As of today, Eugene Chung has spent three straight years doing nothing but creating VR content. His company, Penrose Studios, is a team of engineers and creatives who work together for the sole purpose of building worlds and crafting narrative experiences in VR. As the son of an accountant and an opera singer, he says he was born to use his left and right brain. That belief manifested itself in his professional career, where he spent time at Pixar, as a VC, and finally leading film & media at Oculus where he launched the Oculus Story Studio at Sundance exactly one year ago today.
In March of 2014, he decided to part ways with Oculus and start Penrose. That’s Penrose, as in Sir Roger Penrose, author of The Road to Reality and creator of the Penrose steps. That team now has five cinematic VR experiences under their belts, two of which we were lucky enough to see in Park City yesterday: The Rose and I and Allummette. As an aside, something worth mentioning about Chung is his fascination with classic French cinema and literature. He loves to fire off obscure references to both. That fascination shows itself in the works he shared with us.
The Rose and I
The Rose and I is an adaptation of a French novella called Le Petit Prince, or The Little Prince, one of the last works of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It was created in May of 2014, but you probably haven’t seen it do to the fact that it has only been available to a small group of DK2 users.
It is a short VR narrative set in outer space. Both massive and adorably miniature at the same time. You’re in the middle of a vast solar system with planets swirling all around you. But you’re focused on a planet the size of a cantaloupe directly in front of your face. Moving around it with room-scale positional tracking and examining its place in the Universe. This is where a little story about a tiny prince unfolds. I won’t spoil it for you, partly because it’s impossible to get across the magic of the experience, but luckily, Penrose has just released a version called Rosebud for the Gear VR.
The second experience the Penrose team took us through was an early preview for a new trailer launching today. It’s called Allumette, which is French for matchstick. The trailer itself is one of the longest narrative VR pieces I’ve experienced. Again, with full positional tracking, I started off in a brand new miniature world to explore. In Allumette, the setting begins with a little cloud city inspired by Venice and a very catchy original score.
As you explore the city, a young girl takes a seat at the corner of the “set,” which is a little stoop floating at the end of a bridge right below your nose. She pops open an old suitcase using quirky movements reminiscent of stop motion and gracefully pulls out three glowing matchsticks. Throughout the story you are free to look at each scene at any angle, at one point even sticking your head inside a little wooden boat to watch spinning gears steer the ship slowly past you and into the clouds.
The whole thing is complete magic and I can’t wait to see the full experience. The full version of Alumette will release some time in 2016 and will be over 20 minutes in length. As for the trailer, I don’t really know how long I was in there. It’s an easy place to get lost.
The Penrose team thinks of themselves not just as storytellers, but world builders. Worlds that are fun to explore on their own. The experiences are built in virtual reality using native creation tools, which shows in their attention to detail. As I made my way through them, I thought back to Oculus Connect and the lessons the Story Studio shared from the making of Lost. A calming pace. Origins in beautiful worlds with time to settle in. Freedom to explore. Simple and mesmerizing characters and stories.
When I asked Eugene Chung how he was able to achieve that same magic with his new team, he had this to say:
We get incredibly talented film makers, people who have made things for decades, and we say to them you know nothing now. You have to become a child again. Don’t think that you know all the rules because the reality is we’re often most blinded by the things that we think we know.
Sage advice as we all work together to build these new worlds.