CONTINUANCE, produced by Stratéolab for La Pulperie, a museum in the Saguenay region, is a virtual reality experience based on Portage-des-roches a painting by local artist Arthur Villeneuve.
As part of their permanent exhibition "Arthur Villeneuve: Far from being naive!", La Pulperie offers an overview of the prolific career of the artist, a native from Chicoutimi who produced nearly 4,000 paintings and 2,000 drawings over the course of his life. The VR project CONTINUANCE is an addition to the collection of paintings and drawings that make up the collection, but also to the exhibit's centerpiece: the artist's house which served as his canvas.
During the interview, Alexandre Boudreault, founder and president of the digital creation studio Stratéolab, says he was inspired by Villeneuve's work. While the studio and Pulperie were already anticipating collaboration and the two parties were already willing to collaborate on an immersive project, the details of the project had not yet been decided.
I went to visit the museum to get inspired by the content. I fell in love with Villeneuve’s work which is very characteristic, very unique. I wanted to do something with this awesome universe. It started from there.
Challenged by the characteristic imagery of Villeneuve, Alexandre Boudreault and his studio Stratéolab offered their ideas to Pulperie. "We already had made up our mind on what it might look like, but we also wanted input from the museum," he explains. "We met, we proposed a global approach and the people of Pulperie were delighted." One thing is clear, it was important to translate the artist’s style and offer an exploration of his imagination. That’s why the choice of work was so important.
The objective was to offer a voyage through the imagination of the artist, which is very elaborate, very complex. We wanted to create a trip through his mind, plain and simple.
From Saguenay to Paris, Villeneuve's paintings make us travel the world, Alexandre Boudreault underlines: “He really made a representation of the world. He painted his vision of the world through various tables of symbolic places ”. In this case, Portage-des-Roches, a painting that is to the left of the front door of the artist's canvas-house, is a very significant painting that is part of his personal universe, he adds. "It was a place of pilgrimage for him, he went fishing there. He left by bike from Chicoutimi to go to Portage-des-Roches regularly. It was his haven of peace."
Dive into the universe of CONTINUANCE
The personal meaning of Portage-des-Roches was the first reason behind the choice of this painting for the project. The second was the navigation potential it presented. Indeed, in the VR experience created by Stratéolab, the public is invited to navigate, to wander at will through the imagination of Villeneuve. This adds another layer of experience to the work. "It was an issue for us. We wanted to find a painting which had this potential and which also had very characteristic elements that would allow us to make a consequent level design”. Alexandre Boudreault explains that it was necessary to ask a few questions in order to represent the visual language of the artist as faithfully as possible in a new medium such as virtual reality. Translation work had to be done to transpose the universe of Villeneuve into a completely open three-dimensional space. "We started from that and we said to ourselves: let's look at how we can process this content which is very 2D, very flat. It was our first research."
Talking about the choice of medium to translate Villeneuve’s work and imagination, Alexandre Boudreault clarified that virtual reality was a natural choice: “The choice was 100% linked to the work. In the studio, we do augmented reality, serious games, computer graphics, etc. We wonder a lot about the potential that a technology can have in a project. " In the case of Continuance, "there was no better way to bring this experience to life than virtual reality. The choice of technology is perfectly suited for this kind of experience. We couldn't have translated that kind of feeling any other way."
To embody Villeneuve’s two-dimensional shapes and patterns and allow free exploration, Stratéolab had to be inventive and anticipate what was hidden behind each surface of the work. However, Alexandre Boudreault admits having been helped by the strong visual identity of the source material: "Villeneuve's style is characteristic enough to allow us to make this anticipation". Indeed, the painter's style puts forward a set of recurring patterns that the artist called “Continuance”. These are the reasons that gave the name to the virtual reality experience described here. "Continuance", explains Alexandre Boudreault, "is a system of patterns that Villeneuve imagined which represented the living aspect of the territory, the landscape, the soil, the mountains, the water. When he represented a field or a mountain, he covered them with this motif. It was his way of illustrating the liveliness of the territory. " In their reproduction of the work, the artists at Stratéolab had to strive to create textures that would evoke the vitality specific to Villeneuve's paintings.
In addition to anticipating the hidden faces of the imaginary world of Villeneuve, the studio also had to do color research to stay true to the original paintings. "Villeneuve was a painter who didn't really care about preservation," remarks Alexandre Boudreault. “He painted his walls with industrial varnish. It altered colors over time. That said, there are still some works that have not been varnished and that have allowed us to know the real colors. With the help of Pulperie, the digital creation studio was able to generate color charts based on comparisons between the intact colors and those altered by the varnish so as to establish the most faithful palette possible: “We wanted our design to reflect the original colors of his work,' says Alexandre Boudreault.
For Stratéolab, collaboration with the museum was an asset in the virtual restoration of the work. This is an aspect on which Alexandre Boudreault insists: "All this attention to detail in relation to the entirety of the work was worked in collaboration with La Pulperie". While it can be difficult to reconcile the artistic vision of a studio with that of a client, the relationship between the museum and the digital creation studio has proven to be successful. “The collaboration with La Pulperie was very natural. Their team was very open-minded and it was super easy to collaborate with them. " Rather than imposing a particular vision on the studio, the museum was welcoming and collegial. “They gave very relevant comments, but they did not put us in the way. They wanted us to take ownership of the work and have some freedom. "
We were lucky to have a collaborator who trusted us with closed eyes.
In his way of explaining the process of creating CONTINUANCE, Alexandre Boudreault describes a harmonious collaboration with the Pulperie team that was essential to the success of the project: "This is what made the project a success and what led to a magnificent work in the end. I think that's what it takes in creative projects, in terms of criteria when you collaborate with an organization like that. If the organization wants to get the best out of the team it works with, it needs to consider the team and acknowledge their knowledge to get the best out of it. We were lucky to have a collaborator who trusted us with closed eyes. It was a very important factor in the success of the project. "
Talking about the career of Arthur Villeneuve - first a barber by profession, then finally a self-taught painter - a certain parallel is drawn with the career of Alexandre Boudreault and his studio. Like many artists who are learning a new medium, the founder of Stratéolab is also self-taught. Trained in the field of architecture, Alexandre Boudreault explains that he has surrounded himself with a versatile team that has allowed his studio to adapt to the needs of clients like Pulperie. “In architecture, we used VR in the context of presentations, but my expertise is in 3D modeling. By adding programmers to the team and other artists (2D / 3D, animators, screenwriters, etc.), we have built a team with unique expertise that allows us to take on projects like this one. There is no wrong path to get there."
The Pulperie also had to adapt to the new realities of the museum field. Digital technologies, whether interactive or immersive, are playing an increasingly important role in cultural mediation. To this end, Alexandre Boudreault noted in an interview with Informe Affaires that collaboration with the museum had to be thought of in a conciliatory manner, so as to promote a good link between the museum and digital fields. “Virtual reality is emerging in the field. Having this experience allows us to create good practices in our industry, because we must not distort Villeneuve’s work and we must create an adequate immersion, without putting too much into it, "he said. "Visitors to museums are more and more in search of experience and this foray into the creative world of the painter will certainly have a power of attraction for a younger clientele."
Another form of adaptation on the part of the museum will have to concern the preventive strategies to be adopted now that cultural spaces are just starting to open. Like many other places where virtual reality experiences were offered, the Pulperie will have to find a solution to ensure that the public can experience a project like CONTINUANCE in pleasant and sanitary conditions.
Interview by Philippe Bédard and Marine Leparc for Quebec / Canada XR.