All of these elements combined with the powerful narrative of the Notre Dame fire make VR the perfect media. It allows the viewer to explore the cathedral, something that will not be possible to do in person for years to come. It’s a virtual door to the cathedral’s past & present. Only VR allows a sense of presence as strong as to re-create the emotions, the sensation that visitors had when visiting Notre Dame.
What prep did you do that you felt really paid off on this project? Storyboards? Previs? Shot list? What is your process?
Creating a 16 minute-long VR documentary did require a lot of planning. One of the challenges was that the documentary is centered around one monument. Storyboarding the whole piece was key to managing the progressive discovery of Notre Dame for the viewer; making every shot reveal something new and bring new information required careful planning.
One of the defining elements of this production was the uncertainty about being able to access the cathedral after the fire. Notre Dame is currently among the most restricted areas in France for two reasons: the risk of collapse, and the lead pollution caused by the fire. Gaining access, especially for a VR project, was a very long and arduous task.
As we needed to make progress despite the uncertainty, we maintained two versions of the storyboard: one that integrated footage inside the cathedral and one that didn’t. We were ready in the eventuality of not getting inside, so we were able to advance production while working to gain access.
In nonfiction VR we think that planning and storyboarding shouldn’t disrupt the natural action. We want to leave room for the unexpected; we want to capture the natural course of action, not a staged re-enactment. For us, making VR documentaries is about documenting above all.
For instance, when we filmed the mass celebration in Notre Dame before the fire, we asked for the timeline of the celebration. We had a rough sense of the visual we wanted, but the specific scene got defined in the moment as it unfolded. We adapt what we record to what people do, not the other way around. This is how interviewees forget about the camera, how we capture their emotions. We believe that, this is how you create a personal connection with someone in VR.