Jailbirds: Bwa Kayiman, a short film in VR presented to the guests of the Institut Français’ Immersive Experiences (XR) Focus
With Jailbirds: Bwa Kayiman, the first episode in a trilogy of short films in VR, the director Thomas Villepoux adapts a graphic novel by Philippe Foerster initially published in Fluide Glacial. The piece is being presented to the guests of the Immersive Experiences (XR) Focus organised by the Institut français between 7 and 12 June 2022.
A dark and poetic story
In 2016 Thomas Villepoux, a director and 3D specialist, decided to tackle the virtual reality adaptation of a short graphic novel that he had been struck by as a teenager. Published in the legendary magazine Fluide Glacial, Paulot s’évade is a story by the Belgian illustrator Philippe Foerster, known for his dark and poetic style. Produced by the studio Digital Rinse, Jailbirds: Bwa Kayiman is the first episode in a trilogy that takes us right into the confines of a prison cell. A real metaphor of the experience in virtual reality, this short explores the themes of confinement and mental escape.
Space and volume
Jailbirds: Bwa Kayiman tells the story of a pair of cellmates. The first, Félix, is a gentle giant who appears to have reached a kind of inner peace, and whose scars are the only traces of a troubled past; the second, Booker, is a puny and nervous being. The two live in fear of a sadistic guard who is enraged by the fact that, together, they manage to create unlimited spaces of freedom for themselves. With this fable on the concept of freedom, the director Thomas Villepoux explains that virtual reality was the obvious vehicle for the story as it was “a medium of space and volume, of movement.That went hand-in-hand with the concept of imprisonment.”
An experience of confinement
Far from limiting itself to a single claustrophobic atmosphere, Jailbirds: Bwa Kayiman also features landscapes that can be explored by flying over them. “A kind of metaphor,” explains Villepoux, “for what the virtual reality headset might promise.” One of the challenges of this production therefore emerged in the development phases: how to transpose Foerster’s graphic touch into a 3D design engine? Although Jailbirds: Bwa Kayiman is a very free adaptation, it was important for the creators of this experience to convey the sense of poetry inherent to the original illustrations. To boost the immersive quality, the three actors who lend their voices to the characters also spend a long time rehearsing and acting out their scenes in the flesh before they were recorded using motion capture.
Suitable for a wide audience
The fruit of a long process and partially made remotely, due to the public health crisis, Jailbirds: Bwa Kayiman has already been selected at a host of festivals in France and abroad. The experience, which won prizes at Annecy festival and Courant 3D, offers a particularly effective introduction to fiction in virtual reality, particularly for young adult audiences. The next two episodes in the trilogy, which are currently in production, will be added to this first fragment to give viewers an experience lasting around thirty minutes and which could be shown through various different types of installations.