VR Narrative Poem ‘Namoo’ Stole Our Hearts At This Year’s Sundance

Baobab Studios and Erick Oh team up to send audiences on a heartbreaking journey filled with love and loss.

We were really looking forward to the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Not only because the entire event was being conducted remotely via its own custom-built virtual platform, but because the Emmy award-winning Baobab Studios, a long-time purveyor of AAA VR animations such as Baba Yaga, Asteroids!, Bonfire, and Crow the Legend, would be in attendance with its latest project Namoo (“tree” in Korean).

Directed by award-winning filmmaker/artist Erick Oh (PIG: The Dam Keeper Poems), Namoo can best be described as a one-of-a-kind narrative poem told through the lens of an animated VR film. The entirety of the experience takes place atop a grassy knoll accompanied by a lone tree. Here you’ll watch an entire lifetime of events take place right before your eyes, from the innocence of childhood to the harsh realities of adulthood. I’ve used this term to describe other projects in the past, but Namoo truly is an “emotional rollercoaster” in every sense of the phrase.

Brought to life using Oculus’ VR animation tool Quill, the powerful immersive short was inspired by the death of Erick Oh’s grandfather. The story follows the life of a man, from his birth to his death, and all the defining moments in between. As a child, our protagonist discovers a love of art which eventually blossoms into a full-blown passion. In adulthood, he falls for a woman before experiencing the crippling feelings of loss. As the character grows, so too does the tree, which absorbs the remaining artifacts of his past self as he progresses from one phase of his life to the next. This includes his pain, regret, and anguish. After a lifetime of experiences, our protagonist sits back to reflect on his time in a captivating finale that leaves you feeling strangely at one with the universe.

We had a chance to speak with Erick Oh about Namoo and the inspirations that led to its creation.

I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve cried a few times in VR. That being said Namoo had me in the fetal position by the end credits. Where did the inspiration come for this incredibly moving project?

“It is inspired by the loss of my grandfather. But that happened actually a long, long time ago; almost longer than ten years ago. But back then, of course, when you lose somebody you love, you really get to think a lot about the meaning of life and where you’re from and where you are going and all sorts of stuff like that. But one interesting thing was after he was gone, I was able to feel his presence in a much deeper way.”

Chatting with Baobab and Eric from the Sundance virtual platform. // Image Credit: Baobab Studios

“He’s still a guiding star to me. So that’s when the whole core idea of Namoo came together for me. But for a long period of time, I felt like I didn’t have the courage or wisdom to really put this together in an art form. I was probably waiting for the right medium. Is it a painting or is it a narrative short film or what? I’ve been kind of patiently waiting until I got to learn more about VR and that’s when everything started clicking.”

After having experimented with VR storytelling, how do you see immersive technology playing a role in the future of filmmaking?

“I’m just one of those artists who’s fascinated and excited about what VR can do. In my opinion, VR itself is an incredible medium. So I think it’s going to keep inspiring artists to tell their own story. And then there’s the cinema. I think the cinema and VR will just coexist. And I think the cinema will be inspired by VR too.”

“I’m going back to traditional filmmaking, but my perspective has changed because of my experience working on Namoo, which is much more immersive. [VR] really takes full advantage of the experience part of storytelling. It’s going to inspire me to think outside the box, you know? So I think VR will keep aspiring filmmakers in many various ways.”

Image Credit: Baobab Studios

Is there anything else you’d like audiences to know about the project?

“I’ve been asked a couple of times at the end of the day: “What are you trying to say through this piece?” And I say it’s really about the embracement. Life is full of ups and downs; there are beautiful things and there are scary things. It’s really full of everything. That’s what our life is.”

“But at the end of the day, you will face your own tree. Even though it may not look pretty, that’s who you are. So I’m just telling everybody that it’s OK. I think that’s the message of Namoo and I really hope the viewers and audience who get to experience Namoo take that with them.”

At the end of the day, Namoo ended up being one of our favorite experiences to come out of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Whether it be the captivating art style or tear-jerking story, Baobab and Erick Oh’s heart-breaking VR animation is an absolute masterclass in immersive storytelling.

Namoo will be available to the public later this year on Oculus Quest/Quest 2 headsets.

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Feature Image Credit: Baobab Studios

About the Scout

Kyle Melnick

Kyle is a writer for VRScout also working in new media production. He's also a part-time bounty hunter.

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