SoWhen? produced France Insoumise’s Live Water Political Meeting in Virtual Reality - Jean-Luc Mélenchon

Virtual Production for Advanced Immersion



Project Proposal

We were contacted by Mr. Mélenchon’s advisors who were looking for a team that could produce their next virtual political meeting on the theme of water. We were immediately seduced by this proposition as we had a shared desire to illustrate interactively and immersively this important subject to all audiences.

When we explored the possibilities of the virtual meeting, SoWhen? put forward the idea of offering an experience of total immersion in the subject and issues raised by Mr. Mélenchon.

Our task was to make his speech accessible to everyone thanks to a technological system which would allow us to broadcast live on the internet.

We had to be able to explore this important subject in all its complexity through an animated and interactive scene that could illustrate Mr. Mélenchon’s speech while leaving him a large margin of narrative flexibility.

Why use Virtual Production for Extended Reality?

“Virtual Production” is for when you want to integrate a real person into a virtual setting. The real person is in a real film studio surrounded by green screens.

It’s on these green screens that we integrate the scenes and real-time 3D environments. We can modify the immersiveness of these scenes depending on where they’re positioned: in the background behind the performer, all around, on the floor, on the ceiling etc…

Physical cameras in the studio and virtual cameras in the 3D-rendered background allow us to film the physical performer in his virtual world.

The final image, which is what we would call “Extended Reality”, is monitored by a control room so that, just like in a traditional film shoot, the camera and therefore the viewpoint can be changed.

The advantage of Virtual Production is that the physical person, being in an artificial environment, is freed from the limits of the physical world. They can change size, teleport from one place to another or even make messages appear around them.

This Extended Reality expands our creative and communication capabilities by offering an unlimited field of expression.

It goes without saying that the organization and production costs are also optimized compared to a conventional physical meeting since there is no need to travel to different locations to illustrate the spoken content. Reduced logistics implies a reduced environmental impact, which in itself represents an important point in Melenchon’s message.

Brainstorming du meeting virtuel

To come back to the meeting itself, we first discussed with Mr. Mélenchon’s team to understand the different issues he wanted to address and what his expectations were for the end result…

We then worked on proposing two strong concepts that would transport the public into a meaningful, realistic, fun and animated universe, that could also support and illustrate Mr. Mélenchon’s message.

One of the biggest challenges we had to face was the flexibility of the narrative.

Following the path water takes from mountains to the sea was an interesting concept but challenging for us to convey. During a live broadcast, we had to be able to move fluidly and coherently from one subject to another, as Mr. Mélenchon can be rather spontaneous in his subject transitions.

We suggested that Mr. Mélenchon be integrated into the virtual scene on a 1:1 scale so that he could be totally immersed in both his subject and his audience. However, if the scenes were to change, he would have to remain in a precise physical perimeter (4 meters) to avoid having too many disturbing camera movements when not using traditional camera framing shots.

After a few hours of research and discussions around different concepts, we chose the idea of using a bridge.

The concept of the Virtual Meeting

Among the works of French heritage, the bridge is one of the most emblematic monuments of our history. Our idea was to make the setting of the meeting evolve through different landscapes while maintaining the bridge as a central object. Not only is the bridge a strong symbol of human ingenuity, but represents solidity and other strong social connections. Mr. Mélenchon was therefore located at the center of this bridge, allowing him to be firmly anchored between each of the virtual spheres we developed on the theme of water.

We were inspired by several famous French bridges so that the audience could find themselves in familiar environments. However, we chose not to recreate them as this left us free to design the scenery according to the needs of the story. 

Below and behind this bridge we can observe bodies of water changing according to the situation: sometimes a dry stream, sometimes polluted sea water or even a hydroelectric dam.

Specific elements fill the main set in order to illustrate the subject more precisely. The virtual cameras allow us to vary the angles of view to provide different perspectives to the speech (wide shots, aerial views, details of the scenery etc…). To allow Mr. Mélenchon to move from one environment to another, we placed a white backdrop behind him in order to make all the transitions as smooth as possible. 

This concept met the desired criteria: immersion, narrative flexibility, and subject illustration.

3 weeks to get it all done - an intense Virtual Production!

After our constructive discussions and the concept stage, we had 3 weeks to produce the sets and set up the filming. We lacked the time and resources of a movie or video game production that typically takes place over a year or two with thousands of people involved. Nonetheless we had to deliver the highest possible visual quality to come close to the standards experienced by the general public every day.

A team of around twenty people (from light and sound engineers to 3D graphic designers, including project production and management) were able to complete this major challenge in time. What we achieved:

To create 3 sets detailed enough for us to film at anytime the key points of interest mentioned by Mr. Mélenchon during his free-flowing speech.

Plan all the animations independently so that we can switch from one to the other without breaking the visual narrative.

With the broadcast being live, we had to find the right balance between rendering quality (visuals), image fluidity and the performance of the 3D environment. For the final result, we had to generate more than 50 frames per second, close to the limits of VR headsets, while for standard films, only half this number is strictly necessary. Finally, a few visual sacrifices helped us achieve a smooth and efficient processing performance.

To do this, our teams worked with the Video Production Software PIXOTOPE, based on EPIC GAMES’ Unreal Engine, to create real-time/on-air, animated and interactive scenery.

The main advantage of using PIXOTOPE is that its tools and interface are optimized for Virtual Video Production by drawing on all the power and technology of Unreal Engine, originally designed for video games.

The result? 

3 complete sets offering us total immersion with real-time camera movements adapted to Mr. Mélenchon’s needs during his live meeting.

The Virtual Meeting Live Broadcast

Here are a few more details about the live aspect of the broadcast:

Today there are two main trends in achieving Virtual Production:

One consists of using LED background screens where the sets are physically visible, but are inappropriate to the project (cost).

The other is to use green screens onto which the sets are digitally added. 

Most of the time, virtual filming takes place and footage is recorded, then the physical person on set is added during the editing process. In our case, as this was a live meeting, overlaying Mr. Mélenchon was done in real time, forcing us to coordinate the perspectives, camera movements and focal points between the physical and virtual worlds. While we only had 3 cameras on the physical set, we had about 20 in the virtual world, all of which we used to help us change the point of view and move around in the 3D environments.

In addition to having a monitor on set to track his own movements, Mr. Mélenchon had a dedicated screen for a videoconference with students via Zoom. Aside from the main stream, a secondary stream was produced including a translation into French sign language and Velotype for live subtitling.

The final broadcast on the web was handled by the Meeting team.

The Virtual Meeting - What feedback and experience did we gain?

The Virtual Meeting – What feedback and experience did we gain?

As for each project we work on, one of our priorities was to make life as simple as possible for Mr Mélenchon so that he could fully enjoy the benefits of using our technology without it becoming invasive. To this end, we concealed the technology as much as possible by relying on our R&D, and sometimes just by “tinkering” and finding the right solution to provide him the maximum freedom and flexibility in his performance. Mr. Mélenchon benefited from a 4-meter perimeter of movement allowing him to move and express himself more freely than in his last virtual experiences where he was very restricted in his movements.

One of the points Mr. Mélenchon most appreciated was the fact of having virtual elements and environments to illustrate his ideas, unlike his last meetings where he felt being confined to a studio-type space was far less impactful for his speeches.

All our projects are different, but it’s safe to say that this one was particularly distinctive in so far as it pushed the whole team to go with the flow and think outside the box:

Unlike our other experiences, such as Jean-Michel Jarre’s Welcome to the Other Side which was also a live performance but where everything was planned in advance (song order, visual narration…), Mr. Mélenchon’s Meeting was a live performance that left room for spontaneity in the storytelling. As a result, we improvised the introduction of many virtual elements to accompany Mr Mélenchon’s speech. 

To allow for such narrative flexibility and freedom, we had to do a lot of work before the Meeting creating and preparing content. We ended up leaving 60% of our created material unused during the Live Event (animations, arguments, etc.) simply because they were not triggered.

The SoWhen? team had to constantly adapt and react instantly throughout the whole Live Meeting.

Audience reaction - The figures:

Mélenchon’s Virtual Meeting was 1st in France Twitter Trends throughout the whole live event!

It was viewed by 10,000 participants from beginning to end.

The morning after the Meeting we had reached more than 100,000 views.


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