The Project & team:
For New Year’s Eve, Jean Michel Jarre played on his keyboards at the Gabriel studio, his live performance was filmed, and in addition, his avatar reproduced the performance in the Cathedral of Notre Dame reconstituted in Virtual Reality. Not to mention the laser show on the façade of Notre Dame, also in CGI (computer generated images). The aim was to create a festive moment in a world where all social gatherings are forbidden. His previous concert was called Alone Together, this time it was Welcome to the other side. The first time it was about being alone but together and this time it was about being together across a different worlds and dimensions.
So it was on the 31st of December 2020 at 23:24 that the concert started, with the famous countdown for the new year.
For the TV / Flat project, comprising 3 different streams (Notre Dame façade, live at Gabriel studio and Notre Dame interior in virtual reality), a total of more than 100 people worked on it, but I will only mention the collaborators of the “Notre Dame interior” in virtual reality.
In Italy, somewhere in Turin, are those who are responsible for assembling everything and making it work: Antony Vitillo, the lead developer, Lapo Germasi, and Viktor Pukhov, his sidekick, dealing with both 3D creation and integration. Somewhere in France there is Louis Cacciuttolo, the CEO of VRrOOm, the company that produces the VR part of the project, myself, in charge of both project management and in-VR video shooting and live editing, Vincent Masson, the artist in charge of 3D animations, and of course, the star creator himself: Jean Michel Jarre. In France too, Freddy Koné and Mohamed Marouene, the managers of the company SoWhen?, took care of the design and the motion of Jean Michel Jarre’s avatar. In Russia, there is Georgy Molodtsov, a VR Mac Gyver, who combines a role of technology spotter and VR video co-director. In the same location, Denis Semionov is in charge of creating an original Quest compatible world. In the UK, Jvan Morandi, Jean Michel Jarre’s scenographer in real life since 5 years, is responsible of lighting in the virtual world.
The whole show was produced by the City of Paris. The aim was to make an interesting virtual experience, but above all one that could work without bugs! And to make a TV broadcast that would be interesting as so. Under the leadership of a Jean Michel Jarre more determined and ambitious than ever (I say that, but this is the case for each of his projects: he considered Alone Together as an experiment and with Welcome to the other side, he wanted to offer a truly mainstream experience that was thought first and foremost for TV).
I hadn’t worked on Alone Together, and neither had Jvan Morandini. So we were the two newbies. For my part, I had already worked with the Turin team at the Venice festival. But I hadn’t collaborated with the other parties.
Originally, I was more specialised in making 360° films, but it was during the first confinement that I discovered my passion for social VR. I dreamed of taking this step, this transition towards universes made in computer-generated images, but I saw no point embarking on productions that last two or even three years with limited distribution to an elite at festivals.
So I explored social platforms, and I started my adventure there with the Break Down these walls event directed by VRrOOm. I had known Louis for a few years, professionally, and we already had chemistry: he too comes from the performing arts world.
Therefore, it was quite natural that this transition took place, initially by working for other people, then by joining VRrOOm.
On this project, in addition to managing the coordination, Louis was crazy enough to appoint Georgy and I as co-directors of the TV broadcast show. A challenge that we took up with great interest !
My experience as project manager :
As I mentioned, we were a small team to produce the “IN” part of Notre Dame virtuelle of the Jean Michel Jarre concert. This part took place not only in virtual reality on New Year’s Eve, but it was also broadcast on many television channels and social networks.
I would say that my main mission, apart from the classic secretarial work of organising meetings and checking every aspect of the project and its progress, was to act as a buffer between the artists and the 3D developers / computer graphic designers.
The main complexity of this project was to find a workflow that works, a common language and satisfaction for everyone. So Jvan and Vincent, the artists, had to get along with Lapo, Victor and Antony to move forward.
The artists would have liked more back and forth and feedback to see their work, while the developers slowed down this process because each artistic back and forth required them to work on integration, which delayed them on the final product. In addition to important weight constraints, because VRChat has rather drastic limitations, Vincent and Jvan had to work mostly blind, and moreover, to watch the weight of their creation. Just like video games in the 80s where developers had to go to the essentials for weight constraints too.
Not to mention the SoWhen? team led by Freddy and Mo, who already had some notions about how to adapt their avatars to VRChat, but they faced bigger challenges, and they too were looking for an efficient workflow with the developers.
What I will notice on top of all is that everyone went out of their comfort zone!
My experience as a director :
We knew from the start that the show would be broadcast on television and we didn’t want a so-so broadcast, with only 5 cameras facing the stage. The ambition was enormous, and I was ready to take up this challenge with Georgy Molodstov, even though we had never worked together before, and we never have done this type of work !
Georgy is a VR Jack-of-all-trades, always sniffing out the good shots, finding the latest plug-ins created far away in Japan that could help us make more cinematic images. During his technical investigations, I explored, on an artistic level, every nook and cranny of Notre Dame.
In my first VRChat test world, I had 1 minute of the Exit song with an avatar dating from June 21st, in 5 tracking points, which became a diplodocus looked quite clumsy when it applauded and without any audience.
From there, I explored every corner of the Cathedral, I thought about the shots we could make, both shots with our integrated cameras in the VRChat world (thanks to the Vstudio plugin), with cameras that rotate around the stage, and handheld camera shots (thanks to the VRClens plugin) to make close-ups.
But I avoided close-ups in these initial tests. So, to make the final cut interesting, because we had to show some progress to the City of Paris, I took shots of the chandeliers, travellings of the ceiling, mosaics, linear trajectories all over the Cathedral. Ow, a gargoyle, let’s shoot from there!
And luck smiled at me: Jean Michel Jarre approved my very first edit! It was exactly the spirit he wanted.
From then on, we continued to work together, I made early edits for each song, Georgy took some shots, designed some cameras, learned how to handle the VRClens drone (what a tan!) and we made regular edits to give an overview. I had the impression of living an endless idyll because Jean Michel Jarre seemed to be satisfied each time. But the more time went by, the more he became picky, his endless, legendary quest for perfection taking over.
And then one day we did a rehearsal under live conditions, so we had a more recent avatar in 20 trackings points, a crowd of extras, a crowd of fake animated characters to fill in more, and cameras ready. We had 3 days to train in these conditions with Georgy, it was exciting, new, and stressful. We were looking for the best and most efficient way to work. In parrallel, Jean Michel was rehearsing his live performance with the mocap suit, and everyone at Studio Gabriel was rehearsing his part.
After these 3 crazy days, one week before the live show, I started to redo some editing, some stories, in order to get as close as possible to what we wanted to do for the live show. Jean Michel Jarre’s music is very precise and timed, the 3D effects were also synchronised, so we knew that we were working on the good tempo.
In short, I made 3 montages which I showed to Jean Michel Jarre and there, I felt a certain disappointment, but he didn’t panic, he has experienced many others creative breakdowns I guess.
After this first heartache, I drunk 3 cups of coffee, took back my brain and decided to do two more edits within the hour. I racked my head, I shot over images without the audience, I set out to conquer Notre Dame and to re-conquer what seemed to be “my artistic paw”.
This time, he seemed happy and told me that I had come to my senses.
D-4, I landed at Studio Gabriel, a mythical place for television. I discovered some of the 90 other people mentioned in the credits of this project, and the complexity of the formats, files and TV software: I discovered a whole world. And so did they. We only had 4 days to get to know each other, to learn how to work together and to set up the systems.
Above all, I met David Montagne, a live show director for over 20 years, the Gabriel studio is like home to him, he was the great maestro of the final show including the live performance of Jean Michel and the façade show.
With two days to go live, it was media madness: I even met Anne Hidalgo and the Archbishop (manager of Notre Dame Cathedral).
I discovered the world of live multicam, with all these screens around me, I felt like in Minority Report while we’re behind the scenes of an old industry, but for me, it’s all new!
As for Julian Guttierez, he is the great manitou of the live Edit software, which allows us to edit our multiple live streams. I had to understand this live language in a very quick way in order not to screw up on the D-day.
It is thus surrounded by this friendly and benevolent team that I grilled my last energy cartridges before the big day.
On D-Day, I had lots of fun: everything went well, the VR experience didn’t bug, our goals were met. I was still struggling to realize everything that I’d experienced and achieved!
A great part of the TV team at studio Gabriel – After the show
And what about Jean Michel Jarre, in all this?
The closer the date gets, the more my phone rings, at shorter and shorter intervals. The same name is always displayed: Jean Michel Jarre.
I divide my time between discussions about project management and interviews with him about TV production. On the whole, we don’t talk much and we understand each other very quickly, so it’s very fluid and pleasant to work with him. I feel encouraged in my artistic choices and as a result I am ready to invest myself to the maximum.
He also seems to be very inspired by Pop Culture, and more particularly science fiction. I grew up abroad and my favourite films are Sin City, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the 5th element, choices considered naïve and ridiculous by many, but not for Jean Michel, he is a mainstream artist, I am influenced by mainstream culture, so let’s go!
What impressed me most about Jean Michel Jarre is that he is an entrepreneur in his artistic career and he manages every aspect of it. The music, of course, but his image, his vision, what it’s all about. Some political and diplomatic aspects. He seeks to understand all the components of the project and quickly adapts to technical constraints. Unlike the younger artists I’ve worked with, surrounded by managers for every aspect of their career, Jean Michel is on all fronts and leads his artistic vision like an architect.
In addition to having a broad vision, he has a lot of energy and is able to keep a team of 100 people awake and at the top of themselves. He burns us all, but he forces us to surpass ourselves and to feel proud of the work accomplished. I have a lot of admiration for him, for his perfectionism and his attention to detail that have pushed me to be the best version of myself.
I can never thank Louis enough for trusting me, and Jean Michel Jarre for making me grow wings. His manager Fiona told me: “Jean Michel takes the best of you, circles it very quickly and pushes you up. When she was only 22 years old, Jean Michel was already asking her to make important decisions in front of a group of men much older than her.
Moreover, Jean Michel is surrounded by women, not because he’s a cad, but because he doesn’t judge talents on their gender, but on their skills. Another good point ^^ In short, he is a picky, demanding but very empathetic artist!