New technology, new experiences
Virtual agency NTW employs emerging technologies to allow clients to tap into the world of mixed reality experiences. Cofounder Antony Vitillo has developed innovative immersive games and XR solutions for enterprise, live VR concerts and festivals, and more than 750 technical articles about immersive realities.
“Virtual production has become indispensable for any choice of media distribution for physical events as well as for digital ones. This is the dawn of a brave new world for entertainment and arts. There is no coming back.”
A common ground for artists and developers
The studio relies on Unity because it lets them make prototypes rapidly and it has broad cross-platform compatibility with AR/VR devices as they are released. “Once I started using Unity, I’ve never left it,” Antony says. Unity allows the team to work together collaboratively: the artists implement models, images or sounds and developers use scripting on the platform to give them life.
Following Antony’s first XR project, ImmotionRoom, a full-body virtual reality solution, the team’s other Unity projects have included:
- A mixed reality fitness game in 2019 called HitMotion: Reloaded – one of the 20+ launch titles of the Vive Focus Plus and the only one in mixed reality
- HitMotion’s mixed reality plug-in, available to the open source community on GitHub
- Groundbreaking VR events, in partnership with VRrOOm, such as Venice VR Expanded, Alone Together, and Welcome to the Other Side
Around the world, the pandemic kept people apart throughout 2020. And in Paris, the closure of the Notre-Dame Cathedral – badly damaged by a fire in 2019 – had left residents and visitors alike without this iconic touchstone. So Welcome to the Other Side was a way to bring people together – virtually – to celebrate the new year, experiencing the joyous music of the legendary French composer Jean-Michel Jarre, in the historical cathedral setting.
Jarre, always an innovator, understood that VR had the potential to be a new means through which he could express his music. Louis Cacciuttolo, the CEO of VRrOOm, had been working with NTW to create significant VR events. A perfect match for each other, they began to explore how they could share Jarre’s music, while offering audiences an experience that was not possible in real life.
Artistic vision, complex scripting: A sophisticated solution
Built on VRChat, the project required a technologically multifaceted solution. The team needed to be able to assemble the scene of the concert easily, with Vitillo using complex scripting when needed to make the artistic vision possible. Unity was easy for everyone on the team to learn; for instance, the scenographer came from the traditional concert field and learned in just a few weeks how to adapt his expertise to the VR concert workflow in Unity.
“Since many professionals were involved, from video production to live-event lighting designers, the ideas we came up with needed to make sense; it wasn’t about using technology just for the sake of it. The experience we designed addressed real needs of people.”
An abundant source of assets and tools
The team also drew frequently from Unity Asset Store. Whenever a collaborator needed a 3D object for prototyping or wanted to add special effects for the lights, they would browse the Asset Store to find what they needed. “Unity’s Asset Store is content-rich and affordable – it’s an invaluable resource for developers,” Antony says.
Total immersion in an impossible concert
Welcome to the Other Side felt magical in virtual reality, in a way that could not be recreated in the real world. An electronic music concert would be impossible in the real Notre-Dame, for starters; but Jarre’s symphonic sounds were brought to life with 2D and 3D animated choreography on an immersive canvas. “Living it in VR, people felt like they were really there, inside Notre-Dame, listening to the music and being immersed into the 3D visual effects of the concert,” Antony says.
“Virtual reality is to the performing arts today what cinema was to the theater in its early days, a kind of curiosity. I believe that VR will tomorrow become a mode of expression in its own right, and I certainly have a few more creations lined up for the immediate future.”
Collaboration across specialized tools
Unity lets the team work together on the same project, even if they use different tools for their specific jobs. Antony’s development environment is Visual Studio; his technical artist teammates frequently use Cinema 4D for their digital content creation (DCC). NTW’s UX and game designer Massimiliano Ariani works with Adobe XD for interface design. Then they use Unity to shape the experience together, with Git as the resource hub to synchronize their work.
“We could have chosen an easier way to showcase the music of Jean-Michel, but we decided that we wanted to do something really innovative by going the VR route, even if it was riskier. Only by taking risks is it possible to push the technology forward.”
Bringing people together
It was important for the team to bring together as many people as possible. People without a VR headset could still participate by watching a livestream across YouTube, Facebook, Weibo, or other platforms, as well as on television across the world. Ultimately, viewership reached 75 million – “and it fills our hearts joy.”