December 20th, 2021 | by Mathieu Gayet

“By adapting a series of paintings in VR, we wanted to explore the context of their creation" - Martin Charrière (UNFRAMED: HAND PUPPETS - PAUL KLEE)

The very creative DNA Studios in Switzerland is no longer a novice when it comes to immersive production, and in particular with its Unframed series that explores the works of renowned (Swiss!) painters in virtual reality. Since 2017 the director (and co-founder of the studio) Martin Charriere has thus put in dimension and in different ways paintings by Arnold Böcklin, Felix Vallotton, Ferdinand Hodler and therefore Paul Klee. HAND PUPPETS, discovered at GIFF 2021, is one of our favorites of the year.

About DNA Studios

Martin Charrière - DNA Studios is originally geared towards video games, with 2D/3D, Unity, directing skills. With the arrival of virtual reality in 2015, it was important for us to try our hand at it. At the time, Swiss Radio-Television (RTS) had an incubator that allowed us to develop the first episode of our series HORS CADRE (UNFRAMED) around Swiss painters. The objective was to explain the painting, its context, in VR. After a prototype we were able to produce the first three episodes with the RTS, with which we crossed the different levels of immersive narration - from the 360 film to the interactive experience.

M. C. - Today, we know what funding is available for our projects. It's a chance! In Switzerland we are still quite isolated between creators. I hope that we will be able to weave more links with the existing scene (which has been growing well for 10 years), between the calls for projects.


UNFRAMED : a VR series in evolution with the sector

M. C. - Our skills have grown with the rise of technology. The 3rd film UNFRAMED (for Oculus Go) was an opportunity to try displacement. If it wasn't always conclusive, it led us to the project on Paul Klee. With HAND PUPPETS, there was the idea of exploring both the puppets, a relationship to the scale of the story, the textures of the objects but also the artist's past. We don't just want to make a virtual reality version of the paintings, but to tell their stories. This is something that, for us, is sometimes missing in museums; the context of the work.


M. C. - The puppets were also an opportunity to discover a hidden side of Klee. It was originally intended for his son, as a sideline to his painting. We were lucky enough to be able to photograph the original puppets at the Paul Klee Center (in Bern), which served as visual references (photo) for texturing and modeling the 3D puppets in the film. We then had the idea of creating sets related to the works of Paul Klee to bring them to life in a larger environment. This was a challenge to model and texture the whole thing! We had to create textures from the artist's paintings, which we applied to the models to be animated without having to customize the textures each time.

M. C. - At one point we considered hiring a puppeteer to move the puppets (in a "puppet theater" spirit) and then scan them. But it was too complex; fortunately we found a software, Tvori, to animate them in real time and in VR directly (with the controllers). We recreated physical animation, but in virtual! It was faster, but also more spontaneous than other solutions.


Testing the immersive medium

M. C. - In the longest sequence, there is a lot of life, and many secondary stories. In order not to lose the viewer, but to allow him to enjoy the richness of the work, we chose to follow the central character first, to make everything converge at the end of the sequence. The viewer could revisit everything by looking away, and see secondary stories - crossing paths with Paul Klee each time. Ideally, we would have liked to propose this in a physical place, and in festivals in Switzerland and abroad.

M. C. - At DNA we produce projects that make sense, to test the immersive medium without limiting ourselves to an imaginary. With the UNFRAMED series, it's also the idea to start from an original material, from a pre-existing story. While respecting the visual aspect! The next step for us is the possibilities offered by the new headsets like the Quest, spatialization, multi-player...


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