The easiest way to sum up TARGO’s virtual reality content is this: watch unique people, in strange places, doing interesting things.
It’s an approach that has worked well for the VR media company, which has garnered plenty of praise from the industry for their work, which has been featured in numerous popular VR applications, including SamungVR, InceptionVR, Oculus Videos, CineVR and LittlStar. And, they’ve just released their own app for the Oculus Go, where they will be releasing new content each week.
Immersive Shooter spent some time with TARGO’s CEO, Victor Agulhon, and Editor-in-Chief Chloe Rochereuil to talk about their well-honed talent for finding great stories for VR, what’s in their gear bag, and why they’ve decided to launch their new app.
For people who may be unfamiliar with your work, can you give us a brief summary of what types of stories TARGO tackles?
There are always two components to the stories we tell. First, we focus on people who have very unique and peculiar stories to tell. They have unique hobbies, they’re usually magnetic in some sense.
Second, our documentaries takeIndividual instance of a shot; a take = each time the camera is started and stopped. place in highly visual locations or are somehow tailored for VR. It can be something about ghostbusters in an abandoned castle, hovercraft champions, freefall dancers, tractor racers … (CR: Chloe Rochereuil)
I’m sure you require a lot of flexibility in the gear you use to shoot such a wide variety of stories. What are your go-to 360 cameras?
We use the Insta360 Pro and the GoPro Fusion for trickier shots. (CR)
Since we are doing documentaries productions, most of what we shoot is live-action. We don’t have the luxury of using cinema-grade 16-camera rigs. We shoot things that happen in real and most of the time this cannot be staged. These two cameras allow us to reach a very good standard of production while remaining responsive and flexible when shooting. (VA: Victor Agulhon)
The one camera we’ve put in the most extreme situations is surely the Fusion. As we’re speaking, one of them is actually in Antarctic with an explorer on his way to the South Pole. It’s able to withstand extreme cold with an amazing reliability. (VA)
The Insta360 Pro requires more care but we’ve managed to use it in tricky environments. For instance, we’ve used it in Paris’ catacombs, which is an underground ossuary that requires speleology-like skills to reach. (VA)
Can you share some of what you’ve learned, in terms of best practices for 360 video?
What’s sure is that nothing is written in VR. It is a continuous learning process. We made a lot of mistakes at the beginning, but it is a trial and error process. (CR)
First, you need a good topic. We’ve identified five gateways to a good theme in VR : immersion, shifting perspectives, behind the scenes, empathy and experience. Getting a topic that checks the boxes is a good start. (CR)
Then, you need to be creative when shooting. For example, we’ve recently used high poles to explore aerial views without using a drone. Something else we’ve learned through the months is that beautiful shots in VR do exist. You have to think about symmetry, distance with your interviewees. It all stands in the camera placement. The key is really to consider your camera as a real person, someone that you are bringing with you on the shoot. Because in the end, the camera eventually becomes the viewer in his headset. (CR)
Last step: post production. Having the perfect workflow is quite impossible, but it is getting easier as technology is getting better. For example, we keep on doing manual stitching but it is getting very occasional. It allows us to focus on the essential: how you edit your story to make sure your viewer does not get lost. That’s key to tell good VR stories. (CR)
Besides your cameras, what other gear are we likely to find in your gear bags on any given project?
When we go for a shoot, we bring a lot of accessories. They’re absolutely essential for movements. That includes a sliderA tripod ‘head’ mounted on a fixed track that enables the camera to smoothly move left and right or forward and back... More, all sorts of straps, an eight-meter pole, drones… For the Line Walkers, we used a cable-cam that allowed us to smoothly follow the slackliner as he walks on the line. Sometimes, we do not know exactly what the location will look like. Hence, it’s all about having all the tools to find a creative solution on-site. (VA)
For example, we used a cable cam for The Line Walkers:
And we used Fusion accessories for The Free Fall Dancer
And we used a pole for drone-like shots for The Hot Air Balloon Family:
The new news is that you’ve launched an Oculus Go app. What made you decide to do this? And why Oculus Go?
We decided to launch our own app because we wanted to gather our content in one place. Because we have this focus on strong stories and original people, we thought that viewers would understand our editorial line better if they had a global vision on our productions. (CR)
The reason we focused specifically on the Oculus Go for our first application is that it’s the most accessible and quality headset on the market. As a media, our goal is to be as accessible as possible. In that sense, the Oculus Go checks all the boxes: it’s affordable and delivers a great quality. We’ve actually seen a change in viewership of our documentaries when the Oculus Go was released. The watch time went up and the view count too. This is why we decided to focus on the platform. (VA)
How will this new app change your distribution plans, moving forward?
Our distribution plan is quite simple: we want everyone in VR to have a chance to see our experiences. Working with third party applications such as SamsungVR and InceptionVR is key for us. They are doing a fantastic work at sustaining a presence across all devices. We see our own app as a complement to their services, as something for our core audience. (VA)
Our end goal is to give VR users easy access to high-quality content, regardless of the platform. To that end, we will keep on publishing our content very openly and we tend to stay away from exclusive deals. (VA)
One of the difficulties in our industry is that funding usually entails some sort of exclusivity deal. How is your work funded in such a way that you maintain this autonomy?
As a media company, we are convinced that the funding will come from being able to reach a wide audience. As we speak, this is fundamentally incompatible with exclusivity. Today, we’re working with advertisers that are looking to reach highly engaged users within VR headsets. Our goals are aligned: it’s about reaching as many people as possible. (VA)
Do you have any tips for other content creators who may want to employ your funding approach?
It’s all about balance. There is the long-term value we create with TARGO, the media, that allows us to reach a wide audience and build a truly unique model. On the other hand, we do white-label productions for media, institutions and brands that love our approach. It creates short-term value that brings food to the table. Having both is essential to us. (VA)
We have found a sweet spot that works for us, between our media and studio activities. My recommendation would be find your own sweet spot and start creating from there. (VA)
Does your app bring any benefits in terms of quality or new features (like AR or 6 degrees of freedom down the road for headsets like Oculus Quest)?
You’re raising an interesting point. A key issue in VR is to maximize the headset hardware capabilities, making sure that every pixel available is used properly and that the computing power is not wasted. To do that effectively, you need a custom video player and creativity. Getting our own app is the first step to get there. (VA)
Even if we focus on mainstream VR, we’ve always had this approach of exploring new things, including AR, 6 DoF or photogrammetryThe use of photography to survey and map a location from a variety of angles. experiences. So we’ll keep on doing this R&D job, with our own media focus. And that’s why having our own app is key to keep on sharing and testing these experiences. (CR)
You’ve also been touching on AR, in addition to continuing your VR content production. Will that be a part of your new app?
This summer, we created an AR experience where you could became a pigeon racer, in reference to our VR documentary “The Last Pigeon Racers”. It had a lot of interactivity in it. The experience is available on the App Store, but it is was still something more experimental for us. We wanted to see if that could make sense to offer both an AR and a VR experience for our documentaries.
AR is fun and we enjoyed working on it, but we remain focused on VR. AR is challenging and exciting, but it’s also a demanding work for journalists. And because we have this journalistic approach, we thought that for now, we have more to offer in VR than in AR. We’ll definitely keep an eye on AR, but we also don’t want to change our plans because of the pressure of AR hype.
What has been each of your favorite stories TARGO has done so far?
It’s a tough question. Surely, the best ones are yet to come. Among the ones we’ve released, I particularly like the Freefall Dancer. It’s the story of how a classical dancer became the freefalling World Champion. I love her story and how she conveys the love for hey hobby. (VA)
I’ve enjoyed shooting all of our stories, but I must say that one of the most exciting project I’ve shot with TARGO is an upcoming one. It will be something about women in jail. For this one, we spent six months talking and shooting with women in a prison near Paris. It was a remarkable and intense experience. (CR)
From other studios?
Two experiences have really amazed me: BattleScar by Atlas V for its creativity, and most recently, Space Explorers by Felix & Paul for the quality of the storytelling and the incredible shots. (VA)
Regarding other VR creators, Felix and Paul and Atlas V are doing great jobs too. Their experiences are always stunning! On the media side, CNN and Contrast VR are great content creators too. (CR).
Do you have any concern about the recent “cooling” of the VR industry?
When we started TARGO, the industry was going through the “VR winter”. So our perspective on the “cooling” is quite different. For the first time in the immersive space, we see that virtual reality is consolidating and growing! We’re beyond the hype. We have headset usage and sales data, so it’s real! It’s not about hoping that VR takes off, it’s about planning it. So we’re very enthusiastic about it because we see it growing and going in the right direction. (VA).
When you’re working in the VR industry, you surely have to consider the state of the industry but you can’t let it hold back your ambitions and limit your creativity. Otherwise you would probably just wait and see. (CR)
Where is TARGO headed from here?
Our ambition is to become the reference media in virtual reality. To reach that point, we’re committed to produce the best documentaries and publish them across all the VR platforms. (VA)
If you have the Oculus Go, the TARGO app is now available for download. All of TARGO’s original content is also available on its YouTube channel.