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Rebuilding Notre Dame: A New Virtual Reality Documentary

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Notre Dame cathedral in France

The story of the Notre Dame cathedral in France before and after the fire

Notre Dame is a catholic cathedral in Paris, France. A cathedral is a church that has on official seat or cathedra for a residential bishop, the chief priest. Notre Dame is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture. Gothic is a European architectural style that dominated from the 12th century to the 16th century. The cathedral church stands out of other churches because of one of the largest organs of the world and the church bells it possesses. Notre Dame has been a cultural landmark due to its historical and religious impact.

Notre Dame on fire:

The church caught fire on April 15 last year. As a result, the cathedral had to face the destruction of its hallmark- the spire. The administration closed the attractive historic place to the public right from the incident. During the period, extensive renovation efforts made the Notre Dame stand again. Now people across the world can view and witness the cathedral what it is before and after the fire. Credit goes to “Rebuilding Notre Dame,” a virtual reality (VR) documentary. TARGO, a VR channel, prepared the documentary, and it is now available on Oculus TV.

Chloe Rochereuil – Director and Co-founder of TARGO:

The work on “Rebuilding Notre Dame” started with a collection of news gathered after the cathedral caught fire in April 2019. As Chloe Rochereuil, director and co-founder of TARGO explained:

“We desired to remind everyone of the incident of cathedral burning and the powerlessness we all felt at that time. Gathering news clips from different languages reflect the global nature of this event — that is, the entire world was watching the events live on the news showing its concern about the cathedral. The incident and the reaction of the world over it proved to be the starting point for us.”

Victor Agulhon – Producer and Co-founder of TARGO:

The documentary connects the past and the present dramatically by blending the footage taken before the fire with the striking look that Notre Dame makes after renovation. Victor Agulhon, producer and co-founder of TARGO gave details as:

“This documentary covers the events that took place to bring this cathedral back to life. The film presents the contrast between the pristine beauty of the cathedral before the fire and the damage afterward. Hence, the viewers get a sense of the task ahead.”

The documentary spotlights the interviews with the following individuals who have been key players in the cathedral:

  • Patrick Chauvet – the Rector Archpriest of Notre-Dame
  • Jean-Michel Leniaud – President of the Society of Notre-Dame and a historian
  • Anne Hidalgo – the Mayor of Paris
  • General Jean-Louis Georgelin – President Macron appointed him to lead the public body responsible for the restoration of Notre-Dame

Oculus TV interviewed Rochereuil and Agulhon to explore the facts about this outstanding VR film further.

Oculus TV:

“It’s really interesting how you’ve used modern-day visuals to explain Notre Dame’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 said:

“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 said:

“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.”

Oculus TV:

“At one point in the documentary, you focus on the organ that remained intact following the fire. Do you think it helps reinforce the theme of hope coming out of catastrophe?”

Chloé Rochereuil said:

“The fact that the organ and the rose windows have remained intact is 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; it’s a way of being heard—there is something poetic about it being untouched by the flames.”

Oculus TV:

“How did you go about selecting the soundtrack for the piece?”

Victor Agulhon said:

“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.”

Chloé Rochereuil said:

“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.”

He further said,

“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.”

Oculus TV:

“If people take one thing away from Rebuilding Notre Dame, what do you hope it would be and why?”

Victor Agulhon said:

“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.”

Chloé Rochereuil said:

“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.”

Oculus TV:

“How do you think VR and AR will continue to impact the fields of travel, education, and preservation moving forward?”

Chloé Rochereuil said:

“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.”

Victor Agulhon said:

“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.”

Oculus TV:

“What’s next for you?”

Victor Agulhon said:

“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.”

Chloé Rochereuil said:

“We also have some fantastic documentaries in the works covering women’s prisons, an opera dancer, and our first volumetric documentary!”

Thanks, Victor and Chloe, for your precious time and such a fantastic VR documentary. Take a tour into Notre-Dame with Rebuilding Notre-Dame in Oculus TV on Oculus Quest.

 


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