UPDATED: Oculus Story Studio, the award-winning studio behind virtual reality (VR) short films like “Dear Angelica” and “Henry,” is being shut down, Facebook announced Thursday afternoon. The studio’s 50 staffers are encouraged to apply for new jobs within Oculus, but all ongoing projects of the studio are being cancelled.
“We’ve been looking at the best way to allocate our resources to create an impact on the ecosystem,” said Oculus VP of Content Jason Rubin in a blog post. “After careful consideration, we’ve decided to shift our focus away from internal content creation to support more external production. As part of that shift, we’ll be winding down Story Studio.”
Oculus officially unveiled Story Studio to the world in early 2015, when it also premiered “Lost” as the studio’s first narrative piece. In 2016, Story Studio followed up with “Henry” an animated VR short about a lovable hedgehog that won an Emmy for Outstanding Original Interactive Program later that year.
And earlier this year, Oculus Story Studio premiered its most ambitious project with “Dear Angelica,” a VR film that was animated entirely within VR itself and that featured Geena Davis voicing one of the two main characters.
All three films will continue to be available on the Oculus Store, Rubin said Thursday. For “Dear Angelica,” the Story Studio team also developed an entire authoring tool called Quill that allows animators to draw 3-D scenes while wearing a headset and that has been available for free on the Oculus Store. Quill could be open sourced, according to a spokesperson, but Oculus is not going to provide any active support for it anymore.
That could be bad news for animators looking to explore new forms of storytelling in VR; the Story Studio team had in recent months been looking to venture into 3-D comics, and debuted a collection of VR comics at the Tribeca Film Festival last month. At the time, it announced that these comics would be released on the Oculus Store later this year, but that seems less certain now.
Also likely cancelled is the latest cinematic VR project of the studio, a virtual reality adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s children’s book “The Wolves in the Walls,” which was expected to be released next year.
Rubin emphasized Thursday that Facebook isn’t giving up on narrative storytelling in VR. The company pledged top invest another $250 million in VR content produced by outside partners at its Oculus Connect developer conference last year, and Rubin said Thursday that narrative storytelling is a big part of that commitment.
“We’re going to carve out $50 million from that financial commitment to exclusively fund non-gaming, experiential VR content,” Rubin said. “This money will go directly to artists to help jumpstart the most innovative and groundbreaking VR ideas.”
The closure of Oculus Story Studio is just the latest of a number of significant changes at Facebook’s virtual reality unit in recent months. Facebook spent $2 billion on Oculus in early 2014, and initially granted the company a lot of autonomy. But more recently, Facebook has been moving to exercise greater control over Oculus, which included the demotion of former Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe and the hire of former Google and Xiaomi exec Hugo Barra to lead all of Facebook’s VR efforts.