Redwood City, California-based virtual reality animation startup Baobab Studios is on cloud nine. Its recently made its second film Asteroids!, a follow-up to Invasion! that was not so long ago premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival has been lapped up. In the film, the viewer takes on the role of a helper robot alongside the popular alien duo Mac and Cheez from the first short.
Just last July, the studio launched its first short film Invasion! as a VR experiment. Created by Darnell and narrated by Ethan Hawke, the six-minute all-ages film lets the viewer (via VR headset) enter the story as an adorable white bunny character that along with a fluffy rabbit friend, must outsmart a group of bumbling alien invaders bent on taking over Earth.
Co-founder former Zynga games VP Maureen Fan said, “When you look down, you see a furry bunny body. When you squat, your bunny body gets fatter; and when you hop around the room, your body moves with you wherever you go.”
“The other characters respond based on where you are. This was our first test of interactivity, and people thought the bunny was real. They would try to pet and play with it on the ground. We’re the first to actually make the viewer into a character in a non-game VR experience,” he added.
To the surprise of the company, the film became a hit in the festival circuit and earned critical acclaim at Tribeca Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival and Cannes.
Invasion! is currently available for HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, Google’s mobile VR ecosystem Daydream and other VR platforms.
On the heels of its success, Baobab was able to raise US$25 million in series B funding from investors including 20th Century Fox, Hong Kong-based Horizons Ventures, Evolution Media Partners, Shanghai Media Group and Youku Global Media Fund.
The round brought the company’s total funding to US$31 million with Comcast Ventures, HTC, Samsung, Advancit Capital, The Chernin Group, Freelands Ventures, Zynga co-founder Mark Pincus, and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel already on board.
Co-founded in 2015 by former Zynga games VP Maureen Fan, ex-DreamWorks Animation writer/director Eric Darnell and former Pixar technical director Larry Cutler , Baobab is now on to take a leap with Roth Kirschenbaum Films, headed by Maleficent producer Joe Roth and former Universal production exec Jeffrey Kirschenbaum about to sign a deal with it for a big-sc
reen non-VR feature version of the short.