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‘Jojo Rabbit’s’ Archie Yates on Voicing Lead Character in Venice-Bound Animated VR Short ‘Paper Birds’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Archie Yates in animated VR short
Yates photo: Chris Keenan; Paper Birds still courtesy of 3DAR

“Jojo Rabbit” breakout and “Home Alone” reboot star Archie Yates is voicing the lead role in the animated VR film “Paper Birds,” which will premiere at the Venice Film Festival. Award-winning VR shop Baobab Studios has come on board the project to produce along with Facebook’s Oculus and Latin American animation studio 3DAR.

“Paper Birds,” directed by 3DAR CEO and co-founder German Heller and art director Federico Carlini, tells the story of a young musician named Toto (Yates) whose music attracts a following of mysterious paper birds that help him unlock a portal between the physical world and a dark world invisible to the naked eye. Toto plays a bandoneon, with music performed by renowned Argentine tango bandoneon player Juan Jose Mosalini. Filmmakers crafted the entire universe to feel like each detail has been handmade by artisans. It will be presented in two installments, with the first part available through Oculus later this year.

“I connect with my character Toto, though we have different music tastes. And we are both quite mature for our age,” Yates says. “Playing a boy who knows that music is his passion in life yet still longs to find his place in the world is equal parts challenging and exciting for me as an actor.”

This is Yates’ first experience working on a VR project and he was impressed with 3DAR’s work.

“I just personally love the idea of virtual reality and I didn’t even know telling stories inside of [VR] was something you could do,” he says. “The design of ‘Paper Birds’ is incredible. It’s just so cool; I am over the moon.”

Baobab was drawn to the uniqueness of the project, according to chief creative officer and co-founder Eric Darnell (“Ants,” the “Madagascar” films).

“We are always looking for original stories and emerging storytellers who are passionate about pushing the VR medium in new ways,” he says. “We were not only immediately impressed by the unique visual approach by German and Federico, but, most importantly, their commitment to collaborate on story.”

“We’re beyond excited to welcome the irrepressible talent of Archie Yates to ‘Paper Birds’ and to be a part of the auspicious directorial debut of German and Federico,” said Kane Lee, Baobab’s head of content. “The talented team at 3DAR shares a can-do mindset and deep creative spark that we’re thrilled to get behind because, like us, it comes from a place of passion for animation.”

“3DAR’s alliance with Baobab is very exciting and their great level of experience enormously boosts the potential of ‘Paper Birds,’” co-director Heller says. “Not only through amazing creative and production input, but they bring a fresh point of view to expand what we believe we can do with the project. I think they’re the perfect partner for a world and characters as rich as in ‘Paper Birds.’”

3DAR, based in Argentina, is one of Latin America’s top animation studios. Its originals include “Uncanny Valley,” “Shave It” and “Gloomy Eyes.” 3DAR is also behind the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation’s “Earth” music video, starring Lil Dicky and featuring Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande and more than 30 other artists.

Baobab, which earlier this year won an Annie Award for best VR production for its interactive VR short “Bonfire,” is also presenting its latest animated VR production, “Baba Yaga,” at Venice. “Baba Yaga,” starring Daisy Ridley, is centered around the idea of courage. The viewer plays a villager who enters the forest with their sister (voiced by Ridley) to seek help from the enigmatic witch Baba Yaga to save their ailing mother.

Baobab, co-founded by Darnell with chief executive officer Maureen Fan and chief technical officer Larry Cutler in 2015, has won numerous awards, including six Emmys, for its interactive content. In addition to “Baba Yaga” and “Bonfire,” the interactive narrative animation studio has created “Invasion!,” “Asteroids!,” “Jack” and “Crow: The Legend,” which featured the voices of John Legend, Oprah Winfrey and Diego Luna.