The Imperial Crown: How the VR Oscar Came to Life

Move over Oscar, there is a new award in town: the Imperial Crown – the top prize in the Virtual Reality world, and it is given out just around the corner in Crans-Montana, at World VR Forum’s Annual Summit’s Award Ceremony in May. That’s right, one does not even have to leave their beloved Swiss Alps to receive it.

The regal name of the award – Imperial Crown refers to the 38 mountain peaks in Switzerland’s Valais Alps, of which 30 are over 4000 meters high. This award is granted annually by an international jury composed of specialists from different backgrounds, who choose the most innovative piece from eleven VR premier projects (International and European) from the competition.

As WVRF was meticulously preparing for the second edition of the Annual Summit, WVRF’s Founders, Clayton Doherty, Delphine Seitiee and Salar Shahna were stricken with an idea to invent an iconic and memorable award for the Award Ceremony. Bruno Huggler, the Director of Crans-Montana Tourism and Congress suggested to create a sculpture of the Crans-Montana mountain chain – the Imperial Crown. The Founders gladly approved of this idea as the mountains highlight the significance of the Annual Summit’s legendary Swiss location, and so the constructive process took off.

At Ateliers Beau Regard, a Geneva-based architecture company in the Freestudios bldg., Doherty saw the 3D fiberglass moulds of a Swiss mountain chain running between Zurich and Maienfeld (the idyllic hometown of Johanna Spyri’s legendary Swiss heroine, Heidi) and fell in love with them. The moulds serve as a topographical map and were created by architects Christopher Tan and Alexander Hertel for their 2012 architecture project PETER on elevation in Zurich, which defined Switzerland as one large urban network and consisted of construction of a football stadium, housing, a shopping centre and a Swissmetro station escalated at 50 metres underground and designed to connect Swiss cities in the fastest way possible. WVRF then decided together that the design of the award would be a mountain chain relief on a flat compact surface that could easily fit into the palm of one’s hand.

Brigitte Hunkeler, an Architect at IAO VR (Immersive Architecture Ontology), a Virtual Reality company dedicated to realizing architectural projects in VR, also located at Freestudios, obtained the precise measurements of the mountains. Remi Fioretti, WVRF’s Game Engine Specialist designed the first virtual 3D model of the sculpture. Cyril Dieumegard, CEO of ZBlack, a Geneva-based company dedicated to 3D printing, Virtual Reality and holography, printed the 3D prototype in polycarbonate finalizing the design by giving it the proportions of Stanley Kubrick’s monolith in his epic 1968 Sci-Fi film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In the film, the monolith is a colossal alien-created structure reminiscent of a modern smartphone, projecting moving images like a television screen and educating the apes about life. With the Crans-Montana mountain chain’s relief at the front and a flat surface on the back, its resemblance to the mysterious monolith from Kubrick’s cinematographic masterpiece added an extra meaning to the sculpture, symbolizing both Crans-Montana and Virtual Reality.

The final product was developed by INITIAL, a Design and Production company in Annecy, France which made a 3D scan and constructed a head sculpture of Courgette – the main character from the ground-breaking 2016 Swiss animated feature, Ma vie de Courgette (My Life as a Zucchini) by Claude Barras, about a recently orphaned nine-year-old boy from a troublesome home, which has been bestowed with 19 awards including the César Award and the Swiss Film Award.

VR Award Ceremony ready, the WVRF’s Kubrick inspired trophy was manufactured in laser metal fusion (STEEL MS1), micro beaded and coated with polish as the final step, according to Marion Rialet, INITIAL’s Technical Advertiser. Thus, the momentous tale of conception and development of the Imperial Crown – the official WVRF’s top prize in VR, honouring VR’s 21st century masterminds comes to a happy, albeit, predictable end.