Visualisation software company offers historical cross-media project, which includes documentary film.

Last week Paris-based software company Dassault Systèmes unveiled a unique new tour of Paris. It wasn’t just a tour of the city’s great monuments, but a tour of its great monuments through the past 2,000 years, and it was all done within the confines of Dassault’s headquarters.

Dassault Systèmes specialises in simulation and visualization software for a wide range of industries, including architecture and manufacturing. “Our job is to create virtual worlds,” said Mehdi Tayoubi, Dassault Systèmes VP of Digital & Experiential Strategy, “We always ask, ‘How can we use virtual reality to visualize everything about your project?’” The company’s new project is a hyper-realistic, 3D simulation of the entire city of Paris, created in partnership with the Carnavalet Museum, one of Paris’s oldest museums.

The 3D Paris project was launched two years ago and was conceived from the start as a transmedia collaboration, which would include a documentary film, an iPad app, online content, and a print book. The plan was to create a virtual model of Paris that could be navigated in real time and would feature monuments and key features of the city in unprecedented detail. The success of all the various media elements depended on the success of Dassault’s model.

Tayoubi says, “We love crazy ideas. The crazier the idea, the more we like it. And there is no taboo. Everything can be simulated before it is ever tried in the real world.” Dassault’s also offers a 3D immersion room which allows clients to experience the 3D model as if they were physically present inside it.

The company has had a track record of supporting culture and education, which it believes gets its message out better than mere traditional marketing. They launched its “Passion For Innovation” programme in 2005, dedicated to taking helping individuals and non-profits bring innovative ideas to live using their 3DS software.

Dassault’s virtual Paris is the second historical project the company has been involved in. In 2007, French architect Jean-Pierre Houdin, came to Dassault with a theory of how the pyramids at Giza were built. The resulting computer simulations led to a digitisation of the entire Giza plateau and its tombs, as well as the objects in each tomb. This Virtual Giza is now used as a teaching tool in the history department of Harvard University, which also employs Dassault’s 3D immersion room tech to take students on guided lecture tours of passages, rooms and buildings that are mere rubble today.

Dancer Pietra Galla was also invited to Dassault to explore its virtual world innovation. Her visit inspired a collaboration which has resulted in the multimedia dance performance “Mr. & Mrs. Dream” (M. & Mme. Rêve), in which the dancers move inside and interact a surrealistic virtual scenarios projected in 3D.

Having created the “star” of the piece – the city itself – every other element in the creative process unfolded – the book, app, and film. “The Paris Experience was truly a transmedia approach,” says Tayoubi, “with each medium completing the other one.” The model features Paris at a half dozen periods of its history, including the Iron Age, the Roman Period, the mid and late Middle Ages, and in 1887 during preparations for the World’s Fair and construction of the Eiffel Tower. The dates and monuments were chosen based on discussions with the director of the documentary.

The documentary, called “Paris: The Great Saga”, was a coproduction with Planète+ and ran this autumn on French TV. Directed by Xavier Lefebvre, the film was produced in two versions – a 90 minute feature and a 4 x 52 minute series. The film tells its story of Paris though a family’s tour over Paris in a hot air balloon that begins in 3000 BC. It’s a story device perfectly aligned to take advantage of the aerial flights of fancy that Dassault’s 3D virtual camera allows.

The directors could use the virtual Paris to create any kind of shot they wanted, on the fly, some of which were plates for additional action to be added later. The sophistication of the 3D model meant that a shot could start from high above the city and end on a tiny detail of Notre Dame Cathedral all with a high degree of resolution. Dassault’s Paris model also features a population of “extras”, virtual citizens of each period, dressed in appropriate costumes, filling the streets and buildings.

Dassault’s 3D Paris is an asset that continues to grow in size and detail. It will premiere for public viewing this December at Notre Dame Cathedral. It is also available for free at the iTunes app store and at Dassault’s website. Dassault is in talks with other European cities to do similar projects.