In late 2015, Comcast Ventures invested in virtual reality animation company, Baobab Studios, that created VR short Invasion! about menacing aliens that come to take over the Earth. We sat down with CEO Maureen Fan and Chief Creative Officer Eric Darnell to understand more about the company, the impetus behind its creation and advice they’d give other entrepreneurs. The duo has an impressive background in gaming and animation. Maureen served as VP of Games at Zynga, where she managed several studios including the FarmVille sequels and Eric Darnell is a 20-year veteran of Dreamworks PDI as well as the Director of movies such as "Madagascar" and "Antz".
1. What was the catalyst behind Baobab Studios?
MF: Live action film is still constrained by reality. Animation is only limited by what is in the director's head. With animation, creators make imaginary worlds feel vividly real in a way that audiences feel they can reach out and touch the world. That's basically the definition of VR. We can actually make that world real and put you inside it.
2. What’s item one on your agenda right now?
MF: Create an environment where creatives are inspired to do the thing they do best -- make magic. From that will come VR films that enchant audiences with worlds they could never have imagined, and characters they fall in love with.
3. What advice would you give to fellow startups/entrepreneurs?
MF: Get a co-founder. Start-ups are difficult beasts - you're going against everything society tells you to care about - fortune, power, etc. You do it, hopefully, because you love it. Having a co-founder to share that journey makes it much less difficult and more enjoyable
4. What do you do when you’re not at your day job?
ED: After years of working on projects that take years to complete, I learned to use my downtime to do things I can finish in a day or less. So I might bake some bread, teach myself a new song on the guitar, go for a bike ride or polish off a nice bottle of wine with friends -- or, preferably, all of the above.
Then at night, when I'm falling asleep, or in the morning, when I'm waking up, I let my work gently creep back into my head. Those zen-like moments between wakefulness and dreams are when I have some of my best ideas.
5. What differentiates Baobab Studios from the competition?
ED: I'm so proud of our team -- a catalytic blend of experts in design, animation, engineering, storytelling and business. Folks who are among the top in the world at what they do.
6. What has surprised you the most about the virtual reality space?
ED: Honestly, what surprised me most about VR was the first time I put on a headset. It's difficult for me to describe a VR experience to anyone, but as soon as I put on that headset I felt that a medium of almost limitless potential had just been revealed to me.
For more on cinematic VR animation, visit Baobab Studios.