The story in the Cirque du Soleil show, Kurios, Cabinet of Curiosities, is set at the end of the 18th century – a period marked by the emergence of many inventions and innovations, including the gramophone, wireless telegraphy, and the cinema. For director Michel Laprise, all of these inventions had something in common: they brought people closer together. “It must’ve been wonderful to live in the era of the Méliès brothers,” he opines. As they created their films, they were inventing the grammar of film.” For Michel, adapting Kurios to virtual reality (VR) was also an opportunity to create the syntax of a new medium.
André Lauzon, producer and digital studio director at Cirque du Soleil Média, was completely won over by the potential of VR when he experienced Strangers with Patrick Watson, one of the first VR projects produced by Félix & Paul Studios. “I realized that Félix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphaël are the world’s best VR practitioners, both in terms of technology and design.”
André Lauzon quickly realized that virtual reality could offer a new way of transposing a circus experience on screen, along with the Cirque du Soleil’s famous “magic powder”: “In a live show, you can’t get that close to the artists.”
To establish a close rapport between the spectators and acrobats, it was necessary to readapt the original work completely and build the experience for a single observer. To guide the artists, Michel Laprise encouraged them to treat the camera as if it were a person they knew, someone in need of love, joy, and entertainment. “Everyone looked at the camera in a very personal manner, which made for a diversity of relationships. It’s as if the spectator is a new curiosity, newly arrived in the laboratory.”
VR pioneers Félix and Paul are no strangers to immersive experiences. “At the beginning, we put up large installations where we used techniques like holography and stereoscopy, then we migrated toward virtual reality,” recounts co-founder Félix Lajeunesse. “In early 2013, we began to create the tools we needed, because none of these things were around just a few years ago.”
The show was to be captured with a single shot, in all directions at once. But Félix is used to this level of complexity: “The protocol is different from that of filmmaking. It’s a bit like Braille. You work at it until it becomes intuitive.”
Today, virtual reality is a normal pursuit for Félix. According to André, the experience of Kurios shows that this technology is here to stay and that we need to embrace it and make it our own.