Charles Ayats is a director of virtual reality and augmented reality films, interactive designer and scriptwriter, and also coordinates the residency at the VR Arles Festival. He has made works such as SENS VR, Le Cri or 7 Lives directed by Jan Kounen, and that have won awards at major festivals.
What path did you take to making works in virtual reality and augmented reality?
After a master degree in Interactive Digital Experience at the École des Gobelins school of visual communication and arts in 2012, I worked on interactive experiences such as Type:Rider (2013), Phi (2015), Pas Si Bêtes les Animaux (2016). Most are based on fun mechanics. In 2014, I tried the Villa ToscaneVR experience and from then I thought this media would create a revolution in how we relate to images and space. SENS VR, in 2016, was my first experience of writing a script for a virtual reality production. With the Red Corner team, we tested, worked, and improvised, for more than a year. It was definitely exhausting, but highly enriching. I like to be surprised, and that the body be involved in an imaginary world. Spaced Out (2020) by Pierre Pyaré Friquet struck me recently in fact.
How do you write a work produced in virtual reality or augmented reality?
Finding the best way to tell a story is not easy. You have to adapt the story to the media and the media’s potential to the story. Then there’s a complicated work of iteration between personal projections and what is possible in terms of production. You mustn't be afraid of dropping elements that mean a lot or defending what seems to be the heart of the project. There are stages of joint writing with the developers. Dealing with creation is delicate: if you spend all your time experimenting, there isn't any left for refining and adding details. However, that’s often the time when the experience becomes apparent.
What do you think of French contemporary virtual reality (VR) production, but also for reality (AR) and X reality (XR)?
We’re at the beginnings of augmented reality and even more so with X reality. Without having the equipment suited to this technology, I think that it is going to be difficult to provide interesting experiences. In VR, the panorama of French production is being continually expanding thanks to an ecosystem that is structured with grants from the Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée (CNC), broadcasters and distributors, residencies, festivals, etc. In order to reach the widest audience possible, this developing sector can count on Francophone collaboration.
How to you see the post-Covid world in these sectors, in terms of distribution, but also production?
VR is already facing the problem of reduced capacity and festivals are going to have to be clever to increase the number of participants without increasing their costs. The VR Arles Festival shows that a month’s exhibition can bring together a good audience. Online diffusion has been tested in the past few months and festivals such as Laval Virtual, VRHam, Cannes XR with Museum of Reality Annecy Festival with VIVEPort should make this new way of diffusion durable. Some plan to multiply their curation in several countries, on the same date but under the same label. Social experiences in virtual worlds are successful: Fornite has created virtual concerts, GTA Online gives access to a host of fun experiences and VR Chat is never empty. For the works production, forming an alliance with other countries is a solution to activating bilateral funds.
Can you tell us about MOA (2020), the latest project you worked on ?
MOA means « My Own Assistant »: an artificial intelligence that assists you in your daily life in 2040, in a smart city which keeps some parts of the city for the most deserving citizens. This 15-minute fiction is based on the universe of the novel Les Furtifs (2019) by Alain Damasio and takes place around you, in augmented reality via your smartphone. It’s a hyperbole of the services that the GAFAM tech giants trade in exchange for our precious minutes of attention.
How do you perceive the growing share of digital and artificial intelligence in our societies?
That’s a huge question. The problem is not so much artificial intelligence but more those that have it, often camped on their ethics. Everyone could benefit from them being transparent and decentralised. For example, if AIs mean I don’t have to wait in line at a supermarket checkout, that must imply adaptation rather than cutting jobs. Instead of checkout operators, the store would have staff to help senior citizens, provide child care, etc. Creators of a social connection rather than robots. Another major concern: how much energy these technologies consume. And we all have our share of responsibility.
You’ve been one of the coordinators of the residency dedicated to the immersive storytelling initiated by the Institut français and the VR Arles Festival. What specific lines do you develop with residents during this writing residency?
This residency is a time for writing one’s project in order to focus on concept problems: dramatisation, sound spatiality, traps to avoid with real time, etc. It provides a very comprehensive panorama of the ins and outs of writing VR experiences thanks to discussions with professionals in the sector, and allows precise guidance of the project in question.
What projects are you preparing for the coming year?
No Reality Now came out of the Résidence Chimère at Nantes in 2018. It’s a double vision experience thanks to a complex device using virtual reality and Live in Motion Capture, planned to be released in theatres. Colonie.s, planned for the beginning of 2021, is an immersive, interactive and collective stroll in a singular place, conceived by the Compagnie Le Clair-Obscur.
In August 2020, Charles Ayats will be coordinator with Jérôme Blanquet of the writing residency dedicated to immersive narratives initiated by the Institut français and the VR Arles festival .
SENS VR, Le Cri or also 7 Lives by Charles Ayats are presented on culturevr.fr, an Institut français platform which offers a panoramic view of cultural innovation in virtual reality.
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