as an additional person that is there. And when they capture a scene, the camera is going to be placed as if it was someone else that is there. It would take the actual physical space of a person inside of a very, well, it's big, but at the same time it's small because you have a lot of people living there, a spacecraft. So anyway, the project happened. We filmed it over two and a half years at any time of the day, depending on the astronaut's schedule, we would be on console and connecting to Space Station and help support the operations in space. And very often we were preparing weeks ahead of time documents that we would send to the astronauts explaining what the creative objectives for scenes are, where we would like the camera to be.

 

But also giving them the freedom to change the camera position as long as it respects some of those ideas about the camera being a crew member and this idea of presence that we're trying to cultivate. And giving guidelines and then the astronauts on the day would actually follow the protocol. And sometimes what we had planned for would happen exactly how we had imagined it, but sometimes there were reasons why they just couldn't do what we wanted to do. So they would place the camera somewhere else. And sometimes, they even shot scenes on their own without us being aware of it, just moments that they decided to document. And it turned out that it was such a collaborative process that it was just, we were so grateful. Even today like it was such an extraordinary experience. But that whole adventure, it's a three year filming adventure and it ended just a couple of weeks ago. So it's the end of a big chapter for us.

 

Charlie Melcher:

Well, I had the pleasure obviously, through you of seeing some of that footage and being blown away by it. I mean, for one, just the opportunity to look in all directions when you're in microgravity, every surface is in play. And so, it's a remarkable opportunity to be able to film in the ISS. Because really looking everywhere is interesting. Like the floors, that there is no floor, everything is interesting because everything is an act of surface. But more than that I mean, I think this whole notion we're getting to why presence is so important, right? Because not only does it give you a sense of being there, but it also can have that sort of life altering effect of what it means to experience something firsthand. And so, having seen that I had the pleasure of knowing some of the folks at Facebook who run their live events.

 

And when they mentioned to me the interest in having some exciting climactic experience for the end of their Connect Conference which happened a few weeks ago, the first thing I thought of was to pitch them on the idea that we all should collaborate and put together this footage and experience of doing a spacewalk, cinematic spacewalk from the International Space Station. Because I knew you guys were filming that. And I just thought what could be better than to bring maybe a very large public audience to be able to have that experience. And ultimately, with the hope of creating a little bit of what astronauts really talk about which is that overview effect, right? To be able to be out in space looking down on this precious blue marble, this spaceship earth that is so delicate when you have that distance to look at it from 250 miles above ground which you just can't see from the perspective of being on the Earth.

 

And almost every astronaut talks about that how their perspective of the precariousness and preciousness and need to preserve our planet is from there. So, just being able to offer that in a way through your filming, through your footage was kind of a bucket list experience for me too to be able to collaborate with you guys and with Facebook and be able to make that be part of their Facebook venues experience for such a large audience was an amazing collaboration. So, thank you for letting us do that with you. And our thanks to Facebook or Meta to seeing the power of providing that to a much larger audience. It was super fun project for us all to collaborate on.

 

Félix Lajeunesse:

Absolutely. And that that has been a great collaboration with you guys. And I can't wait to share that footage and that experience with the rest of the world because not everybody saw that. And not everybody saw that in virtual reality as well. And that footage is going to be part of a show called The Infinite that we have produced in collaboration with Fies Studio. And The Infinite is basically a 6000 square foot virtual reality representation of the space station. And as a viewer you embody an avatar and you can have up to 150 people walking at the same time inside of the life size ISS. And as you walk in it, you will discover inside and outside of the space station some floating orbs or floating hotspots. And using your avatar's body or hands, you can activate the hotspots and that will launch a cinematic VR scene that has been filmed precisely from the vantage point where you are in the virtual ISS.

 

And when you get to the end of that virtual reality experience, you are asked to sit in a chair. And inside of that very comfortable chair we will present to audiences an eight minute version of the spacewalk film. And the way the chair has been designed, it shifts through gravity backward. And the way that the experience has been processed or created, it's going to literally make you feel as if you were floating basically in space alongside the astronauts. And all of that is going to be done in full virtual reality. So that the premiere of that specific part of the exhibit, the spacewalk is going to happen December 20th in Houston, it's going to be there for four months, this exhibit called The infinite and then is going to tour the United States.

 

So I'm hoping that in the next four to five years, everybody in the US living nearby one of the major cities gets an opportunity to go and experience this. Because I think it's something important to live and we're excited to be able to provide that for audiences.

 

Charlie Melcher:

I wonder if you can talk a little bit about this journey of learning, this journey of discovery and creation in a new medium where you are figuring it out as you go. I think there's a lot of insights perhaps for other kinds of storytellers, who are taking on new technologies, taking on new challenges. What are some of the takeaways? Has this been just purely joyful? Have you had some really bumpy road along the way?

 

Paul Raphaël:

Yeah, this specific piece, The Infinite is our first released I should say. Interactive in the sense that it's real time rendered, six degrees of freedom. We've been working and developing our ideas around interaction and the volumetric embodiment for quite a few years. A lot of people would have liked for us to do this years ago. In fact, from the very beginning, we had a lot of pressure from our partners, from the industry, right? Whatever little industry there was, to quickly start doing full volumetric interactive content. For a few reasons, some of them market related, some of them perception related, some of them strategic. There was a moment there where cinematic virtual reality went kind of out of style, that was a little tough to deal with. Because we weren't resisting for the sake of it, we mentioned how careful we were in evolving our language or the way we told these stories.

 

And interactivity is a major step in that. It's very, very much a can of worms. So we spent a lot of time, we develop many projects, some of them never saw the light of day, all of them except for The Infinite so far. Others are still in development. But we've been very careful about how we do this. And in the end you get an experience that puts it all together. That's been a huge learning experience. I mean, the whole medium is a learning experience all the time.

 

Félix Lajeunesse:

Yeah, I mean, look, I think one big sort of cliff that you need to jump into, I don't know if it's a good metaphor, but like we had to kind of unlearn from an approach to cinema that is a little more about controlling the viewer every step of the way, like controlling the viewer and making the viewer always anticipate what's going to happen next, what's going to happen next. A lot of cinema is about the next thing that's going to happen. A lot of films are built in that mindset that it's all about the next thing that's going to happen. And in virtual reality you need to kind of let go of the next thing and focus on what's happening now. And making sure that in the present moment the viewer comes together with the experience. And so, there was a lot of unlearning and kind of relearning this core dialogue, this core dance between telling a story, creating an experience and having an audience engaged.

 

And I think that learning has been difficult, but at the same time it's very addictive in the sense. Because the more you think that way, the more you start thinking that way, the more you don't necessarily want to go back to traditional ways of telling stories. Because it makes the story you create, or the material you create endlessly renewable. Do you see what I mean? Because it's every time a viewer comes in, it kind of re-animates the experience and it comes back to life. So it's like, I don't know, it's this idea of like there's something, there's like an immortality because there's always as long as there's a viewer coming into it comes back to life. And I would say that had we not done all of the things step by step that we did over those last 10 years, going from like super pure moments that are just about presence one shot and then eventually breaking it down into story beats and then evolving that eventually towards longer pieces, and eventually towards interactivity.

 

Had we not done all of that, we could not have done a show like The Infinite with confidence. And I don't think that we would have known how to lead that ship to destination. All I can say is that everything that is being designed by us as a studio, as creators, places the viewer right at the center. It's all back to this core idea of presence and nurturing presence, but it kind of scales that up into layers of experiences and stories that amplify the experience.

 

Charlie Melcher:

Well, I think this is a beautiful place to end. And I appreciate so much the journey that you've been on and that you've brought me along on with you. And I thought maybe just to end it since this is likely to be one of our last podcasts of the year, I would ask you if there were a few experiences that you've had VR things that you've seen this year that really stood out for you? Are there a couple that you would want to share with our listeners as highlights?

 

Félix Lajeunesse:

So there is one VR experience that I've seen this year that I thought was very, very good, like very good. Virtual reality storytelling. It's called The Book of Distance by an artist and filmmaker called Randall Okita, he's a fellow Canadian. I was impressed how mature that piece was for somebody who as far as I know had not done VR before, or maybe had done a piece. It's interesting because that artist has done multiple installations. So he's been doing films but also other art installations. And it seems like somehow that background, that diverse in a way background that is not just focused on cinema itself helped them into creating that amazing first major VR piece. Anyway, I was blown away by that. Another thing that I would encourage audiences to watch is not a VR experience, but is something that for me feels like a VR experience.

 

It's a film called For All Mankind. It's a film that has been made I think in 1989. And it's built from footage from the Apollo era. So it's all about space exploration. And the story is still true, voiceover narrations of astronauts. And that piece was a huge inspiration into designing the approach that we ended up using for Space Explorers: The ISS Experience. In terms of tone, in terms of immersion, in terms of how it integrates the astronauts into the story and makes you feel one of them. So in my perspective, it's one of those presence driven films that has been made. So I would encourage people to watch that. And then lastly, I would say there are a few filmmakers that have been extremely influential for us at least and that I've always encouraged people to go and discover if they haven't discovered them yet.

 

Ozu is an obvious one. Any film by Ozu is fantastic but Tokyo Story is probably the most iconic or easy to find one. And then in more contemporary cinema and still from Asia, there's Apichatpong Weerasethakul, he's a Thai filmmaker. And he also makes what I would call presence driven films that are highly poetic and experiential and has always been a big source of inspiration for us. And then Jia Janka from China. His early films including movie called Platform has also been extremely influential in our understanding of what we were trying to do as virtual reality filmmakers when we started out. So that would be my list

 

Paul Raphaël:

This is not VR but the last few years, as we've been exploring attractivity have been really trying to find inspiration in interactive stuff. And the most of that stuff that's out there is games. I've been [inaudible 00:45:37]. But this to me is a masterpiece on the level of the greatest films, music literature, The Witness. The Witness by Jonathan Blow is really an incredible piece. It's masterfully crafted, visually, conceptually, mechanically, every pixel, every interaction feels like it's there with a purpose. And it's a meditative experience. Many people listening might have already played it, it's not new I think it's been out since 2016. But if you haven't and you are at all interested in games or just interactive designers storytelling, even though there's no story per se, there's a very profound mystery to this game.

 

Next I would say, this is not new either but it's still current and that it's a platform, VRChat. VRChat and really social VR platforms at large. But VRChat is the one I've spent the most time in. My wife kind of dragged me into it. It wasn't something that I found it inherently attractive. But having spent some time in there, it's really a fascinating place to be. It's still very rough around the edges. It feels like the early days of the internet but in volume, right? Very creative community. And by creative I mean, the people are building worlds, they're building avatars, they're programming the worlds to do things and to behave in ways that there's almost no limit. That you can basically build in unity and import in VRChat with some limitations but relatively a lot of freedom. And then lastly this just came out a few days ago actually, is the Kid A Mnesia Exhibition.

 

So it's a virtual exhibition. It's not actually in virtual reality actually, at least not yet. Well, it's a 3D but you play it on your screen. And it's a basically made in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Kid A Mnesia the Radiohead album. So I'm a huge Radiohead fan. It's essentially an impossible museum within which you explore the soundscapes. They said they didn't create anything for this. They just brought in music and stems and tracks from the sessions to the recording sessions. And all the artwork, they created tons and tons and tons of artwork. Stanley Donwood who has been working with the band forever, has all these wild paintings and characters and landscapes. And they were all brought in to create this museum that is just completely wonderful to explore with headphones. And I highly recommend it if you are a fan. If you're not, you could probably still really, really I mean, it's a fascinating experiment and I really highly recommend.

 

Charlie Melcher:

Thank you. Well, I can't wait to try it. I just want to thank you both so much for your presence here on our podcast today. And just to say how excited I am to see what comes from your unlearning and your learning as you move forward with your craft. And thank you for the great work that you've done and will do and for your friendship. And it's just a pleasure to know you both. So thanks again for being here today.

 

Félix Lajeunesse:

Yeah, well, thanks for having us and for inviting us. I think it was a really great opportunity to talk with you and share some thoughts back and forth. So, thanks a lot for the opportunity Charlie.

 

Paul Raphaël:

Absolutely. I mean, it's been a while since we actually sat down and had a drink and chatted, so this was the closest thing to that in a very long time. So, I very much appreciate that.

 

Charlie Melcher:

My sincere thanks to Felix and Paul for joining me on the show today. You can learn more about them and The Infinite and find a full transcript of our conversation by visiting the link in this episode's description. Thank you for listening to the FoST Podcast. I hope you enjoyed it. And if you did, we'd really appreciate if you take a moment to give us a review. FoST also produces a monthly newsletter that is informative and well worth a read. It's free, so check it out along with a wealth of other great content by visiting our website at fost.org. The FoST podcast is produced by Melcher Media in collaboration with our talented production partner, Charts & Leisure. I hope we'll see you again in the new year for another deep dive into the world of storytelling. Until then, please be safe, stay strong and story on.