Virtual Reality : 3 questions to Michel Reilhac

When asked "what is virtual reality?", Michel Reilhac, an internationally renowned professional in the transmedia industry, answers by giving the definition of an oxymoron: "it's a figure of speech that uses a noun and an adjective in a way that appears to be contradictory. This definition fits virtual reality: if a thing is real, it obviously cannot be virtual!


…A real object necessarily exists in the real world!”, He underlines as he introduces his definition.

 “With virtual reality, we create an alternative reality, consisting in a 360° copy of the real world. Whichever direction the user looks in, they stay present in that universe. A major difference with a 2D representation on a screen, such as on a TV or in a theater, is that VR places the viewer in the middle of the action, where they are completely surrounded by a virtual world. This is a highly peculiar situation, which can currently only be experienced by wearing a helmet that enables the user to look around and be immersed in this alternative reality.”


In the context of VR production, is it accurate to talk about “programs”?

I’m not sure the term “program” is still appropriate when talking about virtual reality, because the process is highly immersive. The user is thrust in the middle of the scene they are watching, which means they are experiencing it more than they are watching it. So it’s more of an experience than a program.

But if the term “program” is understood as meaning “content”, then yes, VR is based on content. Still, the experience created by this content is much more powerful, much more emotional and much more immersive than traditional programs on 2D screens. In the VR industry, we even refer to film and TV content as “flatties”!


What makes a good VR experience?

A good VR experience is one that succeeds in creating emotion. This is just like with movies, where a good film is one that has an emotional impact on us and that stays in our memory.

Actually, we’re probably still figuring out what a good VR experience is! The language of VR is still in its infancy; we are learning as we go and experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t. I think that we recently saw the first masterpiece of virtual reality in Cannes: Allumette, an extraordinarily emotional 20-minute adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl. When a technology like VR manages to move beyond the “wow” factor and make the viewer forget the cameras, the system, and the helmet, and to simply experience a memorable and touching moment, that’s good VR!


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