Sculpteurs de Rêves is a collective of artists and dreamers, specialising in immersive experiences. We spoke to its co-founder Maël Magat to find out more.
By Thibault Paquin, Celebrating Life
Just before France’s latest lockdown, I had a chance to sit down with Maël Magat, the co-founder of Sculpteurs de Rêves, for a discussion about immersive live-action experiences and to reflect on his amazing journey with the collective, which started when he was only 13 years old with a few friends in his parents’ garden.
Comfortably seated in a quaint salon de thé hidden on the first floor of an art cinema in Paris’ quartier latin, we spoke about live-action games, fantastic sports, co-creation, pop culture, and more.
Can you tell me how Sculpteurs de Rêves started?
“I grew up in a family of artists. My parents are musicians. I always had an interest in the arts and theatre in particular. We used to play board games a lot and one day I discovered live-action role-playing (LARP) games. I immediately developed a passion for inventing stories, for acting characters, for wearing costumes, etc.
“Since I was too young to participate in any LARP for insurance purposes, I decided I would organize one with my friends. With a little help from our parents, we came up with our first LARP game. We had our own website, a whole scenario and we got 100 complete strangers to participate.”
“When people showed up and saw we were only kids, they were surprised. But we told them we wanted them to propose as many things as possible, and when they saw we were incorporating their suggestions in the scenario with a real impact on the plot, they were really impressed.
“Our logistics was very basic but people loved the experience, especially the ability to co-create with us. And that started it all for our group of friends. Co-creation became our trademark and every year for 5 consecutive years we organized a new live-action game, better and bigger each time.
“In 2018, after LARP sharpened our appetite for immersive experiences, we started looking at other immersive fields where we could apply our Sculpteurs de Rêves trademark. From theatre to escape games to virtual reality.
“We looked at how these experiences could be made even more immersive by looking at them from the perspective of the participants and finding ways to adapt the experience for them so it became more like co-creation.”
You mentioned you liked theatre, are you an actor? How important is that for what you do?
“Yes, I was part of a small theatre group at school then I entered the conservatoire. I love acting, improv in particular. And I always act in all my projects. The more actors the better! But I wouldn’t say this is what made me pursue what I do now; it was more the game playing.”
“My passion comes more from role-playing games than theatre. I like the stimulation that comes from the game, the sensation of flow, the total immersion in a whole new universe and the exchanges with other players. Live-action role-playing is very rich.”
What are you the proudest of, from what you have achieved so far?
“Of course the first game we organized as kids is something I am still very proud of. We had no idea how complex and difficult it would be. But I am glad we did because we wouldn’t be where we are now otherwise.
“I must also admit that I was very proud when our Deep Game – the experience we created with Dama Dreams for the successful French TV series “The Bureau” – reached the first place on TripAdvisor in Paris, after only one month of opening, and stood there for several months.”
“Another one would be our last project, Sleepy Hollow, which we developed with Fever in the heart of Paris. We had an amazing team and that’s one thing I am very proud of. Everybody worked really hard to meet a very tight deadline.
“There was a great mix of creative energy and solidarity. This is something we really value at Sculpteurs de Rêves. We are a network of people who like to work together.”
Can you tell us more about Sculpteurs de Rêves and who is behind it?
“Sculpteurs de Rêves started as an association – which still exists today and runs our LARP games – gathering a small team of friends. Then we created the commercial arm of Sculpteurs de Rêves, aiming to design, produce and operate exceptional immersive experiences thanks to the broad network of professionals we built over the year.
“There is a first category of people working with us who are involved in imagining the story we want to tell and the experience we want the participants to live. That includes scriptwriters, game designers, experience designers, etc. Together we work on the flow, the riddles, the immersive airlocks.”
“Then there are people working on the visual environment. These are interior designers, sound and light designers, mechanism designers, make-up artists, costume designers. And to finish with, there are all the people delivering the experience every day: actors, musicians, etc.
“We tend to draw people with various backgrounds: computer games, escape games, theatre, circus and cinema. Now that we have a bit of a reputation in the industry, we attract more people. Based on our experience working as an association with volunteers on our LARP games, we understand how to make the work highly rewarding.
“For example, we include all their names on the website, we organize a costumed photoshoot with the team of each project as well as other activities such as games, movie nights, etc.
“We also make sure people do what they love and we offer them an environment where creativity is made widely possible. And one last thing, we believe in paying people well. This is something we can do now that we work with bigger budgets thanks to our past successes.”
Where do you see Sculpteurs de Rêves 5 years from now?
“We don’t see Sculpteurs de Rêves as a big company with multiple businesses that we own. It is a network of people who share our passion for “sculpting dreams” and wish to work with other people likeminded.
“So, in a way, we aspire more to become a well-regarded production house with a trusted brand, which can manage the entire process of designing, producing and operating immersive experiences.”
“My role together with my partners at Sculpteurs de Rêves would be more that of the guardian of our philosophy of co-creation and putting the participants at the heart of everything. Because without the participants/players we don’t exist.”
Can you explain what is an immersive experience and what makes it successful?
“Recently I was trying to come up with a definition of immersive experiences and for example, I was wondering what two things like an escape game or Atelier des Lumières have in common.
“I came up with the following. For me, there are two kinds of immersion: subjective and objective. Both are immersive experiences. But they don’t appeal to the same audience and don’t talk to the same parts of the brain.”
“What I call objective immersion is more about an environment, which transports visitors to a different world. And what I call subjective immersion is the concept of the game flow, which takes the participants to their own world they build for themselves.
“When both the objective and subjective immersions meet, then it is the most complete form of immersion. Participants are not only taken to a whole other world but are also part of that world with a mission and the ability to have a real impact.
“In all our projects at Sculpteurs de Rêves, we look for that conversion between both immersions together with some reference to pop culture so that we are ingrained in the collective psyche. This makes for a strong recipe for success among the millennials in particular.”
“The project to date where I think we found the best balance, is the one we created for “The Bureau”. This experience has a strong objective immersion thanks to a strict reproduction of the sets from the TV series inspired by the French secret services and subjective immersion as participants are treated like real secret service agents both in the way the actors speak to them and the missions they are given.
“In the case of Sleepy Hollow mentioned earlier, we are more on the objective side of immersion with a forest reproduced with real trees, surround sound, smell, etc.”
You have participated in the design of numerous escape rooms. Can you tell us where you think the industry is going and why?
“It’s funny you ask because escape games were the subject for my master’s thesis. This was in 2018, after the peak of the opening of new escape games in France. The market was becoming saturated. My conclusion was that the original model of escape games simply based on riddles was going to be over soon. The market had to move towards more immersion and an easy way to do it was using actors.
“Today, it’s interesting to see that most of the top rating escape games on TripAdvisor in Paris are with comedians.”
“The other two ways to differentiate with immersion are to increase the quality of environments (decors, sound, lights) and the mechanisms. These need to be more in line with the scenario, satisfying and memorable rather than just difficult.
“With the experiences we design at Sculpteurs de Rêves, we go as far as making failure impossible. We focus a lot on the pleasure taken in the experience of solving a puzzle, which participates in itself to the immersion.”
On your website you also mention fantastic sports, can you tell us what it is?
“Yes, it is an interesting example of how we can add a layer of immersion to transform an experience. And how we can introduce sports to a new audience. This is something that can apply to museums as well.
“With fantastic sports, we can get people with no interest in sports to practice very intense games. For example, the muggle quidditch inspired by Harry Potter. Although this is not our priority at Sculpteurs de Rêves, we continue integrating fantastic sports such as trollball or traditional sword plays to our experiences.”
How can what you do at Sculpteurs de Rêves impact the location-based entertainment industry? Is there anything you’d like to contribute?
“I think the industry is already at the forefront of immersive experiences. It is actually what defines it.
“But I think we can go even further, especially with the storytelling. I will take the example of a climbing gym. We could imagine telling a story about the walls being inspired by some mountains in the Himalayas. With the staff wearing traditional costumes. This already creates some objective immersion.”
“To which we can add a subjective immersion with missions. For instance, finding a flag at the top of one of the summits, and cultural immersion with an educational message on climate change. This is just to show we can create a meaningful immersive experience with limited means where people wouldn’t necessarily expect it.”
What did you learn from Disney?
“Disney really invented the transmedia immersive experience. And with Galaxy’s Edge, they are stepping into role-playing territory. This makes me think Sculpteurs de Rêves is clearly on the right path. Building rich and complete environments where people belong and where they have a role to play.”
Images kind courtesy of Sculpteurs de Rêves