Digital creation

Gilles Bloch, président du Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle

it is by sharing and exchanging ideas in these international networks that you can take on these challenges and draw up the solutions to be offered.

The Musée national d'Histoire naturelle (MNHN) and the Institut français work in partnership to promote scientific culture in the French diplomatic network abroad. MNHN president Gilles Bloch discusses the digital creation implemented within the museum, as well as the challenges of this partnership. 

Updated on 15/04/2024

5 min

Gilles Bloch
Gilles Bloch, président du Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle © MNHN-JC Domenech

You are president of the Musée national d'Histoire naturelle (MNHN), which offers a pioneering approach to digital creation. Could you tell us more about it? 

The Musée national d'Histoire naturelle (MNHN) strives to be at the forefront of technological and practical developments in the field of museology. We are the leading French museum in terms of admissions to our various sites and we were the first to introduce virtual reality as a permanent fixture. Our first foray in this domain, an experience called "Journey to the heart of evolution", was launched in our virtual reality exhibit, the Grande Galerie de l'Évolution (Gallery of Evolution). It was a dive into the undergrowth of life, which allowed us to observe the connection between species. The experience continues as a travelling exhibit and has been hosted in Budapest and Lisbon, among other places. We also offer two further virtual reality experiences in the exhibit. The first one is called "La plage de sable étoilé" (The Starry Sand Beach) and presents species threatened by global warming, foraminifera, while the second is an immersive experience in the Arctic, "Virtual Arctic Expedition", where groups of visitors can view each other in the form of avatars. We have also developed modern digital tools in our gallery of endangered and extinct species. The presentation of specimens has been enhanced with augmented reality: visitors can see animals such as the sabre-toothed tiger, the Tasmanian tiger or the dodo live again. 

Voyage au cœur de l'Évolution - bande annonce
Voyage au cœur de l'Évolution - bande annonce

The immersive "Life Chronicles" experience, offered until 16 June 2024, is a virtual reality expedition exploring the history of the Earth and living things. How did this project come about? 

We were keen to work with Emissive after seeing the wonderful experiences they produced for Kheops and Notre-Dame de Paris. We developed the concept of a deep dive into the history of the Earth from its formation to the birth of life. This is a group experience that can be enjoyed as a family. All of the content was developed with the museum's scientists: around thirty people worked on every stage, from the storyboard to the creation of the graphic universes and sound effects. For "Life Chronicles", we used stylised virtual reality, but it was important that this stylisation did not distort the scientific message. The exhibition can accommodate around 80 people simultaneously and will travel to Lyon in April, while it is also pre-booked in some locations abroad. 

Mondes Disparus - Bande-annonce
Mondes Disparus - Bande-annonce

In 2023, the MNHN signed a partnership agreement with the Institut français to promote scientific culture in the French diplomatic network abroad. What are the key objectives for this collaboration? 

We are a major scientific museum, the largest in France and one of the largest natural history museums in the world. We are interested in promoting our scientific excellence, and the results from our research laboratories are disseminated to a wide audience through our exhibitions. We naturally found ourselves in discussions with the Institut français, whose mission, among others, is also to promote our country's scientific excellence. This was a natural association for us, as we seek wider visibility abroad for our creations to carry our messages of respect for nature and the protection of biodiversity. 


Through this partnership, the MNHN has notably participated in the "Seasons" programmes, implemented by the Institut français since 1985. What plans do you have in place for continuing this dialogue between France and abroad? 

The "Seasons" are form part of the diplomatic and cultural world. We have been formally taking part since 2017 through scientific symposia, exhibitions and hosting artists at our sites. There have been many shared successes such as the France/Colombia symposium around Paul Rivet, the France/Portugal season and its scientific forum on the Atlantic or the symposium on bio-inspiration. The France/Brazil season is currently under development for 2025 and we are assembling the programme that will be offered. We have already identified the theme of the Brazilian forest, which must be discussed in parallel with French forests. Our forests are also being impacted by climate change and it is our role, as a major scientific institution during this season, to address the challenges of fragility and the essential role of these enormous reserves of biodiversity. 

Exposition - Félins
Exposition - Félins

The MNHN also features exhibitions and touring experiences such as "Felines" or "Arts and Prehistory". How is this other aspect of the museum's activity organised? 

The MNHN produces several temporary exhibitions each year, initially programmed in our large exhibition spaces. Their purpose is to serve a French public fortunate to benefit from great cultural infrastructures, although they are designed with touring in mind. Very often, part of the exhibition is reproduced from digital files to allow transfer between different sites. From time to time, as is the case for "Felines", we are required to loan and transport fragile specimens and collections, which can be a complex element of touring. They are heritage objects that are not easy to take out of the country. We now have experience in automation and the ability to digitally transfer elements of the exhibition. These are exhibitions that travel across France and abroad: they facilitate our exposure and are the subject of discussions with some countries on museum practices. Working in partnership with the Institut français, we have supported each other through an extremely dense network to access new audiences and countries. 

Exposition - Arts et Préhistoire
Exposition - Arts et Préhistoire

At a time when we are preoccupied with climate change, what are the MNHN's actions for biodiversity and respect for the environment? 

The MNHN is not just a museum with rich collections; it includes galleries, zoos and gardens that welcome the public, of course, but we also carry out research, teaching and expertise activities in support of public policy. This work focuses on explaining to the public the extraordinary wealth that biodiversity represents, but also how it can be managed, respected and even restored. We have a genuine commitment to biodiversity because we are facing a global extinction crisis. We are also proactive in our daily life as an institution. As a result, we have started to work in a more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly way across all of our operations. Over the years, we have learned to use environmentally sound materials, but also to recycle the same materials from one exhibition to the next. We are also trying to participate in a number of international negotiations, in support of French diplomacy, in conferences or major agreements that set the pace of environmental diplomacy. 


What are the major projects for the MNHN in the coming years? 

There are many major projects in our various research activities, as well as significant explorations that continue to take place. We are involved in museum diplomacy and regularly work with the other twelve major European and North American natural history museums. Year upon year, we try to build a common approach to global natural history collections with our partners through the One World Collection project. Each of us has tens of millions of specimens, which are becoming increasingly rare and unlikely to be found again. We therefore want to spread the workload and standardise a number of digital tools to share our specimens. It is a major global project, mobilising international players and a challenge for us. 

We also want to gain momentum with our international exhibitions. We have put a lot of effort into reorganising and making our exhibitions more efficient over the past five years, so it's all about being even more visible and economically efficient. Our partnership with the Institut français allows us to explore approaches in other countries. It is extremely rich because there is no ultimate truth: it is by sharing and exchanging ideas in these international networks that you can take on these challenges and draw up the solutions to be offered. 

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Découvrez Ifdigital, le site dédié à la création numérique française. 

Art numérique, expérience immersive, jeu vidéo, livre innovant, médiation et éducation culturelle, webcréation : IFdigital présente le meilleur des créations et des professionnels de ces secteurs innovants des industries culturelles et créatives. Il vise à encourager leur diffusion à l’international. 

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