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Michel Reilhac: "VR will be ubiquitous"

Michel Reilhac: "VR will be ubiquitous"
Photo: © privat

Michel Reilhac is a transmedia author, lecturer and speaker on VR, and film producer. In his cinematic career he had many different jobs, just to name a few: head of cinema and film acquisition at Arte France, head of Studies for the Venice Biennale College, co-producer of independent movies such as Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist” and “Melancholia”. He spoke at Cannes Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, TEDx, and many more. Now he spoke again in a keynote at MediaTech Conference about VR and the digitization of events. Curious? 


Interview: Boris Messing 

 

CCB Magazine:Michel, please tell us a little bit about the possible applications of VR in the design of events. What kind of events anyway? 

Michel Reilhac:I guess, we all know - and particularly now during the confinement due to the pandemic - that we need ways of working, creating, brainstorming, simply being together despite the fact that we’re physically isolated from one another for a while. And many of us are spending a lot of time on platforms like Zoom or Skype which are two-dimensional windows that do not offer very much beyond sharing the screen and talking. But there is another option that VR offers. The new frontier of VR is the development of social platforms. VR has been criticized of being a factor of isolation, loneliness and addiction. This is no longer so true with the advent of real time platforms where you can be with your friends or meet new people. You can meet people that you work with and you can meet people that you would meet otherwise during a festival, a conference, a workshop, during all kinds of events that bring people together. The simple fact that you can be spacialy connected with each other, even feel like you are touching each other, having private conversations by just moving away from the group or being all together as a group, makes a huge difference. Therefore, VR comes very close to a real encounter of people. For festivals, for instance, you can now have virtual spaces that allow casual encounters, professional meetings or one on one appointments - happening in real time. People are represented by their avatars, and this is going to grow and will become more and more a way to work together remotely. The whole culture of the avatars that comes with being represented under another appearance of ourselves is going to be growing. And in the near future we’re gonna start seeing what we call digital twinning which is when our avatars will be very realistic duplicates of ourselves. So, we’re moving toward a point where those social platforms will become virtual alternatives to the real world that will look and feel just like the real world but without the touch. 

CCB Magazine:The event industry is currently the hardest hit by Corona. Are digital formats and VR strategies the last resort?

Michel Reilhac:I do think that VR is the next best thing to physical reality. When you cannot meet physically then yes, virtual reality is the absolute best surrogate. And it will grow, it will become more and more standard. This will be facilitated when the VR headsets become less bulky and are more like glasses that you can carry around in your pocket. We are already seeing an explosion of the use of VR in the professional field particularly in training. So yes, this is going to grow definitely.

VR will change how we relate to one another in facilitating access to one another virtually; by allowing access to assets and working tools that are similar to the ones we have in the real world

CCB Magazine: It is often said that no digitization strategy can replace a live event. What can VR do that a real live experience cannot?

Michel Reilhac:Well, let me answer this questions that way: I’m a firm believer that the future is for “physital” events, where everything needs to become both physical and digital at the same time. A good comparison is the garment, the fashion industry. Look at the way it is developed. People are used to go shopping in physical stores and online as well. And I think, all events will start being the same. Regardless of the current situation, I believe, to be able to be in both realities, physical and digital, will become standard in the near future. The festival in Venice which I am curating will be both digital and physical next year, for instance. Back to your question, the one thing that VR can do what physical events cannot do is that you can reach much larger number of people. For instance, I can give you the figures in a regular year of Venice VR where we fill up about 95 percent capacity and we reach about 10.000 people during the ten days of the festival. That’s because only one person can see a peace at a time with one headset. With the platform Venice VR extended as we called it this year, everything was accessible through the VR platform and we reached a 120.000 people, 12 times more. So next year when we go physital we will even reach more people, especially people who can’t afford to come or have not that much time. So, this is a huge advantage for VR.

CCB Magazine:What is the generally potential of VR? What will it change in the future?

Michel Reilhac:I answered this question already, but in short, it will change how we relate to one another in facilitating access to one another virtually; by allowing access to assets and working tools that are similar to the ones we have in the real world. 

CCB Magazine:Just a few months ago, we had an interview with Tina Sauerländer, a VR curator, who attended the Laval Virtual conference - on a VR constructed island as an avatar. I checked it out, of course, and I have to say, everything, the avatars, the island etc., looked pretty basic and, you’ll excuse my harsh judgement, boring as far as the graphics and the love for details are concerned. Is this the end of the story?

Michel Reilhac:It’s not at all the end of the story, it’s the very beginning. Look, the Laval Virtual conference used a platform called VirBELA, and it’s a very primitive platform and also one of the first of its kind and indeed, all the graphics are pretty basic. But if you go on other platforms like VRChat, Altspace, Sansar, and many more, the quality of the visuals and the detail of the renderings are much higher. And therefore, you have a much more satisfying experience visually. So do not judge social VR by VirBELA. This is the most primitive way for social VR platforms. Everything that is coming will be a lot more realistic – and more beautiful. I give you another example: Facebook is launching early next year their own virtual platform called Horizon with the ambition to finally replace the current Facebook platform. 

I’m personally very worried about Facebook convincing everyone to go into Horizon, their VR platform. It’s, of course, a way of gathering even more data, even more details from everyone

CCB Magazine:While we’re at it. What about VR as model and means for a social platform like Facebook? It’s imaginable, but is it also desirable?

Michel Reilhac:This is a very good question. I’m personally very worried about Facebook convincing everyone to go into Horizon, their VR platform. It’s, of course, a way of gathering even more data, even more details from everyone. Very recently, for instance, Facebook who is the owner of Oculus VR has announced that you can’t access Oculus content any longer if you do not use your Facebook account. This is a way of channeling all of the data, everything you`re watching in VR, back into Facebook and increase the amount of information they have about everyone of us. That’s why I personally decided to stop using any Facebook platforms like Instagram or WhatsApp. We need to promote the idea that VR can be an amazing artistic language, a new art form, but it cannot be hijacked in a way to just channel information to be sold back into Facebook.

CCB Magazine:Any other dark sides of VR?

Michel Reilhac:The described above is one dark side in a way. But there is another dark side as well. As with other online encounters you can feel disconnected and isolated if you`re spending too much time in the digital world whether it’s VR or something else. And there is, of course, the danger of addiction. We have to be careful to stay in the real world. 

CCB Magazine:To put it more generally: Where do you see the future application of VR?

Michel Reilhac:VR is already growing in the business world, for training people in sports, in real estate, in fashion, in the garment industry. So, it’s already happening. You may not see it so much, because it is behind closed doors, inside the corporations, but, as I said, it’s happening. And little by little we are seeing platforms that are specializing in providing access to more artistic content. I’m seeing VR as slowly infiltrating every single field of our lives. And there is a very strong potential that in five years from now VR and AR glasses will be the new mobile phones. They will be the new tool that everybody will be using to communicate and to access content. 

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