Major animation figures continue to dip their toes into the emerging virtual reality animation field. This week a new company announced its launch — Baobab Studios — headlined by CG veteran Eric Darnell, co-director of the Madagascar film franchise and Antz, and Maureen Fan, who served as v-p of games at Farmville maker Zynga. Darnell will serve as chief creative officer; Fan is CEO.
Baobab boasts an impressive board of advisors that includes Disney animation legend Glen Keane, Pixar co-founder Alvy Ray Smith, PDI co-founder Glenn Entis, Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin, and DreamWorks Animation co-president Mireille Soria. The company’s chief scientist, Michael Hutchinson, is another DreamWorks veteran. Most recently he was the technical lead for all character technology at DreamWorks where he designed and built the studio’s character rigging Apollo/Premo platform.
Below is the trailer for Baobab’s first project, Invasion!, which will be available on Samsung’s Milk VR service in early-2016. You can also play around with the interactive trailer here.
The company is launching at an opportune time when it can take advantage of tech money being funneled into the development of cinematic virtual reality. It has received $6 million in Series A funding from investors that include Comcast Ventures, HTC, Samsung, Advancit Capital, Chernin Group, and Freelands Ventures. That amount is a drop in the bucket compared to the $65 million that VR tech startup Jaunt raised from Disney and the Chinese government, the difference being that Jaunt is focused on hardware and delivery solutions, whereas Baobab’s primary emphasis is on content creation.
For now, Baobab Studios plans to follow in the footsteps of Oculus Story Studio and other virtual-reality animation shops by producing shorts that are ten minutes and under. They plan to be platform-agnostic, creating shorts that can be experienced on as many VR devices possible, including the forthcoming headsets from Oculus and HTC.
Fan told Venture Beat that she doesn’t know how they will monetize their films yet and are more focused on creating compelling content that audiences will want to watch. “We know that people will buy headsets if there is good content to watch,” she said. “We plan on creating compelling experiences that will draw audiences into VR. We’ve raised money specifically to create these compelling experiences.”