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In Paris, Virtual Reality Experience Shows Notre-Dame Before and After 2019 Fire

The 18-minute documentary features footage of usually inaccessible spots, including the attic and sacristy

In April 2019, a devastating fire destroyed Notre-Dame Cathedral's iconic spire. (Getty Images)
smithsonianmag.com

A virtual reality documentary released last month invites viewers to explore Paris’ Notre-Dame Cathedral, as seen both before and after the devastating April 2019 fire, reports Anna Sansom for the Art Newspaper. The 18-minute experience, titled “Rebuilding Notre-Dame,” blends footage filmed prior to the blaze with recordings and interviews conducted in its aftermath.

FlyView, a virtual tourism venue based in central Paris, launched “Rebuilding Notre-Dame” after reopening in mid-July following COVID-19 lockdown. Participants don VR headsets and sit in spinning armchairs so they can easily take in the views, including close-ups of gargoyles and bells.

The 360-degree images allow users to pursue their individual interests as the documentary moves forward.

“The result is that no one really sees the same thing because everyone is looking in a different direction,” Antoine Lacarrière, FlyView’s general manager, tells Frenchly’s Baudouin Eschapasse.

FlyView acquired the pre-April 2019 footage from Targo, a production company that captured the views for a documentary on the cathedral’s rector, Patrick Chauvet. Targo’s founders, Chloé Rochereuil and Victor Agulhon, received permission to film in usually inaccessible spots, including the sacristy and the attic.

“After the Notre-Dame fire, [Rochereuil and Agulhon] realized that there was a whole different story to tell,” says FlyView’s director, Arnaud Houette, to the Art Newspaper. “… We want people to have the impression of being inside Notre-Dame and feel the strong emotion everyone felt last year.”

Targo sold its footage to FlyView and returned to the cathedral to record additional videos. The resulting documentary experience features drone images of the Notre-Dame fire, as recorded by the city of Paris; shots of elaborate scaffolding; and views of the building’s interior, as seen last December, when it was covered in plastic sheeting.

The VR documentary interweaves footage recorded before and after April 2019 to show the full effect of the blaze. It also includes interviews with Chauvet and Paris’ mayor, Anne Hidalgo, who watched the flames rise from her office in city hall.

Another interviewee is General Jean-Louis Georgelin, who is in charge of Notre-Dame’s reconstruction efforts. The lengthy process of rebuilding has already faced several challenges, including delays related to lead poisoning risks and the COVID-19 pandemic. In July, the French Senate passed a bill requiring that the cathedral be reconstructed faithfully to its “last known visual state,” reported Sarah Cascone for artnet News at the time.

The VR experience costs €19 (about $23 USD). As Houette tells the Art Newspaper, some of the proceeds will go toward Notre-Dame’s reconstruction. So far, around 10,000 visitors have participated in “Rebuilding Notre-Dame.” Eventually, FlyView hopes to reach 100,000 people. And, moving forward, the group says it may work with other historical sites to create more virtual reality documentaries.

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