Walt Disney Animation Studio is set to debut its first VR short film, Cycles, this August in Vancouver, the Association for Computing Machinery announced today. The plan is for it to be a headliner at the ACM’s computer graphics conference (SIGGRAPH), joining other forms of VR, AR and MR entertainment in the conference’s designated Immersive Pavilion.
This film is a first for both Disney and its director, Jeff Gipson, who joined the animation team in 2013 to work as a lighting artist on films like Frozen, Zootopia and Moana. The objective of this film, Gipson said in the statement released by ACM, is to inspire a deep emotional connection with the story.
“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,” said Gipson.
Cycles centers around the meaning of creating a home and focuses on the ups and downs of a family as they create a life in theirs.
“Every house has a story unique to the people, the characters who live there,” says Gipson. “We wanted to create a story in this single place and be able to have the viewer witness life happening around them.”
While VR is a perfect candidate for this kind of emotionally driven story, the process of bringing an idea like this to life is no simple task. Apart from the technical feats involved (the short took about four months with 50 collaborators), even the notion of storyboarding is new when designing films like these. When working on Cycles, the team used both Quill VR animations and motion capture to bring their idea into a 3D space.
While this film is Disney’s first foray into VR films, it is terrain that its subsidiary Pixar Animation Studios explored this past winter in a VR trailer for the award-winning film Coco. And, according to a statement Pixar studio executives gave The Washington Post in December, it’s an area the studio would like to explore further through possible VR spin-offs.
Films like Cycles are far from mainstream, but as influential companies like Disney and Pixar continue to experiment in this space, the distant future of widespread VR cinema may be finally approaching.