Virtual reality (VR) is about to get its big screen moment: Roth Kirschenbaum Films is teaming up with Baobab Studios for a feature film adaptation of “Invasion!”, the animated VR short film that premiered at the Tribeca film festival earlier this year.
“We are very excited to collaborate with Baobab,” said Roth Kirschenbaum’s Zack Roth during a recent interview with Variety.
“Invasion!” is the story of an adorable bunny and its close encounter with aliens that doesn’t go quite as one might expect. Th VR short has been written and produced by Baobab co-founder and CCO Eric Darnel, who previously wrote and directed “Madagascar,” and features narration by Ethan Hawke. It has since become one of the most popular experiences on Samsung’s Gear VR headset and the Oculus Rift, and is expected to launch on Playstation VR, HTC Vive and Google Daydream soon.
This marks the first time a Hollywood studio got an inspiration for a traditional feature film from a VR short — and in a way, it was purely coincidental. Roth Kirschenbaum Films, which was started by former Walt Disney Studios chairman Joe Roth and former Universal Pictures co-president Jeffrey Kirschenbaum, first got a look at “Invasion!” when it met with Baobab for a VR demo.
The original idea was to simply explore the possibility of collaborating on VR content. But when the Roth Kirschenbaum team saw the bunny in action, they immediately got the sense that there was potential for a feature film.
“We are looking for cinematic universes with rich characters,” said Roth. “We look anywhere and everywhere for a story.” This time, it just happened to be inside a headset.
And while Roth Kirschenbaum is planning to turn “Invasion!” into a feature film, Baobab is continuing to work on new VR content based on the story. “Our focus is really virtual reality first,” said Baobab’s head of content Kane Lee. Work is underway to release a new “Invasion!” episode in early 2017, he said. “We are going to continue to build that universe in the VR space.”
If anything, “Invasion!” coming to the big screen proves that there is potential for original storytelling in VR. That’s counter to the common notion that VR will only succeed if it makes use of popular movie franchises. “You hear that a lot in Hollywood,” acknowledged Lee. “Our goal was not to prove that wrong.”
Still, “Ivasion!” getting the big screen treatment does prove a point, argued Lee: “VR is an amazing medium that is going to last. It is not a gimmick.”