In 2019, Ubisoft, was asked to participate for the first time in Sunny Side of the Doc. This first experience resulted in several meetings, exchanges and real opportunities. Now is a good time to check in with Deborah Papiernik, SVP New Business Development & Strategic Alliances at Ubisoft and discuss key achievements.
She talks to us about how this major video games publisher is thinking about its involvement in documentaries and the possible links to be established between the world of gaming and documentary production.
Can you explain to us how documentaries were introduced into the strategy of a video games publisher such as Ubisoft ?
Assassin’s Creed – Ubisoft®
In fact, I had already begun to think about the possibilities of documentaries before attending Sunny Side of the Doc, and then I discovered PiXii Festival. A few years ago, Ubisoft was contacted by France Télévisions, which was coproducing a documentary on Venice during the Renaissance, but did not have any realistic or lively images of this epoch. They got in touch with us to see if they could use certain scenes of our video game, “Assassin’s Creed”, which was set in this period. We therefore provided them with images and, for the first time, scenes from a video game were broadcast in prime time. This really convinced us that we were on the right track in our thinking.
Next, we produced, alongside our games, teaching modules for Discovery Tours of Egypt and Greece, which allowed people to immerse themselves in a gaming environment and learn about ancient civilizations without having to be a gamer as such. We then asked ourselves if we could go one step further. The idea then occurred to us that we could free ourselves of video games per se and propose our images for what they are, i.e. true representations of historical periods and architecture, corroborated by historians, and that could be credibly used for documentary programs.
Were you contacted by authors, directors and producers or was this an undertaking that you initiated?
I began by getting in touch with directors, some of whom showed some interest in the idea, but we were still lacking a clear vision of how to use our images. The next stage in my thinking was to contact television broadcasters to propose images to them, but then the same thing happened, in that they were interested, but we weren’t able to find a workable project.
So, I finally ended up going to see producers such as Bonne Pioche, Gédéon Programmes, Yuzu Productions and some others and, during a video games event, someone talked to me about Sunny Side of the Doc being THE place where we could meet national and international producers to see if they might be interested in Ubisoft gaming images. So, it’s a combination of a thinking process that we began a long time ago concerning linear documentaries and this timely meeting which made me want to come to La Rochelle.
What feedback did you get during the 2019 edition?
I really loved being in touch with the world of documentaries, which I found to be very open, perhaps more than any other production community. I think this has a lot to do with the people involved, but also about the way the market is structured. Producers are passionate people, they’re really interested in a lot of things and they’re very flexible. I very quickly felt very much at home in this doc community and I felt that people were really interested in CGI content produced by Ubisoft and the potential added value for documentaries.
Have you begun to have discussions or initiated any collaborative projects?
We’ve already begun to collaborate with Little Big Story for “Lady Sapiens” and Sunny Side of the Doc has enabled us to continue to work on our project. I had already met Stéphane Millière of Gédéon Programmes and Sunny Side of the Doc was an opportunity to get to know each other better, enabling us to begin to work together a few months later to produce a VR experience for the “Pompei Rising” film and exhibit. Beyond that, I established contacts with PBS, NatGeo and even the NHK. I’m not certain this will lead to actual projects, but I had a lot of really interesting meetings in La Rochelle!
Beyond these meetings, what I really liked was the possibility, in a single event and venue, to get a better understanding of production and broadcasting, and thus to be able to propose business models adapted to the specifics of certain projects. In some cases, this might just mean using some of our images, but for others there may be the possibility of reshooting certain scenes in our games. But beyond games, it’s an entire world of CG images that Ubisoft can make available to directors and producers.
PiXii Festival 2020 : [Call for digital installations and experiences open until April 7, midnight] >> Click here
By coming to Sunny Side of the Doc, you also discovered PiXii Festival. Did you expect to see so much innovation at a documentary market?
As I was saying, I find that the documentary sector is really very open-minded and is interested in a wide range of things. Documentaries seems to me to be a genre which is very keen to test innovation.
PiXii is really a sounding board for this curiosity and for these innovations. I can’t say I wasn’t surprised, but I realized that this world of possibilities was quite natural and logical for documentary film makers. Virtual reality, augmented reality and binaural sound can all be powerful and attractive elements for the public. Producing a project that includes a linear documentary, combined with a web-based content, resulting in a mixed reality experience, seems to me to be a relevant approach for the future of storytelling.
What are your main highlights and expectations for this year’s edition?
I only spent two days last year in La Rochelle so I was hoping to stay longer and organize more operational and productive meetings in 2020.
For the PiXii Festival, this year, Ubisoft will participate in several events. Apart from total VR immersion in the Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris, people should be able to experience “VR Age-old Cities”, developed by Ubisoft, as part of the immersive exhibit produced by The French Institute of the Arab World with Iconem, plus scenes of the Discovery Tour of the “Assassin’s Creed”. We might also show another immersive system, but you’ll have to wait for June to see what we’re doing!
You are also participating in a panel discussion on the role of distribution and broadcasting of immersive programs beyond physical exhibits, such as museums. Is this an area that you are thinking about seriously?
Let’s be clear about one thing: it’s expensive to produce an immersive piece of work, both in terms of production as well as distribution. Ubisoft always thinks internationally to develop, produce or release a video game. The same holds true for VR experiences: we have to think from the conception and the design stage about reaching an international public and how the experience can move around the world.
Putting an exhibit on the road outside your home country is never an easy thing to do. You have to find the right places and the adequate resources. The French Institute of the Arab World has managed to really enable the Age-old Cities Exhibit to travel to several continents. But in those cities, where the full exhibit has not yet been organized, we can propose the VR experience on its own. This was the case, for example, at the World Press Photo event in Montreal, which had 45,000 visitors last September.
The exhibit is currently being presented very successfully at the Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art in Washington, D.C. (January to October 2020). Due to a lack of room, the VR experience is only presented to audiences a few days every month. Whether we’re talking about immersive exhibits or VR, you have to stay very flexible, very “agile”, if I can use some terms from the world of video games! This is exactly the same thing, as you know, in the world of documentaries, where you have to adapt the narration or the length of a film to the format of broadcasters or the cultural habits of a country.