Four virtual reality (VR) veterans from Discovery Digital, Oculus Story Studio and Lightshed officially launched their new company out of stealth mode in San Francisco this week. Dubbed Tomorrow Never Knows, the new studio aims to use virtual and augmented reality as well as other emerging technologies including artificial intelligence for groundbreaking storytelling projects, said co-founder and CEO Nathan Brown in an interview with Variety this week.
“The thesis behind the company is to consistently violate the limits of storytelling, forcing the creation of new tools, methodologies and workflow and to do this intentionally so we create original creative and technology IP,” he said.
Before founding Tomorrow Never Knows, Brown co-founded Discovery VR, which has become one of the most ambitious network-backed VR outlets. Also hailing from Discovery VR is Tomorrow Never Knows co-founder Tom Lofthouse. They are joined by Gabo Arora, whose previous work as the founder of both Lightshed and the United Nations’ Virtual Reality program UNVR included VR documentaries like “Clouds Over Sidra” and “Waves of Grace.” Fourth founding partner is Oculus Story Studio co-founder Sachka Unseld, the director of the Emmy Award-winning VR animation short “Henry” and the Emmy-nominated VR film “Dear Angelica.”
With their new company, the four now want to combine Unseld’s and Arora’s story-telling chops with the experience in programming and deal-making that Brown and Lofthouse are bringing to the table. “Deal-making and monetization takes a lot of creativity as well,” Brown said.
That’s especially true for a new medium that was initially received with a lot of enthusiasm, but has struggled to reach a wider audience beyond a small group of early adopters. “The (headset) market is growing not as fast as we hoped,” admitted Brown. However, he argued that over-confident projections had made way to what he called “irrational pessimism.”
Unseld said that the company was approaching these challenges clear-eyed, especially with regards to the commercial potential for headsets bought by early adopters. “Right now, monetization for that is naive,” he said. Out-of home on the other hand was a completely different story, he said. “Location-based VR is huge.”
That’s a sentiment that’s currently echoed by many, whether it’s VR game studios like Survios or immersive location-based entertainment startups like The Void. In Tomorrow Never Knows’ case, location-based entertainment also includes working with cultural institutions, festivals and more.
Case in point: “The Day the World Changed,” one of the studio’s first two announced productions, premieres at Tribeca this week. The interactive experience shines a light on nuclear weapons and the aftermath of the attack on Hiroshima, and was produced in partnership with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
In addition to “The Day the World Changed,” the company has also produced “ZIKR: A Sufi Revival,” a VR documentary about Sufism that was acquired by Dogwoof at Sundance earlier this year.
Tomorrow Never Knows also aims to build tools to simplify the production of VR. “We are about creating unique tools and experiences along the way,” Brown said. Unseld added that this was very much an answer to the infancy of the industry itself, which often relies on tools build with other uses cases in mind. “Otherwise, our hands are bound behind our back,” he said.
As for the name, Unseld said that Tomorrow Never Knows is meant to express a childlike sense of excitement about the future. “These days it feels like each new day gives us new technology to play with, and not since I was a kid was I as excited to wake up in the morning to find out what new presents this day would hold,” he said.