VR content creator Baobab Studios has created a 2D-animated version of its VR short “Crow: The Legend,” which has been playing as a VR experience at various festivals around the world this year. It’s currently playing at the Venice Film Festival.
The project is inspired by a Native American tale about the origin of the crow, who was once the most beautiful creature in the forest. He must sacrifice everything he believes matters in order to make the world a better place.
Part one of the VR version premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, but the full 22-minute experience is now playing at Venice. It boasts a star-studded voice cast, including John Legend (who also executive produces), Oprah Winfrey, “Crazy Rich Asians” star Constance Wu, Tye Sheridan, Diego Luna and Liza Koshy as well as Native American actors and activists Sarah Eagle Heart and Randy Edmonds.
The Native American themes are very important to Darnell and fellow Baobab co-founder Maureen Fan, and those themes are their biggest reason for wanting to tell the story in multiple mediums.
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“We’re passionate about ‘Crow’ because of its cultural importance and universal themes of community, self-sacrifice, and the interconnectedness of all humans,” Fan explains. “That’s why our talent and Native Americans in Philanthropy, Randy and Sarah wanted to be a part of our indie project. They feel these themes are important to share with the world. We’re excited to release this indie production in both 2D and VR so audiences can experience this story holistically: across a spectrum of possibilities now available within the animation world.”
The VR experience of “Crow” will be released to consumers later this year, while the 2D version will be released either at the end of this year or the beginning of 2019.
This story was one that Baobab wanted to do from the first moment the VR studio came to be about three years ago, but the founders realized the story was too complicated to start with. “When we started the company, Eric came up with about 11 or so story ideas within a month. ‘Crow’ was one of them, and was actually the piece we loved the most, but it had a lot of characters and sets,” Fan says. “We decided to do a VR piece right up front to see if we even knew how to create VR.”
Instead they started with “Invasion!,” about a pair of bumbling aliens that encounter two bunnies who complicate their takeover of Earth. It won a 2017 Daytime Emmy. They followed that up with a sequel, “Asteroids!” After that, they were pretty confident in their VR abilities and felt ready to start on “Crow” last spring. They started with what Darnell calls a preliminary prologue. “It was kind of a proof of concept for us,” he says. “It was a brand new style, very illustrative, and not something we’d done before. We created the piece in just a few weeks so we could take it out into the world. And it confirmed to us that we were on the right track.”
Baobab worked on the VR and 2D films simultaneously, and that took some adjusting. “Of course, what works in VR may not work in film and vice-versa,” Darnell explains. For the 2D film, ”what we did was go in and reset the camera like you would if it was a film. New camera angles were selected to best tell the story in a cinematic way. Sometimes that meant we had to redo animation so that it played to camera.”
Overall, though, doing them at the same time was an advantage. “You can tweak your production process so you’re being most efficient for both mediums at the same time,” Darnell explains. “It would have been a more difficult process to do one and then the other. By doing both simultaneously, we could leverage off the production pipeline for both processes. It was a lot more efficient and better creatively because everything’s moving forward at the same time. You’re making decisions you’re confident will be good for both formats.”
The VR version of “Crow” clocks in at 22 minutes, making it “by far the most ambitious thing we’ve ever done,” Darnell says. “It was a real challenge for us and a great deal of work, but everyone was passionate about both mediums and about the story.”
Adds Fan: “We are really excited to bring this story to new generations and new audiences. We want to make sure as many people as possible can be exposed to it. We hope audiences will see both and experience it in different ways.