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Henry, a 10-minute animated virtual reality narrative experience, debuted Tuesday for Facebook’s Oculus Rift VR head sets — and signals another step in the company’s march toward a Rift release to the consumer market in early 2016.
Created by Oculus Story Studio, the experience takes place in a 360-degree environment where viewers follow Henry, a sweet but shy hedgehog who likes to hug — which unfortunately scares away potential friends due to his spikes. It’s the second VR experience to be completed by Oculus Story Studio, which is developing original VR content while aiming to inspire filmmakers to create additional experiences.
Telling a story in a 360-degree world is proving an exciting creative challenge for those who are jumping on board early. “Can you make a character emote in VR? How does it feel? Those questions were at the core of Henry,” said its director, Ramiro Lopes Dau, a former Pixar animator.
“Henry is a glimpse of what the future holds,” said Saschka Unseld, creative director at Oculus Story Studio (perhaps most known in Hollywood as the director of Pixar short The Blue Umbrella). “Henry has these moments of joy and sadness, and his vulnerability stays with you. He’s more than real, he feels like our friend. With VR there’s no longer a separation between me and the story. That’s the magical thing about what VR is to me.”
At Oculus’ studio, Unseld was an executive producer on Henry, directed the studio’s first short, Lost, and is currently directing Dear Angelika, a VR experience created with graphic novelist Jillian Tamaki.
Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Oculus founder Palmer Luckey said the studio’s aim is to “create content that other filmmakers are not making” — demonstrating the potential of the format. Henry and other VR experiences created by the studio (as well as company-created games) will be available for free to consumers who purchase the Rift.
A quantifiable audience that has VR headsets, along with a steady flow of content, will be needed to get VR off the ground. On the latter, Oculus has already launched a VR content site, where users can access Oculus content for free as well as purchase content from third-party developers. All in, Luckey said he hopes perhaps 10 to 20 pieces of content will be available for the Rift at launch.
“We need a regular flow of content, that’s probably our biggest focus right now,” Oculus COO Laird Malamed told THR. “We have our content teams working on narratives, games and Oculus Cinema, an app that allows you to view content in the virtual space [as if you are seated in a theater].” Live broadcasting to headsets is another use being explored.
Malamed acknowledged that Oculus is also talking with filmmakers — who work both in live action and animation — about creating VR content, though declined to name them at this stage.
Facebook acquired startup Oculus for $2 billion in 2014. With additional companies such as Samsung and Sony entering the market for VR head sets, a November 2014 report by Sophic Capital projects that VR could become a $7 billion market by 2018.
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