Maureen Fan, the CEO of a new virtual reality animation studio and the former VP of games at Zynga, admits that for years she felt incredibly sceptical about VR.
She’d tried out a few disappointing live-action experiences, and had trouble seeing the platform’s potential until one of her developers hacked a Zynga game to work with a VR headset.
Something clicked. Once she saw how comparatively immersive the illustrated VR world felt, she decided that she needed to leave her job at Zynga to pursue her passion for animation full-time.
She’d almost done the same thing once before, after an internship at Pixar, but felt at the time that it would be too hard to start her own small studio because the space already had so many powerful players.
“Virtual reality is definitely the future of animation, and, at this point, it makes business sense,” Fan tells Business Insider. “VR is levelling the playing field. New startups can form because big companies don’t necessarily have the advantage anymore.”
‘A new cinematic language’
Fan sees Baobab becoming the sort of big name in virtual reality that giants like Pixar and DreamWorks are in animation. Estimates for VR’s market size vary: Digi-Capital pegged the augmented and virtual reality market hitting $150 billion in revenue by 2020, while market researcher TrendForce put it at $70 billion by 2020.
After leaving Zynga, Fan spent the next year using her free time to learn as much as possible about virtual reality. She finally left her job in March to cofound Baobab Studios with Eric Darnell, who directed DreamWorks movies “Antz” and the “Madagascar” franchise.
With big ambitions, the duo started attracting top talent from the likes of Lucasfilm, Pixar, and Twitch. The team’s combo of hardcore technologists working with top-tier storytellers convinced investors to put $6 million behind the studio’s cause last week. The Series A round came in part from million from HTC and Samsung Ventures, both of which have their own virtual reality devices, the Vive and Gear VR.
Fan tells Business Insider that the studio plans to release its first short films made specifically for virtual reality early next year.
“We’re inventing a new cinematic language,” she says. For example, she explains, in VR you can’t cut-away from the action — the whole story has to flow together without switching perspectives — and need to find ways to guide the viewer to look where you want them to, since it will be possible to look around at a whole virtual world.
The first film Baobab plans to release is called “Invasion.”
Facebook’s Oculus team has a division called Oculus Story Studio which plans to create a series of short animated virtual reality films. It doesn’t plan to make money from the films, but instead use them to inspire other filmmakers like Fan and her team.
Watch the trailer for “Invasion!” here:
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.