Today’s Google Doodle is the first ever virtual reality and 360 degree interactive Doodle, an animated film that celebrates the life and work of French illusionist and pioneering film director Georges Méliès. Back to the Moon is the result of a landmark collaborative project between Google Doodle, Google Spotlight Stories, Google Arts & Culture, Cinémathèque Française and animation studio Nexus, which takes place in a toy shop and features a nostalgic hero and villain adventure and love story. It is timed to coincide with the release date of what is considered to be one of Méliès masterpieces, The Conquest of the Pole (1912), and to pay homage to his innovation in cinematic special effects and film techniques in the science fiction genre.
“Méliès is a cinema hero,” says Fx Goby, who co-directed the film with Hélène Leroux, “one of the few pioneers that explored the new media that was film thus establishing many rules that are still fundamental today. We all know some iconic images from his films, the most known being the moon face with a rocket in the eye. He was a magician, a poet and a creator.”
“To pay a tribute to a pioneer, you need to be pioneering too,” continues Hélène, explaining the use of VR for the final piece, “this is why the idea to use the newest film medium available made so much sense.”
Aesthetically, Fx explains they wanted to keep an “organic and handmade approach,” in tune with Méliès’ working process. “He was truly a one man band: he wrote, acted, set designed, costume designed and shot all his films. We met Laurent Mannoni at the Cinémathèque Française, the world’s Méliès expert who worked with Martin Scorsese on Hugo. They opened up his collection for us, showing us all Méliès’ preparatory drawings, costumes and objects, and what struck us was the charming and almost naive approach to set designs and costumes. We wanted to keep this quality, the accidents and imperfections in making sure the 3D translation of Hélène’s drawings would not be cold and digital.”
Fx goes on to explain that Méliès had a tragic life story and lost all his money, being one of the first victims of film piracy, so ended up selling toys at a train station in Paris. This inspired their story’s setting in a toy shop, and consequently gave the animation its story and playful feel.
What’s most exciting about the film is its interactive quality. VR or 360 viewers alike can explore the set and follow the lead characters, while other events and details continue in the background. “You cannot see everything that happens around you at a given time,” Fx says. “We tried to maintain a flowing storyline that would not lose the viewers in inviting them to look around constantly, but if you did so, you would discover hidden gems, objects that had a meaning in Méliès’ life, but also little secondary animations that bring life and charm to the whole experience. I would recommend watching it once following the main storyline and then a second time, exploring as much as you can: look up down left and right; we have five changing sets and there are surprises in each one!”
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