Meet the Studio Turning 'The Little Prince' into a VR Experience

Penrose Studios is channeling the history of cinematic storytelling into augmented and virtual reality experiences.
March 22, 2016, 8:35pm
All images courtesy Penrose Studios

Eugene Chung has a soft spot for authors without a pulse. It was his love for the history of storytelling through cinema and theater that made him curious about the next great art forms to come. “I suspected that I would never see a new art form develop in my lifetime, because it takes a long time for things to change. And then I found VR,” Chung shares while at the Game Developers Conference.

The worlds that Chung's Penrose Studios created for The Rose and I, a new short animation based on The Little Prince, puts the viewer in outer space, experiencing themselves larger-than-life and looking through the universe.

While immersed in the film, viewers can maneuver through the virtual world and wander to different planets. The main plot encourages to explore underneath, over, and inside a celestial body. The universe has almost no correlation to reality, allowing the brain to relax, despite being manipulated by technology. Saturn's rings clank together as you float by, and it feels completely natural.

Allumette, which will premiere at Tribeca this April, is similarly interactive. One scene encourages viewers to stick their heads inside a flying boat and explore a room below the deck. To tell the story, Penrose Studios created a fantastical vision of a Venice in the clouds. “We see ourselves not only as storytellers, but also as VR world builders,” Chung shares on his blog.

“It’s an exciting new space that we are just beginning to explore," he explains. "Our team is filled with people who have decades of experience and who are at the top of their craft. The biggest danger is almost that people might have too much talent in cinema, leaving people potentially blinded to things that might or might not work. We are trying to paint a picture while we're inventing the paintbrush at the same time. And increasingly we are crafting Penrose's virtual worlds and stories using Penrose's proprietary tools. Even though it seems a cliché at this point, we have to remember every day that this is a new language and a new art form.”

On the Penrose blog, Chung discusses the process of creating and developing through a certain willingness to make mistakes. “Our animators showed early, rough ‘blocking’ animation which had a jagged, stop motion look, unlike traditional finalized animation which is more fluid and smooth. We were surprised at how this changed the perception of our work, as it placed the characters in a miniature, hand-crafted, stop-motion world. We’ve dreamed about this sort of thing as children, with little toys, but they’ve never come alive and moved the way our characters move in VR. Seeing a character move in stepped animation—being able to look all around a character moving in a completely novel way—is quite literally something new to the human experience, and was a stylistic evolution for our film.”

"Presence and storytelling are in conflict,” Chung explains. “The term ‘Presence’ in virtual reality can be broken down into several technical specifications–field of view greater than 110 degrees, resolution higher than 1080p, frame rate higher than 75 fps, motion-to-photon latency below 20 milliseconds, pixel persistence below 2 milliseconds, among many others. But it can also be captured in a simple phrase: the unmistakable feeling of being someplace else. A high quality VR experience (of which there aren’t many that exist today) has the potential to deliver Presence. However, this poses a challenge for VR storytellers—a challenge that can be captured in another simple phrase: Presence and Storytelling are in conflict with each other... We are creating brand new worlds. It's a challenge and a thrill."

Click here to visit Penrose Studios' website.


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