On the way to the metaverse and virtual reality (VR). VRrOOm and its founder Louis Cacciuttolo have a clear idea of where they want to take us. Launched in 2016, the company is today a reference in VR and entertainment with special effects. This year, VRrOOm passes the second: after a fundraiser in May, it recently announced the development of its own metaverse, with a first prototype coming soon. Here again, the course set by Louis Cacciuttolo is clear: to become the Youtube of the metaverse.
Impossible not to mention it. For several years you have worked closely with Jean Michel Jarre, one of the legends of French electronic music, to offer remarkable artistic experiences, where tangible reality and virtual reality merge. How did it start?
It all started with Covid. For the live performance, the confinement was a disaster: there was no longer a stage, the festivals were stopped, everything was frozen. This is what prompted me to create a first festival in social virtual reality on the VRchat platform. As the event was going well, I called the Ministry of Culture and told them: “Covid is not a fatality for artists. Look what we can do”. By dint of harassing them, on May 31, they called me to ask me what we could do in VR for the 2020 music festival, since they still did not know how it would take place. I asked them for two days of reflection, but when I hung up I wondered what we were going to be able to do and, above all, with whom. It took a unifying artist, transgenerational, innovative at heart to agree to play the game of virtual reality.
And this is where you rightly think of Jean-Michel Jarre….
I got the email from his agent. The same evening we exchanged, the next day Jean-Michel gave his agreement. It was crazy. We didn’t know each other from Eve or Adam and we had three weeks to set up a concert together in the metaverse. He played from his studio, while in the courtyard of the Palais-Royal guests equipped with headphones could attend in virtual reality. The recording was shared at the same time on social networks. We still had 600,000 spectators that day and more than 1.2 million in replay in the space of 24 hours. We put the cover back on the New Year with “Welcome to the Other Side”. This time, we broke the world record for the most streamed concert with 75 million views. All the elements were there to make it work. Already, it was the new year. Then, the virtual concert took place in the heart of Notre Dame, in a capital under curfew. The town hall of Paris was behind us, the diocese too. The Vatican even tweeted…
The virtual is particularly relevant in this kind of situation, it allows you to escape the constraints of the real world…
This is exactly what fascinates me about VR. I created and then directed for 20 years the Théâtre du Minotaure, in Béziers. It had a gauge of 200 places. I immediately saw in virtual reality the opportunity to break the constraints that prevented me from reaching the public and making productions profitable. For a small establishment, it is particularly complicated. Social virtual reality blows all that away, while adding something else to it. Before, I did not see a medium capable of transcribing the emotion that one can feel in a physical place, when one is shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the room, facing the artist. We are not in front of a screen, we are on the screen. It’s something that only virtual reality or Web3 can provide today.
You are just working on your own metaverse. What will it consist of?
The idea is to create a sort of metaverse YouTube. For the moment, most of the platforms that exist are not made for live performance. Each time we are forced to hack the system to achieve something. And the result is always a little wonky. This is why we are creating our own platform in order to integrate tools adapted to artists. The artists will be able to create their universe in a few clicks, and have at their disposal all the sets of scenic effects, light and sound effects, to create the show they want, whether they are professional or independent, novice or confirmed. Priority is given to accessibility. The important thing is to democratize these tools, to create but also to monetize, via ticketing, merchandising, or NFT.
Emmanuel Macron makes it a point of honor for Europe to have its own metaverse. You subscribe to this process. Why is this so important?
There are clearly issues of sovereignty. We have seen what happened with the Internet. We are ultra-dependent on very large foreign platforms and this must not happen again with the metaverse. The stakes, financial of course, but also of freedom of expression, are enormous. The problem is that to build a sovereign European metaverse, VRrOOm will not be enough. The platforms will have to work in interoperability, be powerful and, above all, adapted to the needs of the artists. For the moment, this is not the case anywhere.
You have distinguished yourself with concerts, but what other art forms could benefit from virtual reality?
During the NewImages festival, in 2020, a hybrid complement contemporary flamenco show was proposed. On stage, a dancer wore a Quest headset and two controllers. Behind her, a screen displayed a staging that evolved with the music. For those who attended in virtual reality, the dancer was represented by moving particles. The device was both very simple, because technically limited, and very beautiful. We also worked on a stand-up, with an actress who gave a show in VRChat. She really grabbed the situation, the lack of expression of the avatars, to do something funny. Like the dance company, it relied on the constraints that currently weigh on virtual reality, to create a relevant show. Of course, the facial expressions, the movements will gradually gain in fidelity and realism, while being lighter to produce. These advancements, coupled with the adoption of the technology by the public, are a step in the right direction.
Precisely, what is missing today for virtual reality headsets to penetrate more French households?
The technology itself. Wearing a virtual reality helmet remains a bore, even for me who loves it. After two or three hours, we can’t take it anymore. We are all waiting for augmented or virtual reality glasses, in short, lighter equipment. The question of price also arises. In terms of content, broadcasting hybrid shows, which can be distributed on different platforms at the same time, is a very powerful evangelistic tool. On the facebook live of “Welcome to the otherside”, we could read a lot of comments from intrigued Internet users who wanted to test a more immersive experience.
Speaking of which, Jean-Michel Jarre will accompany the release of his next album “Oxymore”, on October 21, with a virtual reality experience, OXYVILLE. VRrOOm is once again in the making. What can we expect?
The experience lasts forty-five minutes, like the album. Each piece corresponds to a district of the city where you can roam freely. Jean-Michel Jarre appears on giant screens. Everything is in black and white, in a graphic mix between SinCity and Metropolis. We wanted the experience to be very light and fluid for anyone, and to be playable on Quest headsets. In the end, this city, where there are a lot of things to do, to explore, surprises but also winks for the fans, weighs only 30MB. Both technically and creatively, we pushed things quite far.