Category Archives: Miscellaneous

GUEST COLUMN: Review – The Lounge at Whiteleys by Sally Hurst

sallyinbutcher As both an ardent foodie and lover of film, this trend towards fine dining at the cinema, and I mean served right in your seat during the film, intrigued me. Quite often I find myself tempted to wait until a film hits Netflix so I can curl up on my couch with my favorite bowl of homemade whatever, but the big cinema chains have caught on to my routine and they’re now offering commodious seats, alcoholic beverages, and more than just your typical popcorn, nachos or a hot dog to choose from on the menu. There are independent theatres that have been doing a version of this for years now, luxe seating with lattes and macaroons or wood fired pizzas and wine served up in the lobby, but a full-on dining experience in the dark, how exactly would this work?

The Lounge at Whiteleys Odeon was a blustery but thankfully short walk from my home in West London, past the neat rows of homes, doors wide open as parents were desperately trying to decamp their families into waiting Black Cabs to take them to Heathrow, to somewhere warm or maybe snowy for half-term break. It was the perfect afternoon for a movie! Whiteleys itself is somewhere I’ve always tried to avoid, not understanding the need for a shopping mall in such a vibrant neighborhood, the surrounding streets crammed with independent shops and restaurants. Much like any shopping mall in the center of a city, I find it disheartening, the diffused sunlight, the chain shops and faux sidewalk cafes. However, most movie theatres are tucked away at the top of these soulless spaces, and so past the Zara, the Café Rouge, the mobile phone shops, the M&S Food, I strode.

When I booked my tickets online, they urge you to arrive 30 minutes before the start of your film to take advantage of the full “Lounge experience.” I did as they asked and sat sipping a cranberry juice while watching well-heeled couples settle into the plush seats surrounding the bar. We were to be a small group, well the theatre only seats 50 at most, and at these prices, GBP £18.50 (US $30)per ticket, not everyone will indulge. Just five minutes before the start time, we were ushered to our seats, wait staff carrying our drinks on trays like they do at the finest restaurants.

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The seats are huge, reminiscent of the ones used in nail salons for pedicures (thankfully they don’t vibrate). A bright blue button on the arm of your chair can be pressed at any time to request a server come to you. On the other arm a small tray is attached and a menu awaits inspection. In honor of the recent Chinese New Year, there was a small selection of Dim Sum, and I thought I must indulge. Prawn and chive dumplings, if you please. The other dishes are divided into Finger, Fork, and Spoon categories. I decided to rely on my trusty fingers, thinking a fork banging on a plate might be just too much during the show. The hot dog, while tempting, was too close to what I might get at just any old theatre, lemon sole goujons too reminiscent of culinary school, sushi too dicey at this venue. I settled on the three fillet steak sliders with onion rings. We were still in the previews (I’ll most certainly be first in line to see The Grand Budapest Hotel) when all of my food arrived and a little wine chiller bucket was set up to hold my bottle of still water. Fancy, indeed!

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Discourse On The State of Movies Is a Hot New Trend

 Every few years a notable film critic will take a step back and assess where motion pictures finds themselves in the changing nexus of art, technology and commerce. Notable recent ones are New York Press critic’s Godfrey Cheshire’s “The Death of Film/The Decay of Cinema“ (1999), a prescient look at the coming future-shock that digital projection would bring. A decade later there was The New Yorker’s Anthony Lane examination of the rise of 3D, “Third Way – The Rise of 3D“.

Adding to this canon are two new entrants. The first from The New York Time’s A.O. Scott (right) who looks at whether television dramas have unseated films as the source of quality drama in his piece “The Big Picture Strikes Back“. Surveying the “post-film, platform-agnostic, digital-everything era,” he asks “what the art of cinema might be” in this era. It is a think-piece that anyone involved in, or who cares about, film and media should read and reflect upon. The second is a piece titled “Film Isn’t Dead, It’s Just Misused” and is written by Kenneth Turan, chief film critic at the Los Angeles Times. He diligently assures readers that “nothing can envelop viewers like a movie,” but that “the emphasis at movie studios on profits has hurt content”

The publication of these two latest editorials, so close together, seemed like the perfect opportunity for Celluloid Junkie’s own thought provokers to discuss their own views on the subject. The following is transcript of their conversation:

J. Sperling Reich: Much in the way Hollywood studios will all jump on a hot new trend like 3D or paranormal stories, this really seems to be a year in which everyone is piling on the film business. I’m not sure if it stems from the public finally growing bored with the onslaught of mediocre tentpole releases that soak up so much public mindshare or if the fact that filmmakers themselves have started bemoaning the state of the artform. First we had Steven Soderbergh’s talk at the San Francisco International Film Festival earlier this year about the dire state of cinema, then almost immediately we had Steven Spielberg and George Lucas echoing the sentiment. I suppose that’s what prompted A.O. Scott’s piece. What do you think? In your travels have you noticed that ragging on current movies and the industry itself have become almost trendy?

Patrick von Sychowski: It’s definitely hip to be down on films. However, movies and the industry that spawns them regularly go through bouts of soul searching and anxiety, with the Golden Era of the 40s and 50s or the studio ‘auteur’ era of the 70s giving way to the elephantine Cinerama spectacles of the 60s (think Cleopatra) and multiplex and VHS fodder of the 80s (think Police Academy III). The difference this time is that the ragging comes in the shadow of what Wired Magazine dubbed the ‘Platinum Age’ of television, with the growth of screen sizes in people’s homes matched by a rise in quality of what’s shown on them. Cinema may not face the existential threat that is staring newspapers and magazines in the face – a quick look at the MPAA numbers confirm that, particularly given the growth in non-US markets – but films have lost the elite cultural cache that was once the their exclusive preserve. The Coppolas, Scoceses, Ashbys, Friedkins and Spielbergs of the 70s are today the Chases, Gilligans, Weiners, Huruwitzes and Harmons. So isn’t the “decline” of movies simply the ascendancy of HBO and Netflix?

J. Sperling Reich: I’m not sure if it’s HBO, Netflix or a specific source of content. I think a flood of media from 500 cable networks, to multi-player video games, to mobile apps, iPods, the Internet and more, has shifted the attention of an entire generation of younger consumers and focused it on a range of mediums some of which they have control over. The kinds of visual effects that used to be achievable only in feature films can now be seen in the latest blockbuster video game release. So now you have Hollywood studios wanting to up the ante by producing these huge tentpole releases that cost a fortune. One of the issues Spielberg and Lucas were highlighting earlier this year is that the stakes are so high with so many films now that studios are trying to lower the risk by casting big movie stars and backing them with expensive marketing campaigns. This has meant fewer medium sized titles or “art” films get made leaving a ton of talented creatives on the sideline.

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Future Cinema: How to Get 100,000 People to Pay £35 ($50) to Watch an Old Film

You wouldn’t expect UK’s most successful cinema innovator to have a tag-line of ‘Tell no-one’, keep audiences in the dark about which film they will get to see and then charge them double what a ticket costs in Leicester square to show them an old film readily available on DVD.

Appropriately enough I met Future Cinema’s founder Fabian Rigell at a BSAC sponsored keynote by Twitter’s UK head, because Future Cinema is both a reaction against the on-line disintermediation of film consumption, as well enabled by the technologies of social media and digital projection (they claim to have an on-line community of 2.8m on Twitter, Facebook, etc.). We discussed how to build audiences for old and niche film, me for a small Swedish cult label and him for over 100,000 people at events across London alone last year. He is an unassuming PT Barnum of exhibition without a cinema of his own; the world is truly his screen.

Although he was already the subject of a major profile in UK’s Wired magazine last year and the events have steadily been growing in popularity in London and beyond, it seems that 2014 will be the breakthrough year for Future Cinema and its sister operation Secret Cinema.

Put simply, FC/SC do not arrange film screenings, they stage events around films in which the audience become participants. It has become a must-attend fixture for film lovers in London, but has been a long time coming from a small but telling start. It began, as noted by Wired, when:

Riggall wanted to find out how to turn [a film festival] into something more social and reach audiences beyond the film-festival circuit, but he wanted to go further than just screenings. “How can we create a film experience that’s more like a nightclub? There’s music and there’s performance and there’s art and you dress up.” He launched Future Cinema in 2005 as “live cinema”; 1,000 people attended a screening of Dreams Money Can Buy, an experimental film from 1947. Riggall put on gypsy and flamenco bands; audio-visual group The Light Surgeons created an installation.

This has since led to showings of The Shawshank Redemption in a Hackney school converted to a prison, with audience members having to dress up as inmates; a One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest event held at the Princess Louise Hospital where audience members were admitted and “treated”; and as Screen noted, “More than 25,000 audience members attended the last Secret Cinema run of Brazil, which ran from May 2 to June 9. The production saw screenings of the 1985 film staged across a 13-floor office block in West Croydon, with music provided by Imogen Heap, Atoms for Peace and The Knife, among others.”
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Tampa Cinema Shooting – Sign of More Cinema Smartphone Rage to Come?

A retired police officer in Tampa, Florida has been arrested after an argument over cell phone use in a multiplex escalated into a shooting, leaving a man dead and his wife injured. The incident happened Monday 1:30pm at the Cobb Cinema Grove 16 and CineBistro in Wesley Chapel near Tampa, Florida during the previews of Lone Survivor.

CNN provides a chronology of the events that happened:

As a male moviegoer texted, the man seated behind him objected, and asked the texter to put his phone away.

They argued several times, according to police and witnesses, and the man who was texting watched as the other man walked out of the theater. Charles Reeves, a retired police officer, apparently went seeking a theater employee to complain about the texting, police said.

Two seats away Charles Cummings and his son watched the squabbling.

When Reeves returned, he was without a manager.

“He came back very irritated,” Cummings said.

The man who had been texting, Chad Oulson, got up and turned to Reeves to ask him if he had gone to tell on him for his texting. Oulson reportedly said, in effect: I was just sending a message to my young daughter.

Voices were raised. Popcorn was thrown. And then came something unimaginable — except maybe in a movie. A gun shot.

Oulson was fatally wounded. His wife was hit, too, through the hand as she raised her hand in front of her husband as the shooter drew a handgun.

Oulson staggered toward the Cummings and fell on them, Charles Cummings said.

The shooter sat down and put the gun in his lap.

The alleged shooter, Curtis Reeves (71), is reported to be a retired police officer who left active duty in 1993 and worked as a security specialist until 2005. The victim was 43-year old Chad Oulson, whose daughter that he was texting is three years old.

Cobb Theatres issued a statement saying:

“We are deeply saddened by the events that occurred earlier today, and our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. The theatre is currently closed, and we are actively working with the sheriff’s office on this investigation. This was an isolated altercation between two guests that escalated unexpectedly. The safety, security and comfort of our guests and team members are always our top priorities, and we are truly heartbroken by this incident.”

The website is currently dark and the cinema is closed until further notice. CNN notes that “in the theaters’ website is a list of prohibited items and actions. Among them: No cell phone use, including texting, in the theater auditorium. And no weapons allowed.”

News sites are quick to remind people of the 2012 Colorado shooting when gun man James Holmes killed twelve people and injured almost 70 at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Gun crime is, however, all too common in US, with a less reported incident of a man shot outside a Starplex cinema in South Fort Worth, Texas two days earlier, only being reported in local news.

A larger spectre of ‘smart phone rage’ in cinema looms, with anger directed at people who keep their small screen shining while those around them try to focus on the big screen. With airlines now allowing the use of smart phones aboard, cinema is one of the last phone-free places, but only if people adhere to the polite reminders to ‘Turn Your Phone Off’.

The age of the victim and the suspect are also telling; these were not kids or gang members having it out on a rowdy weekend night screening. It was a pensioner telling off a grown man during a matinee showing. Note also that the alleged shooter was unable to find a manager in the multiplex or did not get the response to his complaint that he wanted. While we may see isolated incidents of extreme reactions like this again, the larger response to smartphone use in cinemas will be that older people get annoyed to the point where they simply stop going to the cinema. It would be surprising if John Fithian, NATO’s President, did not touch upon this incident and issue during his keynote at the upcoming CineCon 2014 convention.

UPDATE: A statement has been issued by NATO, which reads:

“We extend our sympathies to the victims of today’s incident. Despite the tragic altercation in a Florida movie theatre, which as reported is an isolated incident, movie theatres are a safe and enjoyable entertainment destination for millions of people.

“We encourage our patrons to remember that they are sharing a common wish to be entertained and to treat their fellow moviegoers with courtesy and respect.”

NATO’s anti-piracy trailer which begins “TEXTING IS RUDE” has taken on an additional sad significance.

For Your iConsideration (UPDATE): the Nominees

 

For Your iConsideration

 

With the nominations announced for the BAFTA awards, it is worth re-visiting the issue of DVD and on-line screeners to analyse what if any impact they had on the films that made the shortlist. The usual caveat applies that BAFTA members watch and vote on films, documentaries, foreign language films and shorts based on their artistic merit. However, in the deluge of worthy end-of-year releases it is difficult to catch them all in the cinema, let alone cram in home viewing over the Christmas holiday. So access and convenience of screeners can play a part.

This year was notable in terms of the number of screeners being made available on-line to download or stream came close to matching the number of screeners sent out on DVD, with both just over 50 each – but with DVDs taking a late narrow lead. On-line distribution was the preferred option mainly for Documentaries and Films not in the English Language (and Shorts, though we won’t cover those here), with iTunes and Vimeo battling out for platform preference, but other candidates being distributors’ own websites, DMS, YouTube and DropBox. Several films were made available on both DVD and on-line, though with the exception of one studio (Universal) and another studio’s specialty division title, Hollywood largely shied away from the on-line option for screeners.

Not surprisingly all the films that have received nominations in the heavyweight categories (Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, as well as Outstanding British Film) were sent out on DVD screeners to BAFTA members. Gravity was the earliest one sent (9 December) while 12 Years A Slave was sent latest (20 December). The only three Hollywood titles nominated that were not sent out on screeners were Iron Man 3, Pacific Rim and Star Trek Into Darkness, though all of these received, perhaps not surprisingly, their only nomination was in the VFX category. It should also be noted that nominations for technical categories are voted for only by a smaller sub-set of BAFTA members from a particular chapter.

Interestingly, two of the big Hollywood releases that missed out on any nominations were 20th Century Fox’s The Counsellor and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, whose screeners were not sent out until December 30th. While the former had not gotten much critical acclaim or strong reviews (with the exception of Steven Gaydos), the latter had been considered a potential candidate, even with the mixed reviews it got, but walked away with no nominations. The late sending out of screeners could potentially have hurt its prospects. There was also no nomination for Fox Searchlight’s Enough Said, which was only made available via Fox’s website. Again, this may have ended up hurting a film that was otherwise well reviewed and for which a nomination was expected for the late James Gandolfini. This was also the case for TWC’s Fruitvale Station.

Turning thus to the two categories in which on-line distribution was the preferred mode, ie Best Documentary and Best Film not in the English Language, there are several interesting things to note.

Film not in the English Language (FNIEL)

Of the five films nominated three were sent out on DVD and on-line, two were only sent on DVD and no film that was only made available on-line made the shortlist. Of the three that were made available on-line, all three were distributed via iTunes and in some cases also on the distributor’s own website. No film distributed on Vimeo, DMS, YouTube or Dropbox made the cut. Again, quality more than technology is likely to have been prevailed, with Blue Is The Warmest Colour having won the Palm d’Or, The Act of Killing having been named Film of The Year (any category) by The Guardian, The Great Beauty having won the European Film Awards, Metro Manila having won the British Independent Awards and Wadjda having been widely acclaimed on its release. However, it would be reasonable to suppose that the suspenders-and-belt approach of DVD + iTunes download could have helped giving these films a slight edge.

Documentary

Here the picture becomes much more mixed and interesting. One of the films nominated was neither sent out as a DVD screener, nor made available on-line and has not been released in cinemas yet. So voting members can only have seen it at one of the festivals where it screened or a preview screening. One of the documentaries was only sent out as a DVD screener. One was only made available via iTunes. One was made available on iTunes and the distributor’s own website. The fifth and final was sent out as a DVD, made available on iTunes and also on the distributor’s own website. Again, no film on Vimeo or any other platform made the shortlist. Sending out a documentary on DVD alone is no guarantee, with several others that opted for this category alone did not make the shortlist. Documentaries are even more difficult to catch in the cinema than FNIEL, so voting members have had to make an extra effort. While The Act of Killing has been universally acclaimed and was expected to be on the short list it is worth noting that that two of the other documentaries were backed by major Hollywood studios (Universal and Sony), which gave them a slight marketing edge. But apart from that the picture is mixed.

In conclusion it is safe to observe that DVD screeners continue to dominate, even as on-line platforms make inroads, especially for FNIEL. For documentaries it seems that there are many roads to a nomination, including just screening in cinemas. The on-line platform that had most nominees was iTunes, sometimes in combination with the distributor’s own website, but going only on your own website or Vimeo et al does not appear to have improved the chances of any of the films.

It only remains for us to express a sincere wish that may the best films win purely on artistic merit, wherever and however they were seen. Our own preference here at Celluloid Junkie will always be the cinema.

 

 

Oscar Recognition For Film Lab Technicians – Every Single One of Them

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences or AMPAS (Oscar academy) has just announced this year’s 19 scientific and technical achievement awards, who unlike the Best Film, Best Actor, etc are named and honoured prior to Oscar night, mainly to allow for more telecast time for the Angelinas of the red carpet business. These are typically individuals, often working for a specific company, whose technology has made a significant difference to the film industry, be it a new Kodak film stock, an Arri camera, a Dolby sound processor or a technical development like the Lowry film restoration process. They typically get a plaque or a medal, rather than an Oscar statuette, but it is no less of a recognition for those honoured. This year the Scientific and Technical Awards presentation ceremony on Saturday 15 February will be special in that it could see the stage swamped with hundreds of un-employed or soon-to-be unemployed film lab technicians getting a recognition for their work, just as their industry is about to die.

The list of 19 awards is a good illustration of how the motion picture (not ‘film’) industry has shifted. Two individuals, VFX supervisor and DoP Peter W. Anderson and post-production veteran Tad Marburg, are singled out for a special gong each. No less than 15 of the 19 recognition go to computer and software-related tools and developments, be it VFX, animation, rendering, color correction, digital modeling, or the likes. Two award go for separate helicopter camera systems and one of the 19 goes to the three people that designed ‘the Pneumatic Car Flipper’ that can send stunt cars flying through the air. So the scorecard is Digital: 15, Analogue: 3.

But the 19th award seeks to redress the digital-analogue imbalance by recognising an entire industry that is about to be no more: analogue film labs. Here is the commendation is full:

ACADEMY AWARD® OF MERIT (OSCAR STATUETTE)
To all those who built and operated film laboratories, for over a century of service to the motion picture industry.
Lab employees have contributed extraordinary efforts to achieve filmmakers’ artistic expectations for special film processing and the production of billions of feet of release prints per year. This work has allowed an expanded motion picture audience and unequaled worldwide cinema experience.

With all the lab employees out of work with the shutting of the film labs of Deluxe, Technicolor and others around the world, it could thus get crowded on stage. However, it is a worthy and dignified tribute to the countless of unsung heroes whose work over the last century with lights and chemicals is what produced that thin strip of film that was the only thing that both separated and connected audiences and film makers. In my view, everyone who ever worked for a film lab should get to keep the Oscar statuette for one day before passing it along to a colleague.

In Memoriam, Sir Run Run Shaw, 1907-2014

Sir Run Run Shaw

Film Critic Leonard Maltin On The Sad State Of The Modern Multiplex Experience

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Leonard Maltin is a well known American film critic and historian who rose to prominence as the movie reviewer for “Entertainment Tonight”, a daily television news program. He has written several books including “Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide“, which is updated annually. In other words, Maltin is a bit of an expert when it comes to going to the movies; an aficionado, a connoisseur, if you will.

So, it should come as no surprise that when Maltin posted a video on YouTube ranting about a negative experience he had recently at a Los Angeles multiplex, more than a few movie buffs took note and began making its existence known via blogs and social media. The video (embedded at the top of this post) was published on November 4th and in less than 24 hours has racked up more than 4,400 views. I wouldn’t be surprised if the video soon went viral causing the view count to spike by multiples in the hundreds.

This is not because Maltin’s comments in the nearly four minute piece are inflammatory, exploitive or even all that unique. If Maltin’s comments stand out for any reason at all, it’s simply because of how accurate they are. He is able to put into words what so many of us feel when visiting a modern North American multiplex these days.

As Maltin explains in the video, he went to a local multiplex to attend his first live alternative content event (on October 23rd); a revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along” being performed in London’s West End. He reports that the auditorium was full when he arrived (which is good to hear), but that there was no sound during the preshow. This didn’t bother anyone until a minute or two before the event was to begin.

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Kodak Claims ‘Film Is Not Dead’

Kodak 35mm Motion Picture Film

With nearly 99,000 cinema screens (out of roughly 120,000 worldwide) having already converted to digital, combined with the number of film and television productions now shooting with high-end digital cameras, the need for 35mm film stock is dissolving rapidly. Agfa stopped manufacturing all of their film stock years ago and Fuji ceased production of 35mm rolling stock in March of this year. Kodak, however, would like to remind the industry, that they are still very much in the 35mm film business.

In fact, things are looking up for he world’s leading manufacturer of motion picture film… or at least that’s one way of looking at it. Kodak is close to emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which the company has been in since January of 2012, and will soon be issuing new stock. Just last week Kodak struck a deal with 20th Century Fox to provide motion picture film for the studios movies and television shows. This was the last of six new contracts that Kodak has signed with all the major Hollywood studios including Walt Disney Studios, Warner Bros. NBC Universal, Paramount Pictures and Sony Pictures.

Just days after announcing the Fox deal, Andrew Evenski, president and general manager of Kodak’s Entertainment and Commercial Films Division, reiterated the company’s support for 35mm film stock. Before a session Kodak was sponsoring at the Produced By Conference over the weekend, Evenski declared, “Film is not dead.”

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Dassault demonstrates VR Paris in 3D for cinemas

In the car from Paris’ Gare de Nord station to Dassault Systèmes’ campus at the outskirts of town I got chatting to a British journalist for an education supplement. He confessed that he had never been to Paris before, but that he recognised the streets we were driving down from a video racing game. This got us talking about how you can do a tourist-like exploration of Venice and Florence playing ‘Assassin’s Creed II‘ and was an appropriate intro to the demonstration we were about to experience of Paris 3D. While a niche application for cinemas currently, it points to interesting potential future uses.

Dassault Systèmes, the sister company of aerospace major Dassault Aviation, specialises in simulation and CAD software with a particular focus on 3D solutions for 11 different industry sectors, ranging from automotive to architecture for projects such as the Guggenheim Bilbao. The company has recently begun focusing on 3D applications for culture, education and research, which is what lead it to cinema. As Mehdi Tayoubi, VP Digital & Experiential Strategy, stated at the start of the presentation, “3D is about how we can revolutionise science, culture and society. We are doing 3D to anticipate the real world.”

The first major fruit of this new focus was a two-year project with Harvard University and a staff of 10 from Dassault to create ‘Giza 3D‘, dubbed “reverse engineering archeology.” This allowed researchers and students to explore the Giza pyramid complex and figure out how it is possible to go about building these pyramids, which far from just stacking stones blocks, required complex engineering for the tunnels and chambers. The project was selected to be showcased at the South by SoutWest Interactive (SXSW) and the app is freely available here.

Next, the learnings from this project were poured into what Tayoubi dubbed a “real transmedia project”, the Paris 3D Saga. Remember the scene in “Inception” where Ellen Page’s character shows Leonado DiCaprio how she can manipulate the city and create new buildings? That’s what the team of engineers at Dassault have been doing, “using virtual reality as a key engine for different media” according to Tayoubi, only here in aid of research and education rather than popcorn. The result can be appreciated on the website, through an iPad app, on a Blu-ray/DVD, but is most impressive when seen on the big screen in full stereoscopic 3D.

The project does not simply capture contemporary Paris but allows for the exploration of the city over the past 2,000 years, going back to the early Roman settlements. This has meant re-constructing ancient buildings that no longer exist, such as Coliseums, but also more recent ones, like the Bastille that required extensive work with architects and historians. Interesting historical nuggets were unearthed, like the fact that the Notre Dame was not built from the ground up, as you might expect, but from left to right, in order to replace an existing church. Another is that the Bastille was far from the imposing building that history teaches us, as revealed in this article from the New York Times:

In a 1789 painting of the Bastille, the French artist Hubert Robert portrayed that Paris fortress as a huge, seemingly impregnable structure and the Parisian revolutionaries who razed it as small, vulnerable human beings. More than two centuries later, thanks to 3-D modeling software, a different picture of the Bastille emerges. In its recreated setting it is the Bastille that seems small, even vulnerable.

The dimensions of the Bastille are still known, but even one expert on the city’s history was taken in by Robert’s hyperbole — until he saw the 3-D simulation, which shows the Bastille nestled among surrounding buildings rather than towering over them. Now he sees the fortress, and the painting, in a different light.

“It was pure propaganda,” said Jean-Marc Léri, director of the Carnavalet Museum, which is devoted to the history of Paris.

The scale of the Bastille is one of many revelations that emerge from “Paris 3D,” an ambitious project by Dassault Systèmes, a French software company, in partnership with the Carnavalet, that has created an interactive 3-D, virtual-reality representation of Paris through the ages.

The project is on-going, so there are constantly more buildings, layers and information added. As Tayoubi stated, “we want this to be the on-line reference for Paris.” See the iPad preview below:

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What is particularly impressive is the ability for a guide or controller to move freely around and zoom in on particular buildings or places, allowing the viewer to travel down the streets of historical Paris as if walking there, while the guide explains what we are seeing. The audience can thus ask questions or suggest places in real time and get a close up and explanation. This has interesting potentials for cinema, as will be explored at the end of this piece, but also inherent limitations. The easiest way to demonstrate this is to record a tour, machinema-style, with a narration which is what has been done. Screen Daily describes it in this good write-up:

The documentary, called “Paris: The Great Saga”, was a coproduction with Planète+ and ran this autumn on French TV. Directed by Xavier Lefebvre, the film was produced in two versions – a 90 minute feature and a 4 x 52 minute series. The film tells its story of Paris though a family’s tour over Paris in a hot air balloon that begins in 3000 BC. It’s a story device perfectly aligned to take advantage of the aerial flights of fancy that Dassault’s 3D virtual camera allows.

The directors could use the virtual Paris to create any kind of shot they wanted, on the fly, some of which were plates for additional action to be added later. The sophistication of the 3D model meant that a shot could start from high above the city and end on a tiny detail of Notre Dame Cathedral all with a high degree of resolution. Dassault’s Paris model also features a population of “extras”, virtual citizens of each period, dressed in appropriate costumes, filling the streets and buildings.

This project has also found a home in the cinema for the past three years, more specifically Paris’ IMAX at La Geode and in collaboration with French director Luc Basson, whose The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec feature extensive recreations of Belle Epoque Paris (and Egypt).

The interesting thing is how this could be now be taken further in cinemas, as opposed to film-making or other than to just screen the linear documentary. The limiting factor is the need for a guide (and narrator) at the controls of the computer connected to the projector, which makes each installation site-specific. Even so it opens interesting potentials for education and VR tourism, with groups of students or tourists being given a virtual guided tour of Paris – or any other city that develops a similar project. These events could be sponsored by a company with particular ties to the city. Given a high-profile speaker, it can even be used to resurrect the largely gone tradition of travelogues, where knowledgable and/or famous historians and explorers take their audience through exotic locations. Rather than just slides from an expedition to Borneo, this would showcase remote and historic cities, or even show people in the cities themselves perspectives that would otherwise not be available (such as climbing up the Eiffel Tower).

Dassault is not resting on its Paris laurels, but is already working on its next city, which is Brazil’s Rio. The company also demonstrated a fascinating 3D ‘cave’ solution, where deep sea divers were trained to walk around a sunken wreck in preparation for the real dive. There are also further augmented reality (AR) work with Nestle and Kung-Fu Panda 2, creating AR on cereal boxes. However, Tayoubi is also clear that there is a limit to what the company will do. “Our work is not to be a Pixar or DreamWorks [Animation] of tomorrow; we are not going to make CGI movies.” In a way, the VR 3D Paris points to a more interesting direction and potential for the cinema – as anyone who has played Assassins’ Creed II will testify.

Disclosure: the Paris trip to Dassault Systèmes was paid for by the company. They also handed out a Blu-ray to all journalists and served rather lovely coffee.