Winner of the Storyscapes Award at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival and the prestigious Grand Jury Award for Best VR Immersive Experience at the Venice Film Festival, The Key uses magical realism to elucidate the plight of refugees. The Key was directed by Lucid Dreams Productions Founder & Storyteller Céline Tricart in partnership with Oculus VR for Good Creators Lab and Friends of Refugees. It’s a 15-minute room-scale VR experience with a strong narrative structure punctuated by moments of choice. And now, it’s available on Oculus Quest and the Rift Platform.
We sat down with Tricart to learn more.
How did you get your start in the tech industry?
Céline Tricart: In 2005 when I was in film school in Paris, I discovered the technology of stereoscopic 3D for filmmaking. This was long before the release of Avatar. I’ve always been passionate about storytelling, but I also have a very technical mind, and the intersection between technology and storytelling really is where I thrive. During my first five years in the film industry, I was working as a stereographer (an expert in stereoscopic 3D), which brought me to Los Angeles to work on movies such as Transformers. I already knew back then that virtual reality was going to be the next frontier, and I was interested in investigating it as soon as possible. In 2014, when Oculus was acquired by Facebook, I decided it was time for me to dive into the language of virtual reality and 360° videos. I started my company Lucid Dreams Productions in 2016 and since then, I've been creating and producing experiences in VR, MR, immersive theater, and more.
Tell us about your current role.
CT: After 12 years in the film and tech industry, I have finally reached the point where I can focus on what I love, which is crafting emotional stories that matter to me and harnessing the power of new technologies to tell these stories. Currently, I am writing and developing various projects including mixed reality experiences, virtual reality, traditional feature films, and documentaries. My business partner Gloria Bradbury and I want to take our company Lucid Dreams Productions to the next level and bring to life stories that are bold, empowering, and fearless.
Who’s your role model?
CT: One of the struggles of being a woman in the film and tech industry is that we have very few publicized role models to look up to. I remember going to a museum as a little girl to see an exhibition showcasing the best scientists of all time. I remember looking up at these portraits on the wall, and none of them looked like me. They were all men, while we know there are a lot of extraordinary women whose names and achievements in science got lost in history or pushed to the side.
Two of the most inspiring women in history for me are Marie Curie and Eleanor Roosevelt. Marie Curie was an extraordinary scientist whose discoveries changed the world and whose intelligence was unmatched by her male counterpart at the time. Eleanor Roosevelt’s work that led up to the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is nothing short of astonishing. This document is a demonstration of how humans can achieve extraordinary things when they get together, discuss, and share what they have in common instead of what separates them.
If you could give one piece of advice to a young girl considering a career in tech or the arts, what would it be and why?
CT: I often wonder what advice I would give my younger self. The answer is: Make sure you learn how to run a business at the same time you learn your craft. In this day and age, it’s hard for anyone to get started in the tech industry or the arts; we can’t wait forever, knocking on the door and hoping for someone to open it. We have to create our own openings whether it’s by starting our own company or understanding the state of the industry and finding a niche that’s in high demand and mastering it. It’s the equivalent of grabbing a sledgehammer and creating your own door through the wall separating you from your dreams.
Where have you encountered support and advocacy for women and other underrepresented groups in the VR industry?
CT: Since I started working in the VR industry in 2014, I witnessed a lot of support for women and other underrepresented groups. The Oculus Launch Pad program is a good example of that. I was selected in the first cohort and got to meet incredible creators and experts in VR. Very early on, a group of women came together and started what became the Women in VR/AR Facebook group which now has over 10,000 members. I was present at the very first meeting of that group “IRL” in Los Angeles, and I’m really impressed and proud of what it has become.
What concrete steps can people take to help make the tech industry a more inclusive and welcoming space?
CT: Put your money where your mouth is. When you are in charge of hiring teams, make sure to focus on diversity. This is not just out of sheer generosity—I’ve noticed countless times that when a team was made of people of very different backgrounds and life experiences, it performed better. This is especially true in content creation and storytelling. All these diverse voices that take part in the process of crafting a story make it relevant to a much larger audience.
How do you go about designing for a diverse audience and ensuring representation of strong women characters in your own work?
CT: I don’t think we necessarily need more “strong” women characters—we need more women characters who have depth and something interesting to say. Being “strong” is trying to fit into a masculine view of what a good character should be. A huge source of inspiration for me is the book The Heroine Journey from Maureen Murdock. Maureen was a student of Joseph Campbell who wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which is considered one of the most important books for writers and storytellers. However, this book studies the various steps of the hero’s journey through the study of myths and tales where most of the heroes, if not all of them, are men. So Maureen went and studied myths and tales with strong female heroines and crafted her own version of the hero’s journey from a female perspective. I believe both Joseph Campbell’s and Maureen Murdock’s books should be sitting on every writer’s desk, as both versions of the journey can apply to different characters and make the story more inclusive and relevant.
What’s your favorite piece of AR/VR content and why?
CT: VESTIGE directed by Aaron Bradbury is one of my favorite VR experiences. It's a masterpiece of virtual reality storytelling, the kind of story that can only be told in VR. Every time, it brings tears into my eyes; I don't know why, but it connects to me on a very deep level. Through VR, we are hardwired to the emotional state of the main character, Lisa, as she remembers her lost love, Erik.
Where do you see yourself in five or 10 years?
CT: I love storytelling. I love making movies, VR, immersive theater, installations, etc. I don’t want to get stuck in one specific medium to tell my stories—I want to keep pioneering new languages. So maybe in 10 years, I’ll be making holographic movies or crafting art installations on Mars? Whatever is the craziest, most unknown medium at the time, I’ll be studying it and crafting stories with it that matter to me.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
CT: If you look around your office and all you can see is people looking just like you then there is a problem. You're missing out on something very important. Everybody has the power to change this fact and make things better. All together we can create an industry that will thrive because it speaks to everyone. Speak out, volunteer, make a difference.