As virtual reality steadily moves closer to mainstream reality, one of the biggest outstanding questions is content: how popular can VR devices get if there’s nothing to watch or play, and where will the content come from if nobody has devices? Today VR company Jaunt is announcing a new initiative to help answer that question, and a trio of Lucasfilm veterans are jumping on board to bring its plans to fruition.
The newly announced Jaunt Studios is a Los Angeles-based wing of the company that will be dedicated solely to developing and producing live-action VR experiences. It’s similar to what Oculus announced earlier this year with Oculus Story Studio: an in-house creative initiative, designed to both bolster the production of VR experiences from existing artists, but also to interact with the broader Hollywood creative community to bring new filmmakers into the fold.
"The final missing piece of the puzzle is the content."
"We spent the past two years focusing entirely on building out the technology necessary to do content creation in VR," Jaunt CEO Jens Christensen tells me during a recent phone briefing. "And the final missing piece of the puzzle is the content piece. And the technology is now so far along that it really makes sense to apply it, to really scale up VR content production."
In this case, that technology is Jaunt’s own 360-degree camera system as well as a matching suite of software tools. It’s allowed the company to create projects like the Paul McCartney "Live and Let Die" performance piece, the horror short Black Mass, and the monster movie throwback Kaiju Fury. Jaunt also serves as a one-stop shop that can handle the distribution side, putting out its projects through Oculus, iOS, and Android apps.
Heading up the Jaunt Studios initiative will be Cliff Plumer, the former CEO of visual effects company Digital Domain, who also spent time at Industrial Light & Magic and Lucasfilm. Two other Lucasfilm alum are joining Jaunt’s ranks as well: the company’s former COO David Anderman is stepping in as Jaunt’s chief business officer, while Miles Perkins is now Jaunt’s VP of marketing communications.
"We want to tap into some of the best storytellers."
While there’s been a rapid influx of VR content over the past couple of years, even the standout pieces have been hampered by the simple fact that the medium itself is brand new, with no defined stylistic grammar in place. It’s led to a situation where even the best pieces can sometimes just feel like a tech demo. "We’re seeing a lot of VR experiences of taking spherical cameras and sticking them in amazing places, but there’s a lot of opportunity to bring more storytelling even to that," Plumer explains. "So we want to tap into some of the best storytellers, which obviously are predominantly in Hollywood."
Jaunt has been racking up content partnerships in recent months, announcing a deal with Revolt to create music-oriented experiences and another with Conde Nast for a serialized VR show. The latter concept — telling stories in short chunks over a period of time — is one way in which Jaunt plans to get over the comfortability problems that arise when using today’s VR devices for long periods of time.
"We’ll start off with short-form content, but we also want to take advantage of doing episodic content," Plumer says. "So we can tell stories over a longer period of time, but in different episodes. And then as the [devices] improve, we see the length of those experiences getting longer."
1,000 new VR experiences over the next 18 months
Plumer says Jaunt will be announcing several new creative partnerships in the months ahead, with the first Jaunt Studios projects slated to arrive sometime this summer. He and his team will certainly need to move swiftly if they plan on hitting the milestones they’ve set internally. "We have goals of producing a thousand pieces of content in the next 12 to 18 months," he says. "We’re already into it. The countdown has started."