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Cathedral in the Clouds is pure, virtual art

Virtual reality is going to be a far more laid back experience than previous game-like platforms, which have traditionally relied heavily on physical engagement, progress and feedback.

In VR a "game" can mean little more than a walk-through of a diorama. Seeing, watching and wandering are equally valid interactions as shooting, climbing and connecting.

VR will be a platform for inhaling wonder and art. Beauty will be paramount to experience.

This is why Tale of Tales' new project is so intriguing. The wife-and-husband team of Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn are planning Cathedral in the Clouds, a virtual place to view animated, 3D pieces inspired by the Western tradition of religious art.

Religious ecstasy

Based in Ghent, Belgium,  Harvey and Samyn live close to Sint-Baafs Cathedral, which houses masterpieces by Hans Memling, Rogier van der Weyden, Jan van Eyck and Hieronymous Bosch, among others.

Similarly, Tale of Tales' virtual cathedral will be "a place of sacred images intended for contemplation" according to the developers. Although Harvey and Samyn are not religious, many of the scenes will be inspired by New Testament scenes such as the Annunciation, Crucifixion and Resurrection.


"We're very much in love with old art," says Samyn. "It gives us such great experiences. Those kinds of deep aesthetic spiritual experiences are sometimes missing from contemporary art. Game technology has such an amazing potential, can we use this technology to create something along those lines? And in the process make it fresh again?"

For art lovers and for Christians, these are immensely powerful stories and images. As Samyn says, Cathedral in the Clouds is Tale of Tales' most ambitious project to date, eclipsing a series of well-regarded games such as The GraveyardBientôt l'été and Sunset.

Each piece will be contained within a box, almost like a reliquary. The figures within will move slightly, or offer changing facial expressions. There will be environmental effects like a gust of wind or a scurrying insect.

Very little box

Re-imagining the world for VR could be one of the most exciting projects facing digital creators today. To be able to experience mythical, fictional or historical scenes from entirely new perspectives, including within the scenes themselves, is an almost magical prospect.

"We want to create sculptures, basically, but in 3D," says Samyn. "We call them virtual sculptures. They're not so different from characters in games. They're not really NPCs but they'll have a life, a presence.

"They'll breath, perhaps, and blink. But they're confined to this very little box. They're just presented to you to look at. They don't particularly care. Maybe sometimes they might get embarrassed, I don't know. But they're there for you to think about what they represent."

Michaël Samyn and Auriea Harvey

Tale of Tales launched a Kickstarter to raise $40,000 for the project which is planned to be given away for free. The Cathedral is seen as a place that can be expanded upon, much like real cathedrals.

"Religious art is the place where we start," explains Samyn. "These are the images of western civilization. We hope, later, when the project has evolved, to make new images that don't exist yet, necessarily, or that come with other sources than religious art, but that also achieve a similar kind of intensity."

Earlier this year, Tale of Tales announced that it would no longer create video games. Its last game Sunset was a commercial failure. But this team was always more interested in games as an artistic platform than in games per se.

"Very often a game is designed to push you through events," says Samyn. "There's very little time to sit back and relax and enjoy things for their aesthetic value, because you're moved by the way that the character is portrayed.

"That's a pity, I find. I understand it. It's a particular kind of entertainment that's very much based on action. But the technology is agnostic, so to speak. The technology doesn't demand that we make action-based things, where the actions are explicit or violent or have to do with sports. They can be very subtle as well.

"Video games and video game technology are often accused of a lack of subtlety. It's a challenge for us. Maybe they can be subtle, if treated in a certain way."

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