Google pays tribute to French Illusionist Georges Méliès in first-ever virtual reality 360-degree Doodle

3rd May 2018
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Today’s Google Doodle is no ordinary one – the massive play button that is itching you for a click will instantly transport you to an outlandish cinematic universe from the late 1800s. More specifically, it takes you right into the mind-boggling imagination of French illusionist and film director Georges Méliès – which was too flamboyant to contain into a 2D doodle, Google decided.

The pioneer, therefore, received a fitting tribute in the form of Google’s first-ever virtual reality (VR), and a 360-degree interactive doodle, on the occasion of the 106th anniversary of the release of his iconic silent film À la conquête du pôle (The Conquest of the Pole).

The French director changed the face of cinema with his pioneering work in special effects and narrative film techniques, and even refers to some of his recognizable work - like when he flew a rocket into the moon. The two-minute 360-degree video of the Doodle depicts a couple trying to elope with his queen of hearts as they transverse the planet and the galaxy, while the former, an illusionist, uses magic tricks to overcome adversary.

Here is an abridged version of the tribute Google has paid to him through the Doodle they have titled “Back to the Moon.” It has been produced by Nexus Studios.

Now, a hundred years later, we can thank the pioneering mind of Georges Méliès for much of the cinematographic wonder and special effects we see today. The title of one of his films, L'Homme-Orchestre (The One-Man Band, 1900), perfectly captures all that he was: a cartoonist, painter, caricaturist, magician, director of Robert-Houdin theater, set designer, comedian, writer, actor, technician, fantasy enthusiast, visionary of more than 500 films, and the owner of first glazed studio designed for the cinema. He was involved in all aspects of production for his works -from drawing set concepts to directing actors.

Méliès’ contribution to the seventh art was revolutionary. At a time when cinematography was nascent and almost exclusively documentary-style, Melies single-handedly opened the doors of the dream, the magic, and the fiction. He accomplished this fundamental act by uniting the universes of Robert-Houdin, with the chrono-photography and cinematography of Marey and the Lumière brothers. The entire body of Méliès' work shines with dynamic fantasy, boundless imagination, and an irresistible jubilation. The worlds he created were explosive and a unique mixture of phantasmagoria, devilry, trompe-l'oeil, illusions, flames, fumes, and vapours.

But Méliès also proved himself to be a visionary of what was to come. His film Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon, 1902) is a burlesque and wonderful prediction of the landing of man on the moon, which would take place 67 years later.

An agile actor and remarkable mime, Méliès also starred in almost all of his films. He sometimes even multiplies on stage, as in L'Homme-Orchestre (The One-Man Band, 1900), when seven Méliès appear in the same frame! Thanks to an optical trick, he even inflates his head until it explodes in L’Homme à la tête de caoutchouc (The Man with the Rubber Head, 1902).

Both of the examples above bring us to another major contribution of his pioneering mind: Special Effects. The magic of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg today could not have been possible without Méliès’ development of techniques across theatrical machinery, pyrotechnics, optical effects, horizontal and vertical dropouts, camera stops, cross fades, overprints, conjuring, editing effects, and color effects on film.

"I imagine he would have been delighted to live in our era, which is so rich with immersive cinema, digital effects, and spectacular images on screen. I have no doubt he would have been flattered to find himself in the limelight via today’s very first Virtual Reality / 360° video Google Doodle, propelled around the world thanks to a new medium with boundless magical powers."

“The Google Doodle, Google Spotlight Stories, Google Arts & Culture, and Cinémathèque Française teams have collaborated to create the first-ever virtual reality (VR)/360° interactive Doodle to celebrate the life and artistry of French illusionist and film director Georges Méliès,” Google further explains.

The VR Doodle experience is available on mobile or through Google Cardboard and Daydream via the Google Spotlight Stories app. If you don’t have a headset, the interactive Doodle is also available as a 360-degree video on YouTube. Furthermore, if one wishes to experience original Georges Méliès memorabilia and "discover the story behind the invention of the first cinema studio and special effects" up close and personal, they may do so by visiting the new Google Arts & Culture exhibit, created in collaboration with The Cinémathèque Française in Paris, France.

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