VR Animation Company Penrose Studios Raises $10m in Seed Funding Round

Penrose Studios, the award-winning team behind virtual reality (VR) animations like Allumette and Arden’s Wake has announced the closure of a new funding round, securing the company $10 million.


Led by TransLink Capital, the Series A round included a number of new and returning investors such as entrepreneur and SalesForce founder and CEO Marc Benioff, Grammy-award winning artist and VR creator will.i.am, Korea Telecom and Co-Made. Returning investors include Sway Ventures, 8VC, and Suffolk Equity.

“In what is still an early form of storytelling and entertainment, the Penrose team has cracked the formula to create VR stories and experiences everyone can enjoy,” said Jay Eum, co-founder and managing director at TransLink Capital. “The company’s unique technology paired with the beauty of its work speak for themselves. We’re proud to work with the team and Penrose leadership to bring more VR entertainment to audiences around the world, especially in Asia.”

Penrose Studios most recent project is Arden’s Wakewhich includes two installments, The Prologue and Tide’s Fall. Arden’s Wake: The Prologue premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in 2017 with Tide’s Fall, premiering at at the same festival in April and features Academy Award-winning actress Alicia Vikander and world-renowned actor Richard Armitage.

“VR continues to be a breakthrough form of entertainment for all ages,” said Eugene Chung, Penrose Studios founder and CEO. “As we participate in taking this new form of storytelling to the next level, we’re proud to work with a great group of partners and investors to help us get there and continue to stand out and keep our momentum within the industry.”

Penrose Studios will use the funding round capital to continue its work in VR and augmented reality (AR), whilst continuing to grow and innovate in the sector. VRFocus will continue its coverage of Penrose Studios, reporting back with details of Arden’s Wake: Tide’s Fall public launch when it happens.

Nicholas Cage VR Experience, The Gallery & Space Pirate Trainer Among Cinequest Film & VR Award Winners

If you haven’t already gathered from the dramatic upswing in posts on VRFocus about it, virtual reality (VR) is definitely finding a home in amongst the independent film festivals. Last night might have seen the results from this year’s Academy Awards (aka The Oscars), but this weekend also saw the results from another award ceremony settled. Not in Tinseltown but care of Silicon Valley based organisation Cinequest. They’re midway through this year’s event which runs until Sunday March 11th, but they have already passed judgement on the most recent edition of the Cinequest Film & VR Festival’s awards for the medium of immersive entertainment.

As you might surmise from that it isn’t just films, documentaries and so forth that are celebrated as part of the awards. But all manner of creative media that uses virtual reality (VR) technology as well as the people involved in it. Some familiar names cropped up this year in the twenty award categories that recognised “achievement in storytelling, technical artistry and immersive design”.

A full list of winners has now been published and you can read these below:

Best VR Film, Feature
Speed Kills VR Experience
Starring Maverick Spirit Award recipient John Travolta and Katheryn Winnick, speedboat racing champion and multimillionaire Ben Aronoff (Travolta) leads a double life that lands him in trouble with both the law and drug lords. Directed by Travis Cloyd. Produced by Travis Cloyd, Guy Griffithe, Richard Del Castro and TopDogVR.

Best VR Sci-Fi
The Humanity Bureau VRevolution
Starring Nicolas Cage, this dystopian thriller set in the near future sees the world facing serious environmental problems as the result of global warming. The standalone episodic virtual reality series released on March 2nd, followed by the theatrical film release of the sci-fi action-thriller, The Humanity Bureau on April 6th. The Humanity Bureau VRevolution was directed by Rob W. King and Josh Courtney. Produced by Travis Cloyd. Josh Courtney, Kevin DeWalt and Rob Bryanton. Written by Dave Schultz and Travis Cloyd.  The experience is a Mind’s Eye Entertainment Presentation. Distributed by OneTouchVR.

The Humanity Bureau / Nicolas CageBest Cinematography
Boxes (Directed by Matt Naylor)
James is tasked with clearing out the last boxes from his childhood home after his father’s death, but memories are recalled in painful vignettes in this empowering story.

Best Documentary
Revoked (Directed by Stevo Chang)
In an American future, when the President revokes the green card of Iranian-born Jane Manesh, she must flee to Canada with the help of her childhood friend.

Best Social Activism
Behind the Fence (Directed by Lindsay Branham & Jonathan Olinger)
The Rohingya Muslims must survive a Government led campaign to eliminate them.

Best Educational VR
Meeting Rembrandt: Master of Reality (Directed by Bridget Erdmann & Ingejan Ligthart Schenk)
What if you had the chance to meet the famous 17th century master painter? Get close up and personal as he changes history forever with his controversial painting, the Night Watch in this immersive experience.

Best Short VR Film
Best Storytelling
La Camila (Directed by Jak Wilmot)
When the storms of nature threaten her very existence, a young shepherd girl, Camila, struggles to fill her papa’s shoes and create new clouds for the dying world below.

Best Action VR
Space Pirate Trainer (Directed by Dirk Van Welden, I-Illusions)
Hone your offensive and defensive battle skills with awesome space age weaponry against an ever-increasing barrage of killer fighting drones.

Best Episodic VR Game
The Gallery – Episode 2: Heart of the Emberstone
After receiving your Gauntlet, you must travel to a long-forgotten world where the past holds many secrets and reveal the true intentions of the dark figure in the Starseed.

The Gallery Heart of the Emberstone screenshot 4

Best Music Video
Apex (Directed by John Albert, Wevr)
A surreal, apocalyptic vision set to an original score from artist and musician Arjan van Meerten.

Best Animation VR
Best Production Design / Art Direction
Allumette (Directed by Eugene Chung, Penrose Studios)
Allumette tells a story about love, sacrifice and a deep bond between a young girl and her mother in a fantastical city in the clouds.

Best Sports VR
To the Top (Directed by Richard Matey, Electric Hat VR)
A platforming game that gives you the freedom to move across the environment’s obstacles with superhuman abilities.

Best VR Experience
Best Sound Design
FORM (Directed by Richard Matey, Electric Hat VR)
FORM is a puzzle adventure, mixing classic gameplay inspired by Myst and The Room, with surreal and spectacular visuals akin to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Best VR Game
Karnage Chronicles (Directed by Thorbjoern Olsen, Nordic Trolls)
A high fantasy RPG where you play a Murkwraith on a mission to defeat enemies of the lands and restore order to shape your future.

Best VR Interactive
Manifest 99 (Directed by Bohdon Sayre, Adam Volker, Flight School Studio)
Journey into the afterlife aboard a mysterious train inhabited by a murder of crows in this ominous and eerie experience.

Manifest99 header

Most Innovative VR
Gary the Gull (Directed by Tom Sanocki, Limitless Entertainment Ltd.)
Developed by veterans from Pixar, Gary the Gull is VR Animated Interactive short film that puts you in the story. Respond to Gary’s questions by nodding, shaking your head, talking, and see how your decisions affect the story’s telling.

VR Visionary Award
Travis Cloyd
Fusing his expertise in both film and VR, Cloyd has served as cinematic VR producer for four feature films. Working with world-renowned talent like Nicolas Cage, John Travolta and Wesley Snipes, Cloyd continually bridges the gap between Hollywood and immersive storytelling, a connector and conduit between the fields of film and tech.

VRFocus will be bringing you more updates throughout the year as immersive technology continues to help creativity flourish.

6 VR Apps That Use Parenthood To Make A Powerful Impact

6 VR Apps That Use Parenthood To Make A Powerful Impact

This list was originally meant to simply encompass some of the most emotional VR experiences we’d had to date. We came up with a list of affectionate, memorable pieces that left us with more to think about than many of today’s VR games.

Once the list was assembled, though, we noticed something interesting; parenthood was a key theme in each of these experiences.

Perhaps that’s because VR, even in its primitive current state, is a chance to virtually reconnect with those we’ve lost, or tell them stories and help them relate in ways that gaming couldn’t have done before. We haven’t seen a VR masterpiece yet, but through their sobering focus on fears and occasional celebrations of the bond between child and parent, these are some of the most memorable experiences around.

Dear Angelica, from Oculus Story Studios

Oculus Story Studios’ latest app is its most memorable and potent yet, lovingly crafted in the virtual realm with all the same beauty you can achieve in the physical one. Created using the company’s now-released Quill app, it tells the story of a young girl remembering her mother, evoking a broad palette of emotions from within you as it unfolds. Dear Angelica is the right mix of whimsical imagery and heart-breaking tragedy that makes it unmissable for Rift owners.

Allumette, from Penrose Studios

Another visually striking piece that focuses on a parental relationship, Penrose Studios’ Allumette uses its airy setting of floating islands and flying ships to create a breathless tale that at times feels light and fluffy but also deals with some tough themes. Loss and sacrifice should never be taken lightly, but the fact that Allumette’s take on both hits so hard with so little running time is significant.

That Dragon, Cancer: I’m Sorry Guys, It’s Not Good, from Numinous Games

I’m sure you recognize That Dragon, Cancer. The 2016 PC game told developers Ryan and Amy Green’s unflinching story of their son’s battle with terminal cancer with astonishing bravery and commitment. It wasn’t made for VR, but the pair later brought one of its most biting and memorable scenes to Gear VR last year.  I’m Sorry Guys is a candid, frank few minutes showing many parent’s worst nightmare, and bringing it to VR only adds to the dreaded weight that sinks in as the scene unfolds.

Ctrl, from Breaking Fourth

Ctrl was one of the first VR experiences to address some truly dark themes, and showed a genuine desire to push the boundaries of subject matter for the medium. It follows a young boy, imprisoned in an impossible situation, trying to do what he believes is best for his mother using the one skill he can depend on: gaming. We watch from inside an online championship while the real world he can’t control falls apart around him. Ctrl is a hard watch that leaves an impression that few other VR experiences can claim to make.

Pearl, from Google Spotlight Stories

Google’s best Spotlight Story has all the charm and love of an animated Pixar short packed into a VR headset. We watch, through both tears and laughter, a father raise his daughter as if we were passengers just passing by. Fitting, then, that the entire experience unfolds inside the pair’s beaten but beloved car, which anchors their relationship just as much as their love of music. Pearl has moments both young and old will relate to, which is probably why it is VR’s first Oscar-nominated short.

Assent, from Oscar Raby

You might know Oscar Raby for his work on the BBC’s Easter Rising VR documentary, but his first VR piece is a powerful visualisation of a harrowing scene that came to define his father, a member of the Chilean military regime. Assent, to Raby, is an opportunity; a chance to capture the moments of peace his father could have taken in moments before he witnessed nightmarish horrors. Its balance of bliss and shock is a rare concoction for today’s current VR climate.

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Breaking The Silence: How The VR Industry Mirrors The Early Days of The Silent Film Era

Breaking The Silence: How The VR Industry Mirrors The Early Days of The Silent Film Era

In December of 1895, Georges Méliès, a Parisian stage magician, became obsessed with a new technology. The cinematograph, a device for capturing and projecting moving images, fired his imagination, but its creators, the Lumières, refused to sell him one. So Méliès spent a year designing and building his own camera. He taught himself to develop and print film. He constructed a studio, assembled a production team, and recruited actors. Together they produced over 500 short films, full of creativity and spectacle. They also discovered dozens of new cinematic techniques in the process. Film, they came to realize, was more than “stage plays projected on a wall.” It was a whole new medium, with new constraints and new abilities.

Today’s VR storytellers find themselves in the same challenging position as Méliès. Like film before it, VR is a new medium, demanding new techniques for conveying time compression, simultaneous action, locomotion, scene transition, and more. Much as the early pioneers of film did, early storytellers in VR must work within tight technical constraints, and must frequently construct their own tools in the process.

Creating Inside The Box

The modern cinematic toolkit is full of tricks and techniques which seem obvious in retrospect. Each represents a battle won by some early filmmaker, struggling against the limitations of the medium. Cuts, cross-cuts, and dissolves appeared quickly, introduced by Robert Paul and James Williamson in film’s first few years. Discovery of other techniques took a decade or more. Tracking shots, popularized by Giovanni Pastrone in Cabiria, first appeared in 1912. Clarence Badger pioneered the use of zoom shots in 1927’s It, the film which made Clara Bow the “It Girl,” but the technique wouldn’t find mainstream use until 1960s French New Wave.

VR storytelling, still in its infancy, lives within the constraints of its limited toolkit. Lost and Henry, the first VR shorts from Oculus Story Studio, each play out in a single scene, in a single location, in real-time. These are restrictions Méliès and his contemporaries would have found entirely familiar.

While film can make use of close-ups, pans and zooms to direct a viewer’s attention, VR has little access to these techniques. Forced camera motion can destroy VR’s fragile sense of presence, and also induces nausea in many viewers. VR storytellers have, so far, largely drawn from the tools of stagecraft, using light, sound, and motion direct the viewer’s gaze.

But more robust, VR-specific techniques are emerging to supplement these older methods. Colosse, directed by Nick Pittom, makes use of gaze-driven triggers to control the flow of the story. If a viewer is looking away when an important event is about to happen, that event will wait to unfold until the viewer’s gaze returns to the proper direction.  “We can also move events from where a viewer is ignoring to where the viewer is paying attention,” Pittom elaborates in an interview, “or alter the events completely.”

Read More: Why Personal Space is One of VR’s Most Powerful Storytelling Tools

Pittom’s team is experimenting with other narrative choices unavailable in film. “I often consider how, rather than directing the viewer towards events, I can direct the events around the viewer,” he says. “Maybe it’s okay to have more than one event happening at any one time and allow the viewer to decide what is important to them. As VR storytelling evolves, we’re going to be able to walk the line between interaction and storytelling.”

While much pioneering work on VR’s narrative language is being done in traditional storytelling, game designers must also tackle some of VR’s thornier editing challenges. Building off of camera work each had done previously, Gunfire Games and Oculus Studios collaborated on a new type of transition for Chronos. “The camera system utilized in Chronos breaks many of the traditional rules you would typically find in film,” says Richard Vorodi of Gunfire Games.

In film, if an actor reverses direction when exiting one shot and entering the next, the result is a jarring break in continuity. In Chronos, when a player’s avatar moves between rooms, the player’s 3rd-person perspective jumps from a camera in the first room to a camera in the next. This perspective change can reverse the relative direction of the avatar’s motion.

But in VR, unlike film, the reversal produces no ill effects. Vorodi elaborates: “We found that with interactive VR, as long as the [avatar’s] position remained the same while exiting and entering shots, we could make just about any transition that was required for compelling gameplay.”

Expanding the Palette

Early filmmakers gave up a great deal moving from stage to film: color, sound, depth, and the interplay of energy between audience and actors. But film is also capable of things which are impossible in theatrical work. Location shooting lets filmmakers make the world their stage. Close-up shots bring the audience near enough to see and appreciate nuanced performances. Cross-cutting gives filmmakers a tool to show simultaneous action in multiple locations.

And camera tricks such as double exposures, substitution cuts, and running film backwards (all staples of Méliès films) allow for effects impossible to produce on stage.

Read More: Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to VR Storytelling

VR, in turn, has capabilities that extend beyond what is possible on film. The giant robot in Lost makes jaw-dropping use of VR’s superior sense of scale. In Henry, VR’s shared space and intimacy convert what would be a slapstick fall “on screen” into a moment of sad empathy “in person.” And without a fourth-wall to break, Henry’s eye contact with the audience feels genuine.

“The early days of cinema over a century ago was an era of incredible artistic freedom and technological progress,” says Eugene Chung, Founder & CEO of Penrose Studios. “Established studio systems and conventions did not exist, and therefore, artists and technologists weren’t constrained by the need to sell to a broader audience. They were free to explore. With the emergence of VR, we’re seeing a similar pattern of artistic freedom and rapid technological progress.”

Penrose Studios has done pioneering work in not only allowing the viewer to move within the scene but compelling them to do so in order to follow the narrative. In Penrose’s first film, the 5-minute The Rose & I, the main character lives on a tiny planet suspended in front of the viewer. When the action of the story takes him to the far side of his planet, the viewer must lean or walk around it to see what happens next. The studio takes this even further in its second release, Allumette, a 20-minute animated narrative that is one of the longest VR films of its type. The film held its red carpet World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April.

“With Allumette, we wanted to craft a full, emotionally-engaging story that was longer than anything we had attempted before,” says Chung. “The first films in the 1890s were only a few seconds long, then a few years later came The Great Train Robbery at 12 minutes. Eventually, over time, creators figured out that feature length films could actually work. In VR, the sweet spot of length of time for an experience is still under question, but we’re making strides towards figuring it out.”

The Road Ahead

Most VR storytellers are aware that the medium is still in its Georges Méliès period. Eugene Chung (who also cofounded Oculus Story Studio) opened the VR Filmmaking panel at the first Oculus Connect with a screening of the Lumière Brothers’ Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat. And, perhaps knowingly, Oculus hosted Connect in a hotel interlocked with a full-scale replica of the Babylon set from D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916).

It took filmmakers a decade to master enough of their craft to attempt the first feature length film (Charles Tait’s The Story of the Kelly Gang, 1906), and it would be many years more before film would mature and achieve greatness. VR may not yet be capable of producing its own Citizen Kane, but the medium’s Lumières, Méliès, and Blachés are working tirelessly to create the tools which will one day support one. And we get to share in their joy of discovery as they each take us on their own Trip to the Moon.

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Second Viveport Developer Awards Nominations Announced and Some Frightening Deals

It’s almost time for Halloween and the virtual reality (VR) industry has been getting into the spirit of the occasion with events and spooky deals. Oculus has discounted several scary titles and HTC’s Viveport is doing the same. HTC has also announced the second wave of nominations for the Viveport Developer Awards.

Currently experiences on offer through Viveport are:

A Chair in a Room: Greenwater by Wolf & Wood Interactive – 25% off – £14.24 (£18.99)

Daylight’s End VR Edition by Groove Jones – 80% off

Emily Wants to Play by SKH Apps – 80% off – £0.70 (£3.48)

The Night The Carsons Disappeared by NostalgicBear VR – 50% off – £0.70 (£1.39)


As for the Viveport Developer Awards this second round of nominations featured:

Allumette, by Penrose Studios; Cloudlands: VR Minigolf, by Futuretown; Mars Odyssey, by Steel Wool Game and Arcade Artist, by Groove Jones. These join the first selection: Altspace VR, by Altspace VR; Pearl, by Google Spotlight Stories Soundstage, by Hard Light Labs and The Body VR, by The Body VR.

This week HTC has made several announcements, earlier today the company revealed a partnership with InterContinental Hotels Group to allow guests to demo the HTC Vive in their rooms or in special areas. And there was the unveiling of Vivepaper, which creates a range of interactions for print content, allowing users to activate of 360-degree photos and videos, 3D models, 2D content, and audio thanks to the headsets front-facing camera.

VRFocus will continue its coverage of HTC Vive and Viveport, reporting back with any further announcements.

New Oculus Rift and Gear VR Releases For The Week Of 10/09/16

New Oculus Rift and Gear VR Releases For The Week Of 10/09/16

It’s been another huge week for the Rift and Gear VR. On the heels of OC3 last week, there is a solid array of titles to pick from, but none of them quite measure up to the wonder of what is coming soon with Oculus Touch. But here are all the new releases you can download and enjoy today! Let’s dive in.

If you missed last week, you can see those new releases here. And don’t forget that UploadVR has a Steam community group, complete with a curated list of recommendations so that you don’t have to waste any money finding out what’s good in the world of VR.

We also have a top list of the best Rift games and best Gear VR games— both of which are updated every few months with the latest and greatest options.

Kangaroo Dash Demo, from Photon Forge
Price: Free (Gear)

The Kangaroo Dash Demo, as the name suggests, is all about jumping and dodging your way though multiple different levels. This game lets you “dodge cars, ride the rapids and be chased by both fish and foe – and everything is controlled by your body!”

It uses a “physically based” control system that is mostly tied to your head movement but is also an interesting diversion from the usual touchpad fare on the Gear.

Recommendation: Free is free. If you’re feeling like trying out an intriguing control system and enjoying some colorful visuals why not give this one a look?

Orange VR Experience, from Orange

Price: Available Only in France

This is a French exclusive title, and that is the first time I have ever written those words in that order. It is not an experience, but rather a distribution platform for OCS VR content.

Recommendation: If you’re French then this simple content hub may be worth the hard drive space. 

The Rabbit Hole, from VRMonkey
Price: $2.99 – Free demo available (Gear)

VR Moments: How Allumette Brought Out Our Hidden Movie Instincts

The great thing about the launch of the PlayStation VR head-mounted display (HMD) is that finally one of the more accessible forms of VR has arrived, and way more of my friends have bought one for their own personal enjoyment – and this means visiting their houses to all try it out together. And, this is the thing: it isn’t all about the videogames, which is hard to believe because it is a gaming platform primarily. One of the experiences we all could partake in was watching the seemingly sweet title of Allumette.

Allumette came off as quite a cute and artsy title that deals with soft-edged issues, where a lonely girl is stranded at night on a whimsical floating island, which is what the world of all made up of. The art was something that we all loved, as well as the style of animation. The way that we all chose to view this was one person in VR while the rest watched on the television. This might sound a bit like most of us was missing out, but the interaction it sparked was something much more enjoyable than either all sitting in headsets, or all silently watching a 2D movie. There were so many layers to Allumette that we couldn’t help but point them out, almost like we were kids again.

allumette screen 2

It also revealed something much more telling about how we choose to take in VR movies. The person wearing the HMD wasn’t paying attention to the main conversation – or series of wordless actions – between the mother and daughter, but instead was looking down to the crowd of people below. It is strange how the most subtle things in a scene can take your attention away from what you should traditionally be looking at, as none of us had a problem with the change of direction.

It seems that it was rightly so that we were paying attention to down below, as when the big climactic point happened (no spoilers, don’t worry), we were actually looking towards the area where everything was going down. This came across as another realisation – it is natural to want to look for clues as to how scenes unravel, but when watching a regular 2D film that directs your viewing experience you can’t take charge of how you understand the story. VR doesn’t spoon feed you, it is a medium that is so raw and transparent when it comes to filmmaking, that cliches are lessened for a fuller experience.

allumette screen

As the climax hit optimal point, we were all able to look around as if to say “did you just see that?” as it could have been so easy to miss out on what had just happened with the turn of a head. But, thinking about it, it would be near impossible to miss out on that as VR brings out a new kind of instinctive type of viewing – especially with this explosive (sorry) title .

Animated VR Tale ‘Allumette’ Launches Today, Aims For Your Heart Strings

Penrose Studios’ Allumette launches on Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR today. This real-time animated VR tale is beautifully crafted and aims for your heart strings, but does it hit its mark?

Alumette tells the tale of an orphaned girl who lives in a fantastical floating village. The aesthetic straddles the line between claymation and cardboard handicraft and is expertly used to set a well composed stage consisting of a little village that’s set floating in fluffy clouds. A stage indeed; while a picturesque slice of the tiny village surrounds you, directly in front there is a large flat area that Allumette makes ample use of for character performance and key moments. The scene around you functions as your viewpoint for the majority of the experience, and it’s well composed such that there’s a pretty world in your periphery, but it doesn’t distract you from the main action.


The claymation-like animation approach might look great in a still, but I don’t think the choice of ‘low-framerate’ animation (where character animations are jumpy, characteristic of claymation) was a good fit for VR; we’re now so used to smooth 90 FPS motion in these modern VR headsets that seeing the characters animate at what looks like the equivalent of 10 or 15 FPS made me feel like my computer was stuttering or even that the characters were running in slow motion.

VR Animated Series 'Sequenced' Creates Truly Reactive Storytelling in VR

Animation aside, the characters themselves—a mother and her daughter are the main focus—are well designed, staying clearly on the cartoon side of the style spectrum. Unfortunately that style comes accompanied with mumbles as the only form of communication among characters in the world of Allumette. Instead of saying real words, characters make expressive mumbles, hums, and groans to one another, so you are left with only the tone of what’s being said while needing to infer the substance. This felt a little tired, and made it more difficult for me to connect with and care about the characters, relegating them solely in the realm of little critters (reinforced by their cartoonish designs) rather than complex entities with which I could readily connect my human thoughts and emotions.

Alumette spins up a quick connection between Mother and Daughter (I’m using those as proper nouns because names are never given) whose craft is creating glowing baton-like wands that are sold to the townspeople. Mother teaches Daughter how to sell the goods, and, in a single moment, apparently teaches Daughter the meaning of kindness by giving one of the wands to a blind man to use as a cane. It all happens fast. Too fast.

In VR your perspective is actually much further out; you tower over the little characters and their world like a giant. At this scale (closer to human-sized), Allumette might have been more effective.

I have been searching for a VR experience with characters I can really connect to and care about. I had high hopes for Allumette in that regard, but I’m still left searching. That’s not a major knock against Allumette, it’s something the entire VR industry is still learning how to do effectively.

Character development is hard, but in many ways it seems that time spent observing the characters is a minimum requirement. With Allumette spanning only 20 minutes or so, it’s hard to develop the characters and still have any time left for conflict and action. But this is in opposition to the VR medium which so far has favored shorter ‘experiences’ than epic stories.

Still, you can’t expect to just shove the conflict in the viewer’s face after a few minutes of exposition; if the viewer doesn’t connect to the characters then the conflict hardly matters because there’s no reason to care about the outcome.

'Mindshow' Revealed by Visionary VR – Stage, Animate, and Record Your Own Stories in VR

Allumette is at its best when the viewer realizes at the same time as Mother that she needs to make a tough choice because it’s the right thing to do. It makes effective use of the stage around the viewer to hint at what’s coming. This moment is not sophisticated though, and while I could feel a little tug on my heart strings from what I knew had to be done, it was only a general feeling of sympathy, not a specific connection to the situation of the characters (because I was not very attached to them or their world). The ending in particular felt oddly jarring, like the dénouement had been hacked off.

If it sounds like I’m being a little hard on Allumette, it’s because it’s really good, but I want it to be great. At the excellent price of free, it’s definitely worth a watch, but I don’t think it’ll have you coming back for a second viewing any time soon.

I want a story in VR that immerses me and makes me care about the characters and makes a world so enveloping that I don’t want to leave. We aren’t there yet, but Allumette undoubtedly points us in the right direction.

The post Animated VR Tale ‘Allumette’ Launches Today, Aims For Your Heart Strings appeared first on Road to VR.

‘Allumette’ Is the Longest VR Animated Film So Far And It May Make You Cry

‘Allumette’ Is the Longest VR Animated Film So Far And It May Make You Cry

The main selling point for VR has mostly been video games. The companies behind the major headsets, such as the recently released PlayStation VR, the HTC Vive, and the Oculus Rift are all leading the charge for VR. A big part of that involves marketing their headsets as exciting new ways to play games. This is looking likely to be the best approach to convince consumers that VR isn’t just another gimmick, but rather it’s a technology that’s here to stay.

But despite this focus on games, filmmakers are also making full use of VR. Passively watching movies while sitting in your local theater or on your couch may not be the norm for much longer.

Directors and animators, like Penrose Studios’ Eugene Chung, are experimenting with the visual medium to create films that make you an active participant in their worlds. Imagine watching the latest Star Wars flick in VR, where you’re headfirst in the action, surrounded by beloved characters and colorful settings. Or perhaps you want to witness a high-octane, sand-swept chase scene in Mad Max like never before, with demented marauders screaming in your face. VR might very well be the next big step for film.

The potential is there, but it’s still a ways off. Currently, more bite-sized VR films are leading the charge, and setting a precedent for what an excellent VR movie should, and can, be. Examples such as Invasion! from Baobab and Gnomes and Goblins from Hollywood-caliber director Jon Favreau all validate that mindset.

Now, most recently, Chung’s critically acclaimed and captivating 20-minute animated feature, Allumette, is pushing that notion even further. The movie, which is about the titular girl and her adventures in a captivating floating city, is a viewing experience you won’t want to end and — if early impressions from Upload staff and other VR enthusiasts is any indication — it holds the power to even make you cry.

Telling A Story Differently

“The story behind Allumette was inspired by my own family relationships, particularly my relationship with my mother, who sacrificed a lot for us while we were growing up,” said Chung. “Those choices have stuck with me and have only become more meaningful as I’ve grown older.”

Loosely based on The Little Prince, Allumette’s story follows a mother and her daughter as they make their way to a prodigious and eccentric city made up of floating islands. The two protagonists are depicted as traveling merchants, and this strange city is littered with potential customers. The plot focuses heavily on themes of parenthood, the tenuous but strong relationship between a daughter and her mother, and the importance of passing vital lessons and stories from generation to generation. It’s a relatable, grounded, human tale that’s surrounded by majestic settings and zany characters.

The Rose and I, one of Penrose’s previous VR short films

You won’t find any spoken dialogue, and you are merely an observer. But you act as a living camera, and it’s up to you to consume this fantastical tale the way you want to. Allumette makes full use of VR headsets that support positional tracking, allowing the viewer the ability to continually move around scenes, peaking behind curtains or windows, and crouching. You can look through the exterior of an airship to see what’s happening inside. Or you can entirely ignore the ship, and miss a few scenes. It’s a living dollhouse of sorts for you to closely examine, and pulling off a film like this is quite different from making a regular movie.

“Every part of the filmmaking process has to be rethought of in VR,” said Chung. “For example, animating can be very different. Animating to a flat screen at a single angle might yield one animation, but with VR, we have to check our animation in VR constantly. Oftentimes, what something looks like on a flat screen is very different from what something looks like in VR.

“I still enjoy watching movies in the same way I still enjoy watching plays and operas. VR is a brand new art form, and the exciting thing is that we are only at the beginning of discovering its potential and possibilities. Allumette has been built from the ground up to be in VR, and therefore it has to be seen in VR to be appreciated just like a book has to be read rather than seen on film (and if it is seen on film, there are substantial modifications made to the screenplay).”

Changing Filmmaking Forever

For all of Allumette’s strengths, it’s still a stepping stone (a wonderful one at that) for something grander a few years from now. Currently, VR filmmaking is comparable to the inception of motion pictures back in the early 1800s and late 1900s. A VR movie like Allumette is basically  Georges Méliès’ 1902 groundbreaking early narrative film A Trip to the Moon.

Artists and studios like Chung and Penrose are attempting to revolutionize the movie industry the same way the Lumiere brothers introduced motion pictures with their ten groundbreaking short films in 1895 and 1896. Or perhaps how director Sergei Eisenstein introduced film editing and its emotional resonance in 1925’s Battleship Potemkin. Allumette comes at a vital point in a brand new way to tell stories. These movies are important but flawed, lacking the writing, acting, and cinematography found in later films like Citizen Kane and The Godfather.

Allumette is only 20 minutes long, which is shorter than the average television sitcom episode, but by far the longest VR film out there. For now, hitting the average 90-minute mark in a VR movie is a ways off as artists continue to play around with this technology.

“We are still at the beginning stages of this medium, and every art form has yielded different results,” said Chung. “The first films in the late 1800s were only a few seconds long. Eventually, in the early 1900s we started to approach 10-minute narratives. Eventually, we figured out that 90 minutes or so works nicely for film. But this isn’t necessarily the right length of time for other visual / audio narratives (think of operas and plays). In VR, we’re continuing the experiment and will learn how long the length of time should be as we create.”

The early stages of VR film is imperfect. Filmmakers will continually have to overcome herculean obstacles in order to create short movies, tampering with what does and doesn’t work. But that’s the beauty of trying to change an entire medium. That’s how movies like Taxi Driver, The Matrix, and Heat get realized. Imperfection and struggle often breeds excellency.

“I don’t believe in ‘perfect’ films–oftentimes, the imperfect films are the ones that stick with us, if they are imperfect in novel and interesting ways,” said Chung. “Though not always the case, novel and imperfect films helped drive forward the medium for 120 years. One critique of the modern cinema is that while we have achieved a high level of craftsmanship, the industry is now generally too formulaic to want to make imperfect films.

“This is not the case with VR. Just as it was with the early days of cinema in the late 1800s and early 1900s, VR storytelling is currently in an era of pure artistic freedom.”

As more and more VR headsets, hopefully, get adopted throughout the coming years the technology will officially go mainstream. It’ll be a part of people’s natural lives, just like radios, TV sets, PCs, and game consoles all made their way to people’s homes. With that, VR movies will have a chance at continuing to push the boundaries of film.

As Chung puts its, “The art forms of AR (augmented reality) & VR will be the next new major form of human storytelling. This does not mean that other visual / audio media will disappear, but just as the 20th century was the era of the moving picture, we believe the 21st century (and potentially beyond) will be the era of VR / AR.”

For those interested in experiencing Allumette’s emotional story — that could very well bring you to tears — you can watch it now, for free. It’s available on the PSN store for PlayStation VR, Oculus Home for the Oculus Rift, and Steam for the Rift and Vive.

Alex Gilyadov is a freelance writer with work appearing in multiple publications, such as GameSpot, VICE, Playboy, Polygon, and more. You can follow him on Twitter: @rparampampam

US PlayStation VR Demo Disc Includes 17 Games

Last week VRFocus reported on the reveal that eight titles would be included in the PlayStation VR demo disc that comes with every headset. Now it’s been revealed that that particular demo disc is for European customers as a new content line-up has been announced for US and Canadian customers.

This new demo selection ups the content available quite considerably, jumping from 8 to 17 videogames. The same 8 as the previously announced disc are included but now the content line-up looks like this.

battlezone new features

Allumette (Penrose)

Battlezone (Rebellion)

DriveClub VR (SIE WWS)

EVE: Valkyrie (CCP Games)

Gnog (KO_OP)

Harmonix Music VR (Harmonix Music Systems)

Headmaster (Frame Interactive)

Here They Lie (SIE WWS)

Job Simulator (Owlchemy Labs)

PlayStation VR Worlds (SIE WWS)

Resident Evil 7 biohazard — Kitchen Teaser (Capcom CO., LTD.)

Rez Infinite (Enhance Games)

Rigs: Mechanized Combat League (SIE WWS)

Thumper (Drool)

Tumble VR (SIE WWS)

Until Dawn: Rush of Blood (SIE WWS)

Wayward Sky (Uber Entertainment)

Within (Within)

The announcement on PlayStation.Blog does state: “The demo disc will also be available for download at PlayStation Store for free after PS VR launches.” So for customers in other territories there may still be a chance to get hold of the demo content, but there’s not guarantee at present.

Today’s been a PlayStation VR rich news day with Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan Asia (SIEJA) holding its 2016 PlayStation Press Conference prior to the Tokyo Game Show (TGS) this week. There’s been more details released on previously announced titles such as Summer Lesson, Cyber Danganronpa VR: Class Trial and Joysound VR, with a couple of new reveals like: V! What Did I do to Deserve This, My Lord? R, Headbutt Factory and Granblue Fantasy.

As TGS 2016 gets underway VRFocus will bring you all the latest VR news from the show.