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Gallic Startup Dark Matters Launches First Ever Virtual Production Facility in France

On the set of Lucasfilm's THE
Courtesy of Melinda Sue Gordon/Lucasfilm

Founded in February 2021, French startup Dark Matters is set to unveil Gaul’s first virtual production facility. Setting up camp 23 miles from Paris, the 180,000 square-foot studio will open its doors this coming April, offering the local industry five new soundstages equipped for both traditional production and the LED-backed virtual sets made famous by the ILM Stagecraft system used on “The Mandalorian.”

Backed by €10 million ($11.3 million) in VC funding from Paris-based firms Anaxago and CapHorn, and benefiting from another $2.2 million in public support, the full-service facility will be split between four core departments, focusing on hardware and software innovation, virtual production and creative development. All four will be housed under the same roof, in what the Dark Matters brass have rather tellingly named the Campus.

“Much of what we do is brand new to [French] producers or filmmakers, so we’re at a phase where we need to spend time with them, to help them understand the tools,” says Dark Matters CEO Romain Cheminade. “We wanted to build a place where we can educate [the industry] about the full range of new services available.”

A veteran of media server manufacturer Green Hippo and former head of engineering at L.A.-based entertainment consulting firm Lux Machina, Cheminade began dreaming up his latest venture when global travel restrictions kept him grounded in Paris in March 2020.

“I started looking at opportunities for something to build here in France,” he explains. “[I saw a] local production market that was booming alongside a technological paradigm change. New tech had been developed, but relatively few people around the world could understand and improve it, tailoring it to filmmaking.”

“France is in essence an R&D country,” he continues. “We have the schools, the research labs, and all of this funding and public support. So when you’re looking at something that is working but not yet industrialized – a new method that needed to be bullet-proofed and battle-tested before it could be deployed by as many creative people as possible – France was really the right place [to set it up].”

As Cheminade sees it, the Dark Matters Campus will act as both a studio and a lab, with the creative department covering all aspects of visualization while the two innovation wings fine-tune the technical services the production facility will offer on-site. And with the campus’ April launch fast approaching, Dark Matters has been staffing up, recently hiring previs specialist Margaux Durand-Rival to head the creative side and mo-cap specialist Isaac Partouche to lead digital production.

With their first project (an as-of-yet unannounced French production) already lined up, the team’s next step will involve proselytizing their virtual sets to an industry that doesn’t often trek with intergalactic space opera.

“The very first [high profile shoot] was a sci-fi project, but there are a number of practical uses for this technology,” says Cheminade. “Any kind of environment that needs to be predictable can benefit from this technology. Think about shooting at magic hour: You have 20 minutes on the day and 200 people to move around. Think about shooting at an historical sight [that’s only open at inconvenient hours]. When you have to plan a few weeks of shooting that’s next to impossible.”

Cheminade adds: “But not when you recreate those environments on a virtual set.”