Google’s first VR Doodle honors French Illusionist director Georges Melies

[Google’s May 3, 2018 360-degree virtual reality Doodle is another small landmark in the history of presence. This story is from Adweek, where it includes two videos; for in-depth information see coverage in Engadget and Google itself (where the page includes a Making Of… video). The Washington Post elegantly describes the project this way: “Google has melded the future of the past, technologically and narratively, with the future of the now.” –Matthew]

Google’s First Virtual Reality Doodle Honors a French Illusionist Director

An homage to the ‘father of special effects’ Georges Méliès

By Marty Swant
May 3, 2018

Google just added another dimension to its daily Doodle.

In its first 360-degree virtual reality Doodle, Google’s fitting homage to the format honors the “father of special effects,” French illusionist and filmmaker Georges Méliès. Méliès—who died in 1938—lived long the concept of VR, which has gained traction in the past couple of years with companies like Google and rival Facebook investing heavily in hardware and content. (Earlier this week, Facebook released Oculus Go, a VR headset that, unlike Google’s View, doesn’t require a smartphone for use.)

Created with Google’s Spotlight Stories team and Nexus Studios, the two-minute-long Doodle is based on Méliès’s films, including À la conquête du pole (The Conquest of the Pole) and Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon). It immerses a viewer in a circus-like setting filled with animated characters illustrated in the visionary director’s image. Soon, the room is underwater before transforming into an elaborate ballroom. Along the way, the characters replicate Méliès’ famous tricks in illustrated form.

While the experience might not look like much if you’re just scrolling around in all directions on a desktop, wearing a VR headset allows for full effect.

“The magic of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg today could not have been possible without Méliès’ development of techniques across theatrical machinery, pyrotechnics, optical effects, horizontal and vertical dropouts, camera stops, crossfades, overprints, conjuring, editing effects and color effects on film,” Laurent Manonni, director of heritage at The Cinémathèque Française, wrote in Google’s blog post about the Doodle.

Google’s tribute to the visionary director—whose use of special effects came about during a time of evolution for film—comes less than a week after the end of the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, which showcased around two dozen immersive experiences ranging from 360-degree documentaries to room-scale VR. While it’s not VR’s first time at the festival, some say this year’s curation was its most impressive.

During a talk last week at the film festival, VR pioneer Jaron Lanier suggested that this year might be looked back on in a way akin to early Impressionist art. He said cinema and VR are often compared to each other but suggested that they’re “more different than usually realized.”

“It took a long time to understand what cinema was,” he said. “Remember it was pretty strange early on. Photography was pretty strange early on.”

Strange or not, Méliès “proved himself to be a visionary of what was to come,” said Mannoni in the blog post. His films predicted man landing on the moon, the Channel Tunnel well and even modern television. And like Méliès often aimed to help viewers feel like they were in a dream, virtual reality’s most innovative creators often seem to do the same.

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