10 Things About Baobab Studios, VR cinemas, And The Future Of Virtual Reality Movies.
We as humans have always enjoyed the traditional display of movies. We were told stories through a certain perspective with a camera to capture raw emotions and talent of actors & actresses. And to this day, it’s been amazing. But slowly with technology evolving, we come face to face with change.
VR technology created the potential to shift our standard of movies. Virtual reality immerses us in a digital space where we perceive and experience someone else’s creations. With the power of the mind, we get to jump into a virtual world fulfilling the roles of a set character. And with this type of potential at hand, the team over at Baobab Studios couldn’t miss out on this opportunity to create new imaginations through VR.
Maureen Fan, founder and CEO of Baobab Studios, went out and formed a team to specialize in creating VR films. With the help of many talented individuals from top animation companies such as Pixar and Dreamworks, they fulfilled their goal of creating a fascinating virtual reality short film called Invasion!
The VR and Fun team had the fortunate chance to conduct an exclusive Q&A session with Eric Darnell (CCO), Cody (Art Director), and Maciej (Animator) from Baobab Studios and we uncovered many exciting things surrounding Baobab Studios, VR cinemas, and VR storytelling.
How Watching Films Will Be Revolutionized By Baobab Studios
With VR movies and media being so new, there are a lot of challenges and hurdles that need to be overcome for it to be successful. Invasion! currently garners the title for being the most successful VR short film, being invited to many movie festivals such as Cannes and Tribeca Film Festival. And with the team over at Baobab, we uncovered many valuable information surrounding the scene of VR films and the future of virtual reality movies.
Baobab Studios did a lot of experimentation to get Invasion! right
“We Tested over a thousand people,” said Eric Darnell, the CCO of Baobab Studios. They had to come up with solutions to have the audience look where they wanted them to look. They came up with many insightful methods and piloted the short film on the Gear VR. They found a lot of great feedback about the VR short film but there was one that stood out the most for Eric. He explained to us that they had taken out the bunny during the testing stages and was reminded how important a character was to the story and in this case the bunny. An audience member enjoyed the short film but she wouldn’t show this to her 6 year old daughter because they had eliminated the bunny. With the awareness level in VR cinema, it becomes clear that freedom to look around can directly correlate to the positive and negative experiences. And through this new discipline, the team learned that there’s a lot to be experimented on the VR platform. “This is not just cinema on steroids. It’s brand new media,” said Eric.
Successful VR story telling with digital magic
Traditional story telling far differs from VR story telling as you have the power and free will to look wherever you want, which can become a distraction to the main story. But the brilliant minds over at Baobab Studios came up with many clear solutions to deter from distractions of VR story telling.
“The bunny’s like a magician. When the bunny’s looking at you, it’s hard to look away. And then if she looks away, you want to look where she’s looking at,” said Eric. This gives a very paced and organic rhythm for audience members to follow along in story telling. Like magic, people instinctively look back at things that look at you and in this case, the bunny plays the clever role to grab your attention.
“One of the big things I noticed is with cuts,” said Cody. traditional cinema uses cuts. With cuts, you can transfer power between characters and supporting scenes. And you don’t have that in VR. What we saw a lot of people do is segment quads around cuts. We focused around the highest contrast points. When we wanted to transfer powers between scenes, we had the bunny go into a higher contrast area to give power to the aliens.” Cody and the Baobab team created a pathway for audience members to have a easier time following along in the story telling journey.
With the VR film making scene being so new, there’s a plethora of problems that need to be addressed, but Baobab Studios have found effective answers to help audience members keep focused on the story and journey ahead.
Storytelling is our foundation
Baobab Studios has their foundation and vision built around storytelling. Their primary goal is to tell a great story on the VR platform.
“Story’s about rhythm, structure, and patience,” said Eric. The foundation and story telling is formed around these 3 points. Rhythm catches balance for the scenario, structure allows for a story to be built, and patience, allows for the story to come to fruition. This is signified and portrayed in the short VR film Invasion! by the team.
How it feels to charter in unknown territory of VR
Baobab Studios is chartering in unknown territory of VR. They are the first major company to create a VR short film to this scale. And it’s definitely an exciting time for the Baobab team and everyone that’s newly experiencing virtual reality. Cody went on telling us how crazy everything is right now in this specific vertical. “Chaos but good chaos. It feels like we’re back in school. Nobody really know what they’re doing but its competitive.”
The Baobab team is becoming the pioneers of VR storytelling; trekking through unknown mazes and hurdles to create something defining and exciting. “All exploration,” said Maciej. We’re trying new things. You don’t know what’s going to happen.” Maciej also noted his gratitude of working alongside engineers as an artist unlike many other spaces of work. “We create synergy between artists and engineers.” To be on the frontier where 2 different professions collaborate to create something is quite rare and the Baobab team has the fortunate chance to share this moment together.
Eric also put it eloquently simple. “Humbling.” He truly believes that there’s much room for growth and welcomes failure to grower quicker and stronger. “Failing and succeeding.” With so much potential to be discovered in VR movies, Baobab positions themselves to be leaders of example in the industry.
Culture of Baobab
With this scene being so new, everyone on the team needs to continually contribute however they can into making virtual reality films come alive and Eric went on to describe the environment inside Baobab Studios.
“It’s not even unlike Walt Disney when it first started, his animation studio, in that we kind of believe that great ideas can come from anybody. Everybody’s encouraged to wear multiple hats. In fact, we tend to depend upon it. Something may come up that one or none of us have ever done before. And then somebody will say ‘I’ll do it! I’ll take that ball!’ And it’s that kind of spirit of stepping into the unknown. It really takes a team that’s really able to collaborate and participate whenever and however we can.”
Eric continued describing the dynamics of having a collaborative team where they unify to create the whole piece of a puzzle. Many traditional studios have teams within teams that focus on their expertise but Baobab Studios has created a culture where everyone becomes all-around experts in multiple fields to gain more knowledge. They’ve constructed a creative environment where everyone contributes.
Maciej put it clearly how great it was to collaborate with other team members at Baobab Studios. “The whole team works together and it’s just so easy to get up and go to another person on the team and say ‘Hey, I had this idea.’ ‘What if we had this tool?’ Communication and collaboration is key here.” Maciej edifies the notion that collaboration is dynamic for the company which allows them to put collective thoughts together and create intricate outcomes for VR storytelling.
Distribution of VR content
Currently, there are multiple channels and platforms that distribute VR content ranging from the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive with Steam, Samsung Gear, and plethora of platforms which makes it feel like the wild wild west. There isn’t a formed culture where you can go to one platform to find all the VR content. “It’s sort of a mess right now,” Eric explained to us. The teams ultimate goal for distribution is to get the beautiful VR cinematic film content to as many people as possible but with so many platforms, it solicits a challenge.
As the market matures, there’ll be more recognizable platforms for companies to launch their VR content. Oculus and Steam currently look like the majority stakeholders in this field, especially Steam as they have been a dominant gaming platform for many years.
Competition in the VR industry
Many companies like Baobab Studios are open to competition in creating more VR content for the community. “There’s plenty of room. Ton of room. we just need more of it!” Eric told us. With the first generation VR wearable headsets all being released this year, there’s certainly tons of room for companies, organizations, and studios to jump in and create VR content. As a collective, competition drives user engagement and Baobab Studios feels open to that notion.
How Baobab Studios is set for success
Baobab Studios is set to be a powerhouse in the industry with a fortified business structure. They have a great team in production/character animation, engineers, and business leadership which make up the 3 legs of the milk stool. “We’re firing on all cylinders,” he simply described. Creating VR content takes a mixture of experts to create quality. FPS (frames per second) has been a big issue for developers and customers as slow FPS led to motion sickness. The current recommended specs are set at 90 FPS for movement in the virtual world and Baobab Studios has created cinematic VR film that overcomes the FPS battle.
Maciej went on to touch on some key ingredients that’s creating success for the company. He complimented the storytellers in their development of characters, the culture, and the innovation being produced from the studio. And with their collaborative environment, they have the capabilities to conduct healthy debates. “We have healthy debates,” said Eric. “There’s no way we’re going to agree all the time. What would be the point of that?”
Experts in VR
With VR technology being relatively new, there aren’t really any collective leaders in the industry who can claim to be an expert just yet. But many are pushing to become pioneers in the new frontier. “There are no experts in VR yet. Nobody can say one opinion is better than another opinion. There might be bickers but it all comes down in the end to how it feels in VR,” said Cody. We can slowly start to accumulate a collection of VR content that’s driving the scene. Then we can measure down the road which of those particular contents have been adapted and correlate that to judgment of being an expert in the field.
Keys to success
Finding success in the current VR industry can be measured in many variations. Baobab Studios believed that experimentation, being open minded, and following the story was what they needed in being successful for composing a great VR film. With those 3 key components, they believe teams can find success in great VR storytelling.
Having the ability to create something extraordinary as Invasion! goes to prove the possibilities of VR animation in the future. Featured movies and films can be enjoyed in a brand new way where you have the freedom to look around you. Sure there are hurdles to overcome in content, narratives, and perspectives but this is just the beginning for Baobab Studios. They have left the first foot print in the long journey ahead for VR animated films. Keep a close ear with us as we deliver the latest news about Baobab Studios in the future!