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October 06th, 2020 | by Agnese Pietrobon

Decoding XR: IL DUBBIO – EPISODIO 1, Matteo Lonardi

Recently selected for Venice VR Expanded and Raindance Immersive, IL DUBBIO is an animated immersive experience that reflects on the concept of doubt in relation to creative processes.

Often ostracized by society as something to avoid at all costs, the concept of doubt is the focus of IL DUBBIO – EPISODIO 1 (Doubt – Episode 1). This animated immersive experience is directed by Matteo Lonardi, produced by Francesco Lonardi and developed by ReframeVR, a collaborative, transatlantic team of directors, producers and editors with a passion for VR and multi media story telling.

First of three episodes, IL DUBBIO – Ep 1 is a reflection on the artistic process, but it revolves around a concept that is familiar to most of us: the necessity to prove ourselves and the way we question our worth. Feelings that characterize humanity and that touched the greatest minds of our time, too... but also, somehow, helped them achieve their greatness.

IL DUBBIO moves from one of the most well-known Italian figures, Leonardo Da Vinci, to lead the user on a journey to discover some less famous but equally interesting artists, starting with Velasco Vitali, Italian contemporary painter and sculpturer, to whom episode one is dedicated.

IL DUBBIO as a psychological journey through the creative process

The experience starts with a visit to Leonardo’s small studio in Rome, where he is going through a low artistic moment that uncovers all his insecurities.

While we never see Leonardo, we can fully perceive his presence. It is in the voices around us, in the lights and shadows coming from the other room, and in those we ourselves cast on his workplace using candles that are offered to the user as a way of discovering the scene.

Through these elements we are made witnesses of his struggles, but we can also interact with some of the objects that filled his artistic life.

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However, IL DUBBIO is an experience that really comes alive when we are given the chance to move from the physical space and reach the psychological and metaphysical place where thoughts are born and where art takes its shape.

And it is there, in the dark recesses of his mind, that we meet the indistinct figure of Velasco and his own doubts, and we come face to face with the mental images of his famous metal dogs.

Their luminous shapes come to life around us, as if they were ideas forming in that very moment: to me, the most fascinating aspect of the experience.

The contrast between the darkness the artist is going through and the light coming from his imagined creatures does not only help the user unveil the soul and the sufferance of this artist. It also becomes a visual representation of creation, inspiration and, somehow, of the comfort offered by the artistic experience itself.

In this second article of our “Decoding XR” series, Matteo Lonardi helps us discovering IL DUBBIO through four images that, to him, were significant to convey the meaning of this piece but also the artistical choices and the technical challenges ReframeVR had to face.

IL DUBBIO: the origins

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For the last 10 years I’ve been curious about the role that art can play in our understanding of politics and social trends. I sought after artists that have a political approach to their craft and made them central characters of documentaries that unpack complex political issues.

IL DUBBIO (Episode 1) is a continuation of that but in stark contrast, artists explore a much more personal yet universal human feeling: doubt.

Why Doubt?

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We settled on doubt, after initially toying with the idea of failure in the creative process. However, during the Biennale college’s intensive one week VR workshop we were pushed to find something that really spoke to us personally. I realised that this was the role that doubt played within failure.

Doubt is a universal condition that people, whether creative or not, face on a daily basis. But similarly to mental illnesses, doubt is not a part of public discussion. On the contrary we are encouraged to display certainty, assertiveness and confidence while we are told that doubt can only hinder us in the pursuit of our goals.

Striving to understand doubt I interviewed many artists, some whom I had worked with in the past and some whom I had never met before. All of them had an interesting relationship to the feeling and for most of them managing the tension between creation and doubt was central to their practice. In the end, I chose artists for whom doubt has a central role in their processes to feature in the experience.

Why Leonardo Da Vinci?

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Leonardo da Vinci is seen as a genius and master of many things. He is heralded super-human in popular culture, yet what many do not realise is that he failed many times and had lots of doubts about himself.

IL DUBBIO reframes this narrative by showing the user that despite having been a celebrity for most of his life, Leonardo had finished a small percentage of the artwork he was commissioned throughout his career. There are countless letters that testify to how Leonardo had upset his patrons from the early years in Milan to his mature period in Florence.

When in his early sixties he moved to Rome at the Pope’s court, not many in the Roman scene trusted that he could finish commissioned work and he was thus left in a small simple apartment in a working-class neighborhood of the city.

This is where I imagined Leonardo would have experienced many nights doubting himself, his career and his place in history. By starting the experience from Leonardo Da Vinci’s studio we are suggesting that doubt might be an essential part of life.

Interaction

We worked closely with Rafael Pavon who is a veteran VR creative director and with our creative technologist Javier Garcia Lajara on the interactions.

We wanted IL DUBBIO to feel like a simple gesture with easy but meaningful strokes. We wanted the user to be always immersed and never uncertain about what to do.

In VR storytelling it's important to direct the user’s attention onto a specific section of the 360 sphere, so the interaction should help guide users to the pivotal moments of the story. That's why we chose candles as a way to guide through the Leonardo section of the story. The light stands for hope in darkness and the user has control and can move forward in the piece while we give him clues as to where to look.

Similarly, for Velasco Vitali, we customized the interaction to his aesthetics. His work is centered around his relationship with doubt and he is most recognised for his installations featuring sculptures of dogs known as “sbarco”. We thus decided to have the user interact with these dogs made of particles. Once the user pets them, they would move and reveal the artist, his sculptures, and his doubts.

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We worked with a very small budget and this limited what we could do. For example, major animations were out of the question and mocap was also unaffordable. This made us look for other solutions that we could afford which ended up giving the piece its unique look.

Instead of focusing on creating animated 3D characters we put our efforts into trying to make the user feel present in the spaces through audio and light. In Leonardo's studio this meant working a lot on lighting and on modelling the objects in the room while trying to make the candles easy to reach so that the user’s experience wasn’t lessened.

These constraints also didn’t allow us to recreate Leonardo as a 3D character or move Velasco Vitali in his space. Therefore, we decided to simulate Leonardo’s presence through shadows and sound in the adjacent room. As a matter of fact we think this ended up being better for the project than creating a costly character that could have easily been a cheap imitation of such a venerated character.

For Vitali’s space we played with light to make him appear and disappear as an evaporating statue on a theatrical stage.

The music, composed by Vittorio Giampietro, plays an important role carrying the narrative forward by pairing different themes with the various elements in the scene.

I also ended up playing a lot with sound effects and voice overs using the sound to create an overwhelming feeling and to dramatize certain parts of the piece.

Future of IL DUBBIO

We are working on co-productions to continue the project and hopefully have the second episode ready for Venice next year. We are excited to work with two more artists and bring users into their relationship with doubt. We are looking for producers in France and Germany who might be interested in continuing this journey with us.

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