Virtual Reality producers Baobab Studios have announced that “Star Wars” actor Daisy Ridley will headline the company’s next VR project, “Baba Yaga,” presenting a Work in Progress panel at this year’s online Annecy Intl. Animation Film Festival.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the spectacle of a ‘Star Wars’ film and not to think about the talent of the actors,” director Eric Darnell told Variety, discussing the pleasure of working with Ridley. “It’s even more remarkable when you know that she is standing in front of a greenscreen in a sound studio. For us, to have the opportunity to work with her was huge. Certainly, she is a big name, but for me, it’s always great when you work with wonderful actors.”
“Often actors earlier in their careers can be quite insecure,” he went on. “Daisy, on the other hand, is centered and confident, and is a collaborator.”
He explained that when early visuals were first shared with Ridley using audio she’d previously recorded, the actor pushed to re-record, insisting she could do better once she had a visual context to work with.
“That dedication to her craft was remarkable,” Darnell gushed. “And I don’t often see that in younger actors. As a director, to have a true collaborator rather than someone I’m trying to get a performance out of, well it was effortless with her.”
“Baobab is at the very forefront of VR and interactive animation, so it’s been exciting to work with Eric and the team to bring such a beautiful story to life,” Ridley said in a statement. “I love playing Magda, because she is brave, vulnerable and fiercely protective of her family all at the same time. The idea that the viewer will be able to genuinely interact with my character in this magical world and help steer the course of the narrative is so amazing,” said Ridley.
In “Baba Yaga,” the viewer is the main character of a dark and mystic fairytale in which their choices impact the ending of the story. Users will follow their 10-year-old sister Magda, voiced by Ridley, as the two girls search a magical forest for a plant that can cure their mother’s sickness, but must be wary of the witch who lives there, Baba Yaga.
Technologically, “Baba Yaga” is another step forward for the young company, now in its fifth year of creating VR works which often translate to a traditional 2D format as well. The company’s last production to get the two-medium treatment, “Crow: The Legend,” was nominated for six daytime Emmys, winning four, and featured a superstar cast including John Legend, Diego Luna, Constance Wu and Oprah Winfrey.
“With ‘Invasion,’ our first piece, there were no hand controllers and all you could do was look around. It took from then to now for us to learn and for the technology to be there to really interact with the other characters,” producer and Baobab CEO Maureen Fan told Variety ahead of the Annecy presentation.
According to Darnell, advances in technology since then “allow us to tell stories where the viewer is inside the narrative, where they feel that they truly matter, and the choices they make are truly meaningful.”
That’s especially important in a rapidly changing and not so well-defined medium like VR, which is still carving out its place among other narrative storytelling formats.
“Eric explained it to me this way years ago,” Fan explained. “You see a little girl alone crying on a park bench and she’s clearly too young to be alone. If it’s in a film you feel bad for her, but you aren’t going to get out of your seat to try and help her, you know it’s not real. In a game you talk to her, but because you have a goal and you’re motivated by what you want to accomplish. In real life though, you would talk to her because you genuinely care about her, are worried about her and want to help her.”
According to Fan, the vision for Baobab is to create experiences that have the empathy of film with the agency of games, but motivated by the real life emotions of a viewer who cares about the characters and the story, not because they are trying to win something.