Creativity 50 2015

Creativity 50 2015: Félix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphaël

Founders, Felix&Paul Studios

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Paul Raphael (left) and Felix LaJeunesse
Paul Raphael (left) and Felix LaJeunesse Credit: George Fok © Centre Phi

If you still have doubts that virtual reality is the esoteric, dizzying stuff of nerds, Félix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphaël will likely put those to rest. The founders of Montreal-based Felix & Paul Studios have been at the forefront of making VR storytelling truly immersive and captivating since they launched their company in 2013.

One of their earliest projects, "Strangers With Patrick Watson," is still consistently hailed as one of the finest examples of the medium, giving users an astounding sense of presence during an intimate performance inside the musician's home studio.

Since then, they've expanded into new turf. They created the intro experience for Samsung's Gear VR, brought viewers face to face with an apatosaurus for Universal Studios' "Jurassic World" and captured a President of the United States (Bill Clinton) in VR for the first time, for the Clinton Global Initiative. While helping to carve out storytelling methods in the space, the duo is also developing the proprietary technology to support it. But it's all for the sake of the craft: "We're not planning on releasing the technology," Mr. LaJeunesse told Creativity earlier this year. "We iterate and refine according to our needs as creatives. Every shoot we make we iterate to get closest to the ultimate result we want."

Big companies are banking on their talent too. In July, they signed a deal with Oculus Rift to produce a series of VR experiences in time for the company's consumer launch in early 2016.

Mr. LaJeunesse shared some of his thoughts on creativity below.

Advertising Age: VR tech and storytelling seem to have advanced exponentially even in the last year. What do you know about VR storytelling today that you didn't at the beginning of 2015? Would you say now that you've determined new conventions or methods that are particularly effective for VR given where the technology is today?

Félix Lajeunesse: VR truly is a new art form, and every single project we undertake teaches us a vertiginous amount of things. In our perspective, the main challenge with VR storytelling is to properly balance story and presence. The synergy between both is of vital importance to the creation of emotionally compelling cinematic VR. Presence is not a given in VR. In the same way storytelling is an art, presence is also an art. It's something you can modulate and nurture as a VR storyteller and director, and there are many ways to do that. That exploration has been key to the evolution of our work in 2015, and it's definitely an ongoing process. I'd say we have developed multiple insights in regards to VR storytelling -- but not necessarily a firm method.

AA: What's your proudest accomplishment in VR from the past year—and why? What did you learn from it?

Mr. Lajeunesse: I have a special attachment to "Nomads : Maasai." That cinematic VR piece immerses the viewer into the daily reality of a Maasai family living in Amboseli, Kenya. There is a level of genuineness and intimacy, as well as a "non-manipulative" quality to the emotional experience - that I am really proud of and excited to share.

AA: What are you looking forward to or enjoying most about the Oculus partnership? Can you give us a tease of what we can expect from you with this in 2016?

Mr. Lajeunesse: The partnership is an extraordinary opportunity to explore new creative territories for cinematic VR storytelling. Our primary focus for 2016 will be on the creation of original narrative content tailor-made for cinematic VR.

AA: What's your definition of Creativity?

Mr. Lajeunesse: Creativity is multifaceted. It involves inspiration, doubt, commitment, laughter, madness, temerity, hard work, fear, ambition, thinking, collaboration, spirituality, failure and so on. It's a way of life.

AA: What are you most inspired by?

Mr. Lajeunesse: For me the act of conversation is the main driver for inspiration. The conversations I have with Paul and our trusted creative collaborators and friends, lead to the formulation of most of our ideas. I'm also a huge fan of Ozu. He's a strong inspiration and I believe he would have loved cinematic virtual reality.

AA: What was your favorite VR experience of the past year that you didn't make yourself?

Mr. Lajeunesse: Although Paul and [my] focus is on the creation of live-action and photorealistic cinematic VR experiences, we are highly interested in the storytelling, creative and experiential possibilities of real-time animation in VR. The amazing work of Saschka Unseld and his team at the Oculus Story Studio ("Lost," "Henry") is always a source of high interest to us.

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