Podcast By justine

Antoine Cayrol: For VR to Grow, Credibility is Essential

Atlas V’s Antoine Cayrol joins us at the poolside podcast studio where he, among other things, instructs us on the importance of using the correct language when referring to VR makers. Cayrol does not take a doom and gloom approach to VR, but rather advocates for using commercial projects (which pay the bills and keep the lights on at many a VR studio) as time to hone one’s craft. Antoine also talks about the importance for VR to develop credibility with its audience (and ways to make that happen).

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Justine:          Hi there and welcome back! It’s Justine Harcourt-de-Tourville, editor-in-chief of Virtual. And we’re here live taping this at South by Southwest on a gray, still a lovely morning, with none other than Antoine Cayrol, one of the founding executive producers of Atlas V.

You might remember Atlas V as part of the team behind Spheres which won gold or the grand prix at the Venice Film Festival in 2018. And he’s here to give us a few tips and tricks. Among other things, he’s going to tell us why we shouldn’t call ourselves filmmakers. Stay tuned.


                        Welcome, Antoine. Here we are in lovely, steamy weather at South Bay. Wat are you doing today? What are you going to take a look at? What interests you?

Antoine:         Oh, hello, Justine. Thank you for having me. For the people who cannot watch what we’re looking, it’s an amazing view on the poolside of Austin, so pretty happy to be there. What I will watch today was the question?

Justine:          Well, what are you looking forward to here at South Bay?

Antoine:         I’m here mainly because I had a project I the VR cinema called Gloomy Eyes, which is an animation three-episode series. So, we’re really lucky because this project is already fully-funded. So, sometimes when you’re on the [physical or visual], you’re looking for a funding for your project.

                        So, this one is like in-production. Everything is going well. And my big hope at this festival is to expand the IP in the universe of Gloomy Eyes. Obviously, I love my character’s design. I love the universe. I love everything about it, and I want to expand it to a comic book, a future film, maybe a TV series. And one of my main goal here is to bring people from the industry to classic industry to watch this VR experience, in order maybe to convince to come on board to expand the IP.

Justine:          That’s a very good reason. So, you have a distribution lined up for Gloomy Eyes or is it coming?

Antoine:         Yeah. For Gloomy, it’s like I worked for one year on the financing and distribution plan. I love to give my rights a little bit before selling it on the [inaudible]. But on the digital side, we have HTC as a partner from Taiwan like the HQ and they will handle China and Taiwan’s distribution. Then we get RYOT, which is a great studio exactly in LA. And this one will handle the US distribution. And we get [Acte], which is a big German, a broadcaster in Europe that’s really involved into VR space. And they will handle the European digital distribution.

So, all digital distribution is handled. And then, for location-based, I speak directly to a lot of persons. Maybe I’ve brought a big distribution deal as we did with Spheres. But as long as it’s not [down], I’m speaking to a lot of places to go theater by theater.  

Justine:          Well, you’re talking now in the future, but let’s go all the way back to the beginning, Antoine, when you were a filmmaker. What happened? When was your first immersive experience? Or what led you to discover VR and want to work with VR?

Antoine:         It’s always good to think a little bit about the roots of everything. Just to be clear, I love to think I must have played part of the filmmaker team, but I’m really a producer with no NV to direct.

Justine:          No NV to direct?

Antoine:         No. I love what I do. And you know, taking the time to speak to actors and like… These directors, they are so fully-immersed and involved in their project. I respect them so much. I’m not sure I have the talent and the skills and the patience to be the right choice.

                        But to come back at your question, my first VR experience as a producer was four years ago. I was heading to some friends having a game development studio and they had a really first Kickstarter device, pre-oculus thing. And when I experienced that, it was really, really bad, like a bad ride on a bad headset. And I feel like, obviously, I can’t speak like everyone at this time. the only thing I was saying in my brain is like, “It’s really bad, but it can be so bad.” If it can move me so much, then it could be so bad.

Maybe it can be really good if someone use it well. So, me and my partner at the time, Pierre Zandrowicz, we decided to jump into making a short movie to see if it can be really great. And then, we did I, Philip. And I think we did an amazing job, my partner Pierre.

So, it was  360 stereoscopic video. And on the same time, we did a commercial, [French words], because they wanted to innovate, and they were depressed that we were doing this short movie with this technology. And I think even in the commercial, people around were happy about what we did. After it, I was embarked with I, Philip or short movie, and I think they were happy too. And we had a lot of fun and discovered a lot of things. We see a lot of limits that we want to push and boundaries that we want to discover and push also. And then, we decided to jump into VR more, and then to quit our old company and to focus 100% to do VR.

Justine:          And so, in your pathway to do VR, because you really do focus on narrative and cinematic, I understand you had to do some kind of branding and marketing. What was your experience doing that? Because for a lot of VR people, that’s one way to funding or to practice your craft. What was your experience there?

Antoine:         You know, I don’t do no more commercial today, but the 12 years…

Justine:          But you did, right.

Antoine:         I did 12 years and it taught me so much things like when you do a commercial, of course, there are a lot of bad things and people love to ditch about commercial like “I hate that.” But honestly, it’s a great university. It teaches you to be so efficient and to deliver, and to deliver quick.

                        And I think sometimes when you’re on the [inaudible], its process can take time thinking and never stop thinking because you want it to be perfect. And something that I really learned with commercial is that being efficient and deliver. Your project 1 will be perfect and you’ll do another one later. You iterate on your personal life and career instead of one project. And every project leads to another project.

So, I think doing commercial is really useful on this side. But as you were talking about the money side, I think it’s also really useful because you’re allowed to do margin commercial. That’s why people do commercials. As a projection company, you will be entitled to have 25 to 30% margin on this project, which is hard to justify on a short movie and even worse to VR because it’s hard to fund it.

So, I think it’s a good business model to work a lot in commercial. Get some skills. Get some new people on you that you can pay well, so your team will be well-paid on commercial. And then, you can push them a little bit more into your fiction and ask them a little bit more involvement with less money. And that’s how you create good relation and hope to fund your original project later.

Justine:          That’s a great answer. What about something, I believe it was last year at Venice, happened? Do you want to tell us about what your Venice experience was last year? I believe it was noteworthy for you.

Antoine:         Oh, it was an amazing Venice Film Festival. Even for me as a personal producer, it was even better because I did nothing on this project, to be honest.

Justine:          Oh really?

Antoine:         Yeah. My partner did everything.

Justine:          You just showed up?

Antoine:         Yeah, exactly. I did really nothing on this project. Maybe gave two advice and opinion.

Justine:          Oh, two advice and opinion.

Antoine:         Exactly. So, my partner worked a lot on this project. So, there are three producers, Dilam in the US, Jess in the Us and I don’t know, my friend’s [inaudible]. So, he was the one really involved in that. So, for me, it was perfect because he was like, “Oh, I’m going to Venice. I need to come back, so we might have good news. I don’t want to go alone. Come with me.” I was like, “Of course. I will have tuxedo, drink champagne and have no pressure at all because I did nothing.”

Justine:          Wow.

Antoine:         So, for me, it was even better because I can just come in and join. But I think for the company, it was really huge to serve more seriously because it’s still represented by my company. So, I was really happy because we need recognition.

Justine:          Recognition?

Antoine:         Recognition. Thank you. Sorry. We need recognition from the more classic industry people…

Justine:          Absolutely.

Antoine:         …from either the game and the cinema. We need them to understand that what we’re doing is also arts. It’s also important. It will not replace anything. You know, there is not like Darwinism in the media. Everything can live together. And so, having a prize there from this really old and classic film festival was really important on the message that’s delivered.

Justine:          Well, let’s be clear. We’re talking about Spheres, which won I guess what would you call The Grand Prix.

Antoine:         Yeah, the Golden Lion.

Justine:          The Golden Lion, and it was a VR film which was a phenomenal achievement.

Antoine:         Thank you.

Justine:          So, congratulations…

Antoine:         Thank you very much. I was really happy.

Justine:          …for doing your two advices. It worked very, very well.

Antoine:         Exactly because of that.

Justine:          Yeah, it’s all because of that. Well, tell. So, after that, what happens after you win a prize like that? What kind of doors does it open? And what did you see happen immediately afterwards?

Antoine:         Nothing. No, there is no direct inference in that kind of thing. And all what we’re building were PCs after PCs and building an industry altogether.

Justine:          Truly, yeah.

Antoine:         Of course, the man sitting just here taking a picture is doing the same as I do in this country. We need to build audience and push people to trust us. And so, I have no directing films of the Venice Golden Lion, maybe a few tweets and texts saying, “Oh thank you. I love you.” Maybe half of these persons don’t really mean that, but it’s more on the long term that he’s helping to build something.

Justine:          Tell us about what do you foresee for the long term in VR. What do you see in a very short term, let’s say in the next two years, happening through VR? And what do you see happening in five?

Antoine:         For me, two and five are the same.

Justine:          Okay.

Antoine:         So, it will be two, five and 15.

Justine:          Okay.

Antoine:         So, I think for the two and five years, because it’s going so fast, for me, it’s the same. A lot of location-based entertainment spaces, of course, VR spaces will open a lot in a physical space.

But also, a lot of existing institution and museum and cultural spaces, they need to renew their audiences. They need to bring new audiences to the space. It’s hard to make the people go out. You know, everything can be delivered through Amazon, watch Netflix and not good to the theater anymore. So, these spaces need to renew their audience so they will bring VR for that.

And you can visit the space through Spheres. You can visit the [French words] in France and other projects we’re participating. And there’s a lot that you can do and bring people to visit spaces.

So, I think between two and five years, that would be the main thing because people won’t buy H&D right away. It changes every three months. It’s expensive. You don’t know how to find content. You need 5G if you have a cellphone. A lot of technical barriers are still there. But going to space, I think people will do that a lot.

Justine:          So, you see location-based as one of the, what you said, audience renewal for traditional spaces or exhibition rooms. And then, this is also a new way for people to discover VR and grow the audience as well.

Antoine:         Exactly. As we speak, we have Spheres at the Rockefeller Center in New York. It’s a paid ticket at $50, and it’s full all the time.

Justine:          Really?

Antoine:         Yeah. And because it’s at the Rockefeller Center, it’s a more classic space, so people trust this space to try VR. You know, it’s a matter of trust like to put a headset on someone’s face for 50 minutes, he sees nothing. He can be vulnerable. He doesn’t know what he’s doing so it’s better to trust a space than to trust me, that they don’t know and care about.

                        And also, that’s why we bring talents. We have Jessica Chastain participating on the project. We bring them also for the trust. People will say, “Oh, if this person do that, maybe I can try it too. It won’t be so bad.” So, that’s building the trust.

And to finish to answer your first question, for 10 to 15 years, obviously, I think a lot of people will begin to be equipped. Apple just announced what they’re doing a few days ago. And I think a lot of people will be equipped more and more for good or bad. [inaudible] We need to be really careful and vigilant, which is what we’re doing.

Of course, technology is neutral, but still let’s be vigilant of what we’re doing with that. But people will be more and more equipped between 10 and 15 years. And then, I think we’ll still continue because they will renew themselves.

Justine:          so, Antoine, what do you see for future filmmakers or future VR filmmakers? One, what skills do they need to think about developing? And number two, do you have any tips for them?

Antoine:         I think one of the first things is to not call them filmmakers.

Justine:          Okay.

Antoine:         I think it’s really important because people say it’s either a game or a movie, and then we kill the medium before it exists.

Justine:          Okay.

Antoine:         And it’s something really new. It’s not filmmaking. It’s not gaming. It’s not play theater. It’s just something really new.

Justine:          So, VR maker, does that work for you?

Antoine:         Yeah, exactly.

Justine:          Okay, let’s start calling everyone VR maker.

Antoine:         Immersive storyteller. You know, VR is only the top of the iceberg and AR and like [IDHS] is also something really important. So, I will tell and then I will answer your question, of course. I think it’s important to clarify the fact that we’re in a new field.

Justine:          Okay.

Antoine:         This is not a groundbreaking revolution. It’s an evolution. Screen became closer and closer, like movie first and then TV on our home, then laptop, then iPad, then iPhone and then the last time I checked it’s Canon.

I think it’s a long evolution, so I think all these creators need to… and it’s the same with videogame. Videogame came then opened the world. Everything meets to come where we are today.

And I think it’s really important to like knowing that what you’re is really different, but also knowing that it come from there.

Justine:          Right.

Antoine:         And a lot of rules may apply. A lot may not apply, but think of this as the evolution of narration and pushing immersion like there was black and white, then color, then stereoscopic, then Open World. And we have monosound, then stereo, then 5101, then Atmos, then specialized.

So, we’re in that way that the audience is okay to be emerged. They want to be emerged so do things differently than before, but also respect what was done before and then take the thing.

So, then, if I can give some advice, there is not a lot that I know. There are only few things that I’m sure. Take your time, and work long and hard, and focus on a project. If you do a lot of little projects, you’ll be exhausted. You will also be really disappointed to see that your project doesn’t really have life. You need to be really excellent in what you’re doing.

You know, it’s hard to put people in VR. It’s hard to convince them. It’s hard to push them to come back. So, as a VR creator, you have a little responsibility to do it right.

And then, it will be better for your project to be ambitious. Focus on it. Take your time. take one year or one year and a half. Every one of my projects is between 12 and 35 months.

Justine:          Wow.

Antoine:         Yeah, and sometimes it’s 10 years. So, we need also to respect the work we’re doing. It’s hard work. It’s long and focus on that.

And also, think as an ambitious thing. If you do a project, it’s more true for real-time animation than live action, what I will say. But if you’re going to like real-time animation, think your IP as bigger than a VR project. Do another one to the reality part. Maybe a series part.

Like I’ve told you, what I was hoping to achieve with Gloomy is the same advice I will give to others. Expand your IP. And even if you’re doing maybe a 360 live action, maybe it can also be a series, maybe it can be bigger, don’t do all on the same time. The thing that you can expand your IP, reuse your asset if you’re doing real-time animation. If you’re doing a VR version, maybe you should do a dumb version. And then, you have more screen available and more people to talk to then more potential money coming back.

So, I think taking the time, reuse asset, think bigger IP will be the advices I can give. Build the trust around your project like find casting. Or if you don’t want a famous actor, maybe a famous music. Find an executive producer. Bring names that will help to build the trust.

You know, it’s really important in the few years because then the market will be there, and everything will be okay. Right now, I think it’s really important to build this trust. It can also be la famous brand. You know, have logos as part of your project or Amazon. I don’t know, or something that people already trust because they don’t trust us yet, and it’s normal. So, I think that’s something important.

And maybe my last advice will be to keep it positive. It’s fun. 

Justine:          That’s great advice. So, thank you so much, Antoine, for coming to speak to us.

Antoine:         My pleasure really. Thank you for inviting.

Justine:          And we’d look forward to see you at what’s it called again, Gloomy…

Antoine:         Gloomy Eyes [inaudible].

Justine:          Aha! Thank you.

Antoine:         My pleasure.


Creating stories for virtual reality - Course


It’s 1983 on a cold night in Woodland City. Being a zombie is against the law. The undead have been around for almost a decade now, but peaceful coexistence with the “normal” people continues to fail. They hide in the forest, away from the dange- rous zombie hunters. Nights are calm and quiet, but Gloomy still tries to stay out of sight. Hunters are a real threat, but this zombie is hiding from something else as well…Truth is, he doesn’t feel too comfortable around others of his kind. But really, Gloomy not completely like other zombies. He has access to things we don’t see or understand. Nature knows he’s special.

Atlas V is part of the team behind Gloomy Eyes.

©Kaohsiung Film Archive – Header photo