Digital creation

Igal Kohen, founder of the company IKO

At IKO we try to find different ways, including more experimental ones, of telling stories.

Igal Kohen is the head of IKO, a creative studio that explores new modes of storytelling through immersive and interactive technologies. IKO has produced several works - such as Biolum, INUA - A Story in Ice and Time and The Satoshi Mystery, the Story of Bitcoin - available for presentation in the French cultural network's establishments abroad via the Sélection VR and the Institut français' new Unlock programming offer. 

Updated on 21/03/2023

5 min

Igal Kohen
© DR

Could you tell us about your background and your work at the IKO production studio? What is IKO's philosophy, and what kind of projects do you develop?

Personally, I started out editing documentaries, before moving on to journalism and directing. I then had the opportunity in 2008 to set up IKO, a company with a team dedicated to the direction and production of documentaries. Our approach is not to limit ourselves to predefined formats, but to find a formula for each project that corresponds to the media we are working with (web, television, video game) and the stories we want to tell. This is particularly the case when we opt for immersive or interactive technologies. We try to find different ways, including more experimental ones, of telling stories. The studio works mainly with Arte.

It's a job that we have learned little by little. In particular, I did a training course in 2014 at the Atelier Ludwigsburg - Paris, a programme dedicated to European film production and distribution run by the Fémis and the Filmakademie of Baden-Württemberg in Germany, which helped me a lot to perfect my skills as a film producer.

You are behind the video games programme Jour de Play, co-produced by Arte. What are the particularities of this programme? How did you develop the idea of this type of programme?

Originally, this project was born out of discussions between Arte and an author and designer called Cosmografik. Together, we came up with a programme format that takes the form of conversations about game design broadcast on the Twitch streaming platform, dedicated to video games. Halfway between a podcast and a cultural magazine, the idea was to bring the codes of the streaming into Arte's identity. We have selected several profiles of streamers to host the show. The format has evolved and has been updated for each season. The third season is now coming to an end, and we hope we will be renewed for another one. It's been an extraordinary, funny and exciting experience that we've built around a team that's been slowly coming together.

INUA – A Story in Ice and Time
Inua © Iko

IKO has recently developed several video games, including Inua, a Story in Ice and Time, a collaboration with The Pixel Hunt. This game has just received the Cultural Impact Award at the App Store Awards 2022. Can you tell us about this project? Why did you want to explore this period in history (the great expeditions around the Arctic Circle)?

It's a narrative adventure game, with puzzle game elements (i.e. a reflective video game) taking place across several eras in the Canadian Far North and inspired by an Inuit legend. It is a fairly accessible experience, lasting about three hours. This project was first submitted to me in the form of a very dense screenplay: two authors, Natalie Frassoni and Frédéric Bouvier, had written a strong story, halfway between an initiation tale and a journalistic investigation. However, we quickly realised that it would be very difficult to make it exist in the form of a film. So I contacted Florent Maurin, from The Pixel Hunt studio, to discuss how we could make a game out of it, because it seemed compatible with this particular form of storytelling. So we had to reduce this very dense narrative in order to leave room for the player. To do this, we collaborated with the video game designer Armel Gibson and the art director Delphine Fourneau, but also with many Inuit advisors to bring some truth to this tale. We also brought in a hunter-sculptor, who worked with the authors. We wanted to document Inuit culture accurately. 

You have now ventured into VR with Biolum, a science fiction film in virtual reality. Why did you choose this medium?

Biolum was conceived and created by Abel Kohen, my brother. It's an interactive science fiction VR experience that lasts about thirty minutes. You take the role of a scientist exploring underwater caves, looking for bioluminescent species. What follows is a bit more fantastic and disturbing, with a real final climax.

Biolum © Astrea

Your most recent work also includes The Satoshi Mystery, the Story of Bitcoin, a documentary series about the creator of bitcoin. How did the project come about?

IKO's identity is defined on the one hand by immersive and interactive projects, but also by linear documentaries, which have their own ecosystem. The Satoshi Mystery, the Story of Bitcoin is our latest documentary co-produced with Arte, which features a very original style of writing since we tried to give a voice to the mysterious creator of bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, who remains anonymous. This project, directed by Rémi Forte, narrates the intentions of the creator of bitcoin, as far as we can guess them through his creation and his internet presence. Based on his philosophy, we imagined what he might have thought of other cryptocurrencies, for example. The result is a seventy-minute film split into ten-minute episodes. 

Le Mystère Satoshi, aux origines du Bitcoin
© DR

You are also co-president of PXN, the association of independent new media producers who work on the digital transformation of the French cultural and creative industries. What are the major challenges of this protean creative sector?

PXN's objective is to work on structuring the sector. It is a field that relies heavily on research (into new technologies and forms of narration) and is sometimes faced with difficulties, but which offers works that are widely distributed and win prizes at the most prestigious festivals. We still need to work hard to convince our potential partners - public institutions, broadcasters, museums, etc - of the value of creation at a time when digital technology has never been so ubiquitous, with technologies linked to AI and the metaverse on the verge of radically changing society. PXN represents more than seventy members who have very different activities, but who always use technology in one way or another in the service of storytelling.

Would you like to tell us about some current or future projects, both personally and with PXN?

Within PXN, we published a white paper at the end of 2022 which covers all of our challenges, from ecology to the Metaverse, including training, R&D, the advent of short series, financing and distribution. It's a great tool to help people understand our business.

At IKO, I have several projects at the writing, development and production stage. Season 4 of Jour de Play on Arte's Twitch channel this year, I hope, a documentary project on rising sea levels, another that tells a story of the Universe in a very particular way, and one on the digital society. And then a VR video game project on school bullying, currently in development, which I hope will go into production this year. It's going to be a busy year...

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