Virtual reality video is still finding its footing, but some of the most high-profile work has been Pixar-style animated efforts — particularly Oculus Story Studio's short film Henry. Now, another company is putting itself forward as a contender: Baobab Studios, co-founded by former Zynga VP of games Maureen Fan and Antz and Madagascar co-director Eric Darnell. Baobab released a teaser for its first film Invasion! on Samsung's Milk VR video service, and it's now announced $6 million in funding led by Comcast Ventures.
Invasion!, which is set to premiere early next year, will be an animated short. Most VR films top out at around 10 minutes, and Baobab isn't planning to deviate from this formula. "From a technology viewpoint, tech changes so quickly that by the time we could finish a full length film, the tech would be obsolete," says Fan. "From an audience perspective, you may not want to put that headset on your head for long periods of time." Fan says there's a "full slate" of VR films on the table that will appear on as many platforms as possible, not just the Gear VR. The company is also working with HTC, which manufactures the Vive VR headset and participated in the funding round, to distribute its work.
"Tech changes so quickly that by the time we could finish a full length film, the tech would be obsolete."
Besides Oculus Story Studio, there are already a handful of well-known VR film companies, including award-winning studio Vrse and Felix & Paul, which signed a partnership with Oculus earlier this year. Baobab's $6 million in funding is far from the only money flowing into VR. Virtual reality camera and filmmaking company Jaunt raised $65 million in September, and live streaming app NextVR got $30 million in a round that also included Comcast Ventures.
A great deal of VR film has been tie-ins with other franchises, so shorts like Invasion! are a step towards creating a medium that's not simply promotions for more traditional formats. The catch is that there's also no clear way to make money from this, at least so far. Fan says that since Baobab doesn't know which platforms it will distribute on yet, it also doesn't know how they'll be monetized. "We know that people will buy headsets if there is good content to watch. We plan on creating compelling experiences that will draw audiences into VR," she says. "We've raised money specifically to create these compelling experiences."
Disclosure: Comcast Ventures is also an investor in The Verge's parent company Vox Media.