Annecy 2022: “XR makes it possible to test new ways of telling stories”

Arnaud Miquel, coordinator of [email protected] and responsible for professional meetings and the general public of the festival discusses for Première the evolution of XR and the future of real-time animation.

The XR selection is extremely varied this year. Has the number of works received increased again?Yes, it’s a record: we are approaching the hundred works received with the VR competition. But instead of focusing on exclusives, we preferred to cover works that have sometimes already been shown at festivals like Sundance or Venice last year. Because the quality was there. If we asked for exclusivities, we would perhaps have to select from less good works, and that would go against what we want to do. Each year, the selection is made from around twenty works that stand out. Afterwards, it is up to us to find a balance between what is really new and what is interesting and inspiring enough for the public.

Annecy is one of the rare festivals to highlight XR so much. Is it because the bridges with traditional animation are getting stronger and stronger?

In part, yes. Basically, XR or not, it is above all about moving images. We share almost the same professions with traditional animation: there are modellers, concept designers… And we see people move from one universe to another, bridges are actually made. Jan Kounen, for example, has gone through VR, and his next film will be an animated feature film. Everything feeds and XR makes it possible to test new ways of telling stories. Combined with real time, this provides crazy tools for creative people: for example, a screenwriter will be able to directly visualize the settings of his story, and perhaps have new ideas by being immersed in this universe. Or a director can imagine in advance his camera angles for a feature film in live action.

The real-time animation technologyused in XR and video games, now seems to be making its way into traditional animation.

We see a real acceleration of real time. This is what will make the difference in the animation of tomorrow, and which will be the link with the metaverse and the video game. Real-time allows for last-minute changes without lengthy rendering times. Normally, each change in animation is very complicated since there are issues of light, volume… Real time simplifies everything. On the other hand, the rendering quality is not the same.

But things are changing very quickly…

It going. There are some pretty mind-blowing demos from companies like Unreal and Unity that use real-time. And there are interesting connections: Unity acquired Weta Digital, the studio specializing in special effects of Peter Jackson, at the forefront of photorealism. The two technologies are very different, but tomorrow, potentially, the exchange of skills will take place. And it will be very interesting to watch. The problem is that real time is very much associated with a “video game” image. Now – and this is also the subject of one of the conferences of the week in Annecy – maybe the future is to go towards much more stylized things. Do people really want photorealism? Spider-Man: Next Generation and now Across the Spider-Verse prove that there is a real desire among the public to go for more stylized films, more visually original. This does not prevent us from certainly ending up doing photorealism in real time.

Where does XR stand today? We have the impression that the market has changed little in a few years, and that VR “experiences” remain above all objects of festivals. Completely. Because consumption is not there yet. Will people end up paying for XR experiences? Maybe an arcade or a bowling alley can attract the public with a big license, like Wallace and Gromit that we present in work in progress this week. We’ll see. Afterwards, it is true that a little more independent production is mainly found in museums or cultural centers. But the market is not yet mature. As real time continues to grow, the club of virtual reality is getting smaller and smaller: festivals like Venice and Tribeca continue to play the game, but the little ones who were interested in it have decided to turn away . And there is still a lot of production, but with smaller and smaller teams.

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