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August 05th, 2021 | by Mathieu Gayet

Decoding XR: PAPER BIRDS, German Heller

With a festival tour beginning in 2020 (and ongoing), the two parts of PAPER BIRDS have been available on the Oculus store since early July. On this occasion, let's go back to the production of this animated film at the border of the fantasy and the musical genre with its co-director and producer German Heller.

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The way you do a VR film is quite different from traditional feature film or non-immersive content. You are not working with characters and a story, you have the experience itself. And it comes first! You feel how scary it is, how beautiful it is etc. We work around that idea with PAPER BIRDS, taking the audience to different settings: a sequence of experiences following that little boy looking for answers.

GLOOMY EYES has something very similar to PAPER BIRDS. They both share this lonely, sad feeling of the main character. He feels different, separated from the world around him. Of course the contexts are different. And yes, we watch a lot of films, a lot of references before working on a project. With VR, it’s also about the tools we can use to get the audience. It’s all about the sensitive spot where to meet the spectator.

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Music is a part of it. It can get things deeper in so many ways. It’s crucial to move the audience, and it was amazing with Cyrille Marchesseau was great. So we had a lot of things revolving around the idea of music. The jazz bar was a nice way to involve the audience. The grandfather is a musician as well. The story goes through them.

I’m still surprised by the work of Cyrille (Marchesseau). Sadly, he worked on some sequences that we had to cut in the final version. It’s a musical story, so it’s important! Especially at the end, it was a long scene with an orchestra - but we were ambitious, and we needed 3 to 4 months to finish it. But the music is ready. I do hope to use it somewhere..

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We wanted to travel in time with this story. Background is an important key to it, as we can experience a real feeling of visiting that time. It’s nice to have a medium where we can try that. Most of the time, we start from the characters to understand how to create the environment around them. In GLOOMY EYES or PAPER BIRDS, we had a feeling about their world. We just added details to them, to make the scene believable. You feel you’re part of it - if it’s sincere and true.

We worked together at 3dar for many years. There is so much talent in Argentina! I’m staying here because all the people I work with are my friends. And we learn from each others (Fernando Maldonado, Jorge Tereso…). We also work with new talents in Buenos Aires, or even South America: i.e. a character designer, Oscar Ramos, in Chile who is brilliant.

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PAPER BIRDS has a more complex villain. We wanted to go far from the usual antagonist. In a way the story is more realistic than GLOOMY. It’s about disappointment and self-accomplishment. Light has its own rule in our worlds. We use it the same way as they do in theater art. It’s a narrative resource, when everything goes dark. Both our stories have dark backgrounds. And it helped me to direct both films! We’re working on a new project where, I hope, we will go to a lighter environment.

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We started just before the pandemic in January 2020 - just after we did the vertical slice of the project, a proof-of-concept for the film. It was a strange feeling, as a team, to finish this first segment before the lockdown. It was intense to finish it and to go home, to work remotely. PAPER BIRDS helped us to stay close as a team, even if we had 3 to 6 months where things were slow. We focused our attention on those who were too isolated. I’m glad we had the opportunity to produce (and finish) the film.

We launch Part 1 of PAPER BIRDS online, with great feedback. Nice reviews, but also some people asking for the next chapter. We learned from it, and released the whole film at once early July. We’re glad to work with Atlas V or even Baobab Studios, but I’ve to say Facebook is great as a producer. They support us in the creative and financial process. Of course there is deeper discussion around some serious topics for the XR industry, but we are lucky to be supported by such streaming service on our productions.

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