River Studios Hires YouTube and Hollywood Insiders for L.A. Virtual Reality Studio (EXCLUSIVE)

River Studios
Courtesy of River Studios

San Francisco-based virtual reality (VR) startup River Studios is expanding to Los Angeles with some key hires to run VR productions and work with both Hollywood and YouTube and social media talent. River Studios Los Angeles is being led by its new executive director Jonah Loop, and members of his team have previously done work for Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks, YouTube, Maker Studios and Jaunt.

“Los Angeles is the center of the world for storytelling and content creation,” said River founder and CEO Mike Rothenberg in an interview with Variety this week. Loop, who previously did visual effects work for movies like “Collateral” and “Bad Country,” agreed: “For rapid production, L.A. really is the place to be.”

River Studios was spun out of Rothenberg Ventures last May. The VR-focused venture capital company has been doing some early stage investments in virtual reality startups like Wevr, Jaunt, AltspaceVR and FOVE for some time and was experimenting with an accelerator program for virtual reality companies. Through that work, Rothenberg frequently got contacted by partners looking to produce VR content, which led to the founding of River Studios.

The studio has since worked with NBC Universal, Coldplay, the Denver Broncos and the Sacramento Kings. Recently, it made headlines with producing a virtual reality experience for Icelandic pop icon Bjork. Loop said that the studio has been focusing on music and sports: “Those two spaces have such engaged, vivid fan bases.”

Loop is joined in Los Angeles by YouTube personality Sam Macaroni, who more recently also produced some VR content for Jaunt, and now is joining River Studios as head of production. “My goal is to blow people’s minds,” Macaroni said, explaining that he’s fascinated in virtual reality in part because of the ability to be a pioneer in a new medium. “I feel like we are a bunch of Charlie Chaplins,” he said.

River executive director Andy Stack also comes from the world of YouTube videos, albeit with a slightly different perspective. Stack used to be the head of creator technology at YouTube Space Los Angeles, where he also oversaw YouTube’s first 360-degree video productions. “My mind was blown at the interactive possibilities” of virtual reality, Stack told Variety.

Also part of the River Studios Los Angeles team are RYOT’s former director of digital content Stash Slionski and Brinton Bryan, who has been working as assistant director with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood and Richard Linklater.

The Los Angeles team is working closely with River’s San Francisco-based animation director Ewan Johnson, who previously worked at Pixar and Dreamworks on movies like “Finding Nemo,” “Monster’s Inc.” and “Penguins of Madagascar.” Together, they’re looking to produce both animated and live-action content, with several new projects in the works to be released later this summer.