Melies and the Theory of Imagination in Film Technology


Origins of the First Technologist Storyteller

Film came of age just as the world was finally adjusting to metal technology taking over in big cities. One of the most famous storytellers of the age was Georges Melies a French film director and writer.

In 1896 Melies built a glass house as his studio in the back of his house near the garden located in Montreul-sous-Bois. His studio transcended architecture for building studios during the silent movie era. Usai states, “Melies developed all the basic techniques involved in creating film tricks through his understanding of filmmaking technology and his sensitivity to the possibilities the new medium offered”

One of the most well known films of Melies is A Trip to the Moon. Thierry Lefebvre from the essay collection Fantastic Voyages of the Cinematic Imagination cites when the film came out in May of 1902 it influenced many people like H.G. Wells who wrote The First Men in the Moon. In a 1930s interview Melies is asked what inspired the story he tells that it was an idea influenced by Jules Verne’s book From the Earth to the Moon. Verne is a well known author of adventures around this period as well.


Melies film was so popular and copyright for film wasn’t around yet a lot of dupes got made of the film. To his credit I believe he helped spur the virtual reality movement because not long after two men Frederic Thompson and Skip Dundy bring his film to America.  A Trip to the Moon was on the road and it was shown at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY in 1901. Lefebvre states it was projected with side panels called “cyclorama”, which is a “mixture of panoramas and projected views that immerse the viewer”. This “ride” was a marvel because wind blew at the audience, people sat in a spaceship, there was a takeoff and the men added footage of clouds and the world of Buffalo falling away. After that screened Melies film would screen. Sound familiar to virtual reality in today’s modern day?


Virtual Reality Leaping Forward in Time

In the rise of the world of people coming to the movie theater to experience 3D and 4D shows, this concept has been moving quickly into a way that will overtake all aspects of society. Right now I think virtual reality is still really being consciously explored, but there’s no go to thing yet for it.

I’d like to believe this world we are in with virtual reality is what happened in the Dot.Com era. Everyone is excited, but they couldn’t do anything quickly with it yet. I mean technologists today are taking everything they knew about computers and science and applying their skill sets to creating the next big VR machine.

In terms of the film world there’s so much creativity and unexplored options out there it’s the wild west in terms of storytelling again.

A new conference, but slowly growing community VRLA gathers together once a year to talk about new technology. 

Light Sail VR partnered with GoPro to create an interactive film where you are in the middle of a boat, but you are not exactly their guest. 


Here’s another interactive experience for the newest rendition of Ghost in the Shell created by Here Be Dragons 


Professor Justin Winters, a professor at Arizona State University in the Film and Media Studies program shares about virtual reality storytelling and where it might be going in the future.

What are your thoughts on immersive technology for storytelling?

JW: It’s like nothing that has ever been done in storytelling. You can’t approach (VR) narrative as if you were approaching it with television goals or with film or as you should approach virtual reality as you know why is it right for virtual reality? The biggest difference in telling a story and creating a narrative in virtual reality is there is no close up any longer. You technically are no longer the director. The director is the person that is immersed. You see people who go into the world of virtual reality and they can look at whatever they want. They are trying to consume everything in their surroundings. It’s very hard to drive their focus. You must be very creative on how you tell that story. And in my opinion, right now, the medium is still a bit of a novelty not all the people are experiencing VR are going along for the ride. They’re just wanting to experience what they want to experience.

Where is, virtual reality working right now?

JW: Right now if you wanted to go to the Super Bowl but you couldn’t afford it now you can experience it through virtual reality. You can be in the end zone or you can be on the fifty-yard line. The Golden State Warriors, their opening day game set up virtual reality production capabilities and you could experience that game courtside where you’re underneath the hoop or sitting on the bench with the players. Now through virtual reality, you can’t afford to go to a fill in the blank name a show like Beyoncé, now you can be on stage with her. In that live space that’s where I think it’s thriving.

How is virtual reality interacting with the user?

JW: The reason to know about Heat is it has arguably the best shoot out scene ever. When you talk to most people they are in agreement about this. And the shootout is several minutes long and it takes place in downtown Los Angeles.



Justin goes on to pitch to the client what if BMW had a person in the car and they created a bank heist situation where all the people had to interact with the user. The user was outside and they saw the people flooding out of the bank. 


Check out more what BMW is up to these days with their short films 

JW: Again finding a way to have a limited space so you’re not going to be moving around too much and you in the back of a car and it’s a focused narrative like a driver telling you, if you’re not out in 30 seconds the cops are going to be here. So, you must focus on what you’re saying. If someone comes up to the window and bangs on it, you would have to focus your attention there. You’re focused on the action happening around you.

JW: I think that is the way you must engage your participants in virtual reality at this point until the novelty wears off.


What is the future of VR headsets going to look like?  

JW: People always tell me there’s so much bad VR out there, but I’m like no you just haven’t seen a good narrative for it yet. When I was at this event New York Media Lab: Exploring Future Realities in New York where they were talking about what we could expect in the next four years in technology. You know those giant headsets that are bulky they will be eventually the size of glasses and they were talking about clouding peripheral vision and so the glasses you will put on in the future will mimic the eye a lot closer, so instead of having vision of the entire world your periphery will be clouded. This is supposed to help people have less motion sickness. They were also talking about ocular tracking, so instead of having to use joysticks to help you get from room to room it will recognize what you look at and it will take you there based on that recognition of what you’re looking at. The technology is only going to get better. Now it’s just about creating the content to pair with that technology. I think it has a bright future. By 2030 it will be how we consume most of our entertainment in the future.

It All Circles Back to the Beginning  

We are for the first time in history have a piece of technology with the capabilities to take a viewer to realms beyond the physical landscape. The general opinion of VR storytelling is also new for traditional filmmakers. This is the same exact opinion of what people had when moving picture came out in at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Melies and the tricksters of today are symbiotic in a way because both were and are breaking new ground. If we look at the patterns of how the early inventors of filmmaking shaped our culture in 1900 to modern day, VR is going to take our society to places beyond imagination. Hopefully, when we look back to the early 21st century we will see how the revolution of an alternate reality take off and birth worlds our forefathers would of only dare to go.





Solomon, Matthew. Fantastic Voyages of the Cinematic Imagination, edited by Matthew Solomon, State University of New York Press, 2011. ProQuest Ebook Central,