Going back all the way to the 12th century, the Notre Dame Cathedral was a landmark that held both historical and religious significance. Notre Dame caught fire on April 15th, destroying the framework of this building and taking its trademark spire down in flames as well. The popular tourists attraction has been closed to the public since, as there has been a full effort on renovating the world-renowned cathedral.
Statting today, and Oculus Quest user can take a step inside of the cathedral. With the new VR experience Rebuilding Notre Dame, users will be taken on a tour to see what the building was like before and after the fire. This experience from TARGO is available on the Oculus Quest Oculus TV app today.
The experience kicks off with a new look at the fire from April of 2019. “We wanted everyone to remember the exact feeling of powerlessness we all had when we saw the cathedral burning,” explains Director & Co-Founder of TARGO Chloé Rochereuil. “Gathering news clips from different languages is a way to reflect how global this event was—all of a sudden, the entire world was concerned about the cathedral and watching the events unfold on live news. This had to be the starting point for us.”
The footage from the fire is a great start, and the blending of the new and old powerful for viewers that have experienced the tours in real life. This documentary is about how the cathedral will come back to life.
Inside of the documentary, VR users will get the chance to hear four different exclusive interviews as well. You will be hearing from:
- Patrick Chauvet, the Rector Archpriest of Notre-Dame
- General Jean-Louis Georgelin, appointed by President Macron to lead the public body in charge of restoring Notre-Dame
- Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris
- Jean-Michel Leniaud, an historian specializing in art history and President of the Society of Friends of Notre-Dame
Oculus sat down with Agulhon and Rochereuil to hear more about the phenomenal work that was done to bring this piece of film to virtual reality. You can check out the full interview below or on the Oculus Blog site.
Full Oculus Interview
It’s really interesting how you’ve used modern day visuals to explain the cathedral’s history, particularly when juxtaposed with the absence of the spire following the fire. Do you see a parallel between the restoration during the 1800s and the efforts of today?
Chloé Rochereuil: When we filmed at Notre Dame a year ago, we never thought that the footage would become a historical document so quickly. In one night, all the footage became precious archive visuals to remember the cathedral’s past. We used this footage in the documentary to illustrate Notre Dame’s history and to acknowledge this change in nature.
Victor Agulhon: As in the 1800s, Notre Dame comes back at the center of the public attention. It’s an old monument that we took for granted for so long. Notre Dame is back to being a symbol, a real stake for the French people. The myth of “builders”—builders of cathedrals, builders of the country—is deeply rooted in the French collective memory. Now that Notre Dame has to be rebuilt, it’s our turn to be in charge of its future.
At one point in the documentary, you focus on the organ that remained in tact following the fire. Do you think it helps reinforce the theme of hope coming out of catastrophe?
CR: The fact that the organ and the rose windows have remained intact are exactly what we need: symbols proving that we have avoided the worst, that Notre Dame’s marvels have been preserved enough to be brought back to life. Metaphorically, the organ is also the voice of Notre Dame, it is its sound, its way of being heard—there is something poetic about it being untouched by the flames.
How did you go about selecting the soundtrack for the piece?
VA: Notre Dame is a religious place, but it’s also the most visited monument in Europe. With millions of tourists visiting it every year, Notre Dame is a monument for everyone. It uniquely blends religious, cultural, historical, and political identities. It was important that the soundtrack reflected this diversity.
CR: First, we wanted to have a recurring main theme to evoke the fire: a nostalgic yet hopeful song that reflects the feeling we all shared on the night of the fire. Then, whenever the viewer gets inside the cathedral, we picked songs that reminded us of the mysticism of the monument. We looked for features that would echo religious melodies—choirs, organs, etc. We decided to close the piece on a mass celebrated inside Notre Dame to bring it back to life completely, with its natural soundtrack.
In addition to these musical themes, we focused on bringing back the sounds that made Notre Dame so peculiar and distinctive. Notre Dame was a busy cathedral. There were always lots of people, tourists, churchgoers—it was a lively church. When we entered after the fire, one of the most surprising features was the silence.
If people take one thing away from Rebuilding Notre Dame, what do you hope it would be and why?
VA: After watching the piece, we hope that people will have a privileged sense of belonging to Notre Dame, whether they have ever physically been there or not. This documentary is about creating a direct connection to this iconic monument: being alone inside, with exclusive access. Hearing stories of the people that have looked after it and will look after it in the coming years makes it even more familiar.
CR: We hope that this experience conveys the beauty of Notre Dame, its fragility, and that it makes people reflect on the meaning of cultural heritage in our modern societies. The true hero of the documentary is the cathedral, still standing after a devastating fire—we think that it’s a sign of hope.
How do you think VR and AR will continue to impact the fields of travel, education, and preservation moving forward?
CR: We believe that immersive technologies are a fantastic way to allow people to do what they can’t do in their daily lives. Being able to bring viewers inside a place as difficult to access as the cathedral after the fire and bringing it back to life before their eyes is definitely an example of that. There is something profoundly magical about how VR lets us bridge different times and spaces simultaneously. VR allows us to rediscover lost worlds and make them feel alive.
VA: We hope that this documentary will serve as an example to show how important VR technology can be for travel, culture, and education: a way for people to remember, relive, and discover what is inaccessible. With Rebuilding Notre Dame, we are honored to have captured forever a singular moment in the history of the cathedral that future generations will be able to experience in VR.
What’s next for you?
VA: The next big thing for us will be to find a location where we can make this experience available to the audiences that are interested in Notre Dame, directly in France, close enough to the cathedral so everyone can enjoy it in virtual reality.
CR: We also have some fantastic documentaries in the works covering women’s prisons, an opera dancer, and our first volumetric documentary!