Interview with the founders of the French studio Targo, producer of documentaries in virtual reality
The French studio Targo, co-founded in 2016 by Victor Agulhon and Chloé Rochereuil, produces documentaries in virtual reality, immersing us in places that are no longer accessible, such as Notre-Dame or the Twin Towers in New York. The documentary Rebuilding Notre-Dame, produced by Targo and directed by Chloé Rochereuil, features in the Institut français "VR Selection".
Updated on 25/04/2022
Can we take a quick look back at your respective profiles and backgrounds? How did you meet?
Chloé Rochereuil: We co-founded Targo together, and I deal more specifically with everything that concerns the creation of experiences. I trained as a journalist: Victor and I met at Science Po. I then worked at France 24, for whom I set up Mashable media.
Victor Agulhon: I'm in charge of production, distribution and financing at Targo. My job is to make sure that what we create is seen as widely as possible, using technologies such as virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR).
What inspired you to found Targo together in 2016?
Victor Agulhon: In 2016, I was already working in the spheres of technology and innovation, and it was the desire to democratise virtual reality that led me to create Targo with Chloé. At that time, VR was polarised between video game experiences very much geared towards gamers, and experimental artistic works.
Our starting point was to create experiences designed for the general public, that could speak to everyone: gamers, families, artists... While there is sometimes this image of VR as an artificial technology disconnected from the real world, for us, it allows us to tell true stories with unprecedented realism. It's a great tool for discovering places, stories and personalities...
What is Targo's editorial line? How do you choose the stories that you want to tell?
Chloé Rochereuil: Our experiences are all documentary, i.e. they deal with true stories, and our subjects are aimed at the general public. They are themes that speak to everyone. Targo's "magic formula" is a mixture of immersion in visually powerful places (Notre-Dame, Antarctica, Iraq, the Twin Towers and the Opéra de Paris) and encounters with unique characters who guide the viewer through the story (an explorer, an astronaut, a 9/11 survivor, a star dancer, etc.).
Victor Agulhon: For us, the editorial line is also linked to the new forms of media. Virtual reality is the first technology that allows you to consume content in the first person, to participate in the story. We have to remain accessible in terms of distribution, while remaining innovative. It's a balancing act. In the beginning, all our experiences were passive: users just had to look around. As the audience matures, we add interaction between the user and our stories. It is this kind of evolution that is gradually allowing us to broaden our spectrum of subjects.
Your work on Rebuilding Notre Dame (before and after the fire) and When We Stayed Home was particularly noticed and led you to be nominated for an Emmy in 2021. Could you tell us more about these two experiences?
Victor Agulhon: These two projects represent us very well: they show how VR documentaries can speak to the general public, revealing closed places and inspiring personalities. In the case of Rebuilding Notre Dame, it's a deep dive into the history of the cathedral in the aftermath of the fire: it was the top news story of 2019 and VR offers a unique perspective on the monument. In the case of When We Stayed Home, it is a series of narrated wanderings through Paris, Venice, Tokyo and Jerusalem, deserted during lockdown. While everyone was isolated, these four stories provided an escape.
Chloé Rochereuil: We were lucky enough to film inside Notre Dame a few months before the fire for a previous documentary "The Man Behind Notre Dame". After the fire, we quickly realised how precious and exceptional these images were. We therefore decided to create a new documentary, "Rebuilding Notre-Dame", which takes the viewer inside the cathedral before and after the disaster. This documentary was very popular because it was one of the first VR projects that allowed you to go back to a place that had disappeared, showing how technology can anchor moments of history.
You specialise in documentary VR, and your projects use real footage. What are the particular constraints of this format?
Chloé Rochereuil: Documentary film requires us to start from reality. We always start from a shoot, from archive images, and possibly from 3D renderings. This is what differentiates us from other VR content creators, but it is also what makes our productions sometimes more complex, because we have to deal with a strong human variable. The team has to hide, with the camera filming in all directions at once, and the people involved in the image have to understand how to position themselves in front of a camera that does not frame shots in the traditional sense. Technologically, there are also a lot of constraints, but paradoxically the fact we are evolving within a restricted framework allows us to be more creative.
Victor Agulhon: Whatever technique we use (photogrammetry, 3D scanning, 180 or 360 degree shooting), it is almost always the first time that the people we film are confronted with it. Our shoots therefore raise a lot of questions and curiosity.
How do you distribute your projects?
Victor Agulhon: It's a classic production company model. We bring in projects, get them financed and then distribute them. In concrete terms, we work with VR helmet manufacturers who are in desperate need of experiences that demonstrate the advantages of this technology.
For broadcasting, the aim is to speak to the widest possible audience, both online and offline. Our first channel of distribution is the VR streaming platforms that allow us to reach the people who own headsets. Also, to allow those who don't have a VR headset at home to discover our films, we work with arcades and cinemas equipped for VR.
How do you see the future of Targo?
The most important thing for us is to continue to innovate, in terms of technology and storytelling, to find and create the best formats in VR.
We continue to produce our audience-pleasing formats, documentaries and 360° films on mainstream themes, with projects on gastronomy and criminal investigations. At the same time, we are developing interactive narrated experiences, which give viewers the freedom to move around, to manipulate objects... to really evolve in our documentaries.
The documentary Rebuilding Notre-Dame is part of Culture VR: la sélection, a varied offering that showcases the best of French creation in virtual reality intended for distribution within the facilities of the French cultural network abroad or its partners.
The Studio Targo is also referenced on IFdigital, the new website of the Institut français dedicated to French digital creation (digital art, immersive experience, video games, innovative books, cultural education and web creation).
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