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Disney Animation’s First VR Film, ‘Cycles,’ Set to Premiere

Walt Disney Animation Studios will debut its first virtual-reality short film next month, marking a new experiment by a major studio to use the power of VR to enhance storytelling.

The short film, “Cycles,” is directed by Disney Animation lighting artist Jeff Gipson, marking his VR directorial debut. It centers around the true meaning of creating a home, inspired by Gipson’s childhood spending time with his grandparents in their home and then later helping them move to an assisted-living residence.

The film will premiere at the SIGGRAPH 2018 conference, Aug. 12-16 in Vancouver. It will be hosted at the confab’s Immersive Pavilion, a new space for this year’s conference dedicated to VR, augmented reality, and mixed reality.

“We wanted to create a story in this single place and be able to have the viewer witness life happening around them,” Gipson said in a statement. “It is an emotionally driven film, expressing the real ups and downs, the happy and sad moments in life.”

Gipson joined Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2013 and has worked as a lighting artist on Disney films including “Frozen,” “Zootopia” and “Moana.”

“VR is an amazing technology and a lot of times the technology is what is really celebrated,” Gipson said. “We hope more and more people begin to see the emotional weight of VR films, and with ‘Cycles’ in particular, we hope they will feel the emotions we aimed to convey with our story.”

Disney Animation’s production team completed “Cycles” in four months in conjunction with about 50 collaborators. Instead of traditional storyboarding, Gipson and his team instead used a mix of Quill VR painting techniques and motion capture as a means of pre-visualization for the film, incorporating painters and artists to generate sculptures or 3D models of characters early on and draw scenes for the VR space.

While “Cycles” represents Disney’s first VR film, the Mouse House has been plenty active in different areas of VR, AR and mixed reality.

Last fall, Disney’s Pixar released its first VR experience with “Coco VR” for Oculus Rift, combining social elements. Lucasfilm has worked with location-based VR startup The Void to launch a Star Wars VR experience in multiple locations, including Orlando and Las Vegas.

In addition, Disney Research launched a project to turn natural language scripts into VR pre-visualizations. Also, Lucasfilm’s ILMxLAB R&D unit has been working with mixed-reality startup Magic Leap to develop Star Wars content for Magic Leap’s forthcoming headset.

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