'Madagascar' Director Eric Darnell’s Virtual Reality Studio Raises $6M

Invasion! VR Teaser Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Baobab

Invasion! VR Teaser Still - H 2015

Baobab Studios — a startup virtual reality studio co-founded by Madagascar films director Eric Darnell — announced it has received $6 million in a Series A funding round led by Comcast Ventures with participation from HTC and Samsung Ventures.

Media investors Advancit Capital, Chernin Group and Freelands Ventures also joined, along with Zynga co-founder Mark Pincus and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.

The Redwood City, Calif., startup was formed earlier this year by Darnell, who comes from DreamWorks Animation and serves as Baobab's chief creative officer, and Maureen Fan, a prior vp of games at Zynga, who serves as CEO.

The company has additionally assembled a team of advisors including Disney animation veteran Glen Keane (The Little Mermaid); DWA co-president Mireille Soria; David Anderman, chief business officer of VR firm Jaunt; Pixar co-founder Alvy Ray Smith; PDI co-founder Glenn Entis; and Twitch co-founder and COO Kevin Lin.

Darnell plans to use his storytelling experience to create animated narrative VR shorts. He recently wrote and directed his first such project, Invasion!, in which an alien invades Earth and has to match wits with a little white bunny. "In some ways it's the language of filmmaking, but it's also vastly different," Darnell says of telling a story in a 360-degree environment where the viewer has control over where to look. "It's defining a new language."

A VR sneak peak at Invasion! was recently released on the Samsung Milk VR content portal for Samsung Gear VR head sets, and plans are to make the full short available in early 2016. Baobab plans to support all VR systems with content, including headsets from HTC and Oculus, both scheduled for availability in early 2016.

In addition to content creation, the company is developing rendering and pipeline technology to assist in production.