"Penrose Studio's mission is to define the next generation of human storytelling. We’re based in San Francisco and made up of veterans from Oculus, DreamWorks, Pixar, and increasingly, from the gaming world.
We're set on creating new types of art and art forms – and we couldn't be more excited about where virtual, augmented and mixed reality is taking us."
–Eugene Chung, Founder & CEO
VR IS OPERATIC AND HERE’S WHY
I've always had a fascination with technology and media. I was always into computers, coding, and hacking since I was very young. On the flip side, creative endeavors were equally important and I was in the theater and the arts as well. My left brain/right brain duality probably comes from my parents: my mother is an accountant, and my father is an Opera singer.
When I was growing up in the suburbs of Virginia, there weren't a lot of people who 'did' Opera. Neighborhood kids played video games, watched television or went to the cinema, but nobody went to the Opera. This was fascinating to me because my father came and went at all hours to catch planes and travel the world to sing it. At some point, I started digging into its history and realized that Opera was indeed an undeniably significant art form.
"My left brain/right brain duality probably comes from my parents: my mother is an accountant, and my father is an Opera singer."
In the 1800s, Opera had the best stories, the best characters, the best music. But decades later, the first video camera emerged, and the very first films that laid the foundation for a new industry were created. And then that was the next art form that dominated for more than a century, so much so that if I were to ask you name a major movie company, you'd say, Disney, Fox, or Warner Brothers. But if I were to ask you to name a major Opera or stage play production company off the top of your head from the 1800s, that's a pretty tough question to answer, right?
If we go back in time, we realize that those were the companies that had the biggest stars, the biggest production budgets, the biggest names. Now, of course, 100 years later, it's hard to remember who they were, but we do remember contemporaneous companies like Paramount Pictures, which was founded over 100 years ago because they were on the vanguard of this medium.
"I honestly believed that I wouldn’t live to see the birth of the next art form...[But] that changed when I came across a company called Oculus..."
I honestly believed that I wouldn't live to see the birth of the next art form because we've had thousands of years of stage plays, hundreds of years of Opera, and about 120 years of cinema. But a few years ago, that changed when I came across a company called Oculus, makers of VR hardware.
FINDING OCULUS, FOUNDING STORY STUDIO
Oculus and VR hardware changes the nature of the entire industry and what I thought it could be. I immediately realized that virtual, augmented, or what some people called mixed reality, was the foundation of the next media art form.
Coming from more of a film background, I immediately wanted to lay the groundwork for a storytelling campaign when I saw this new hardware. I got recruited into Oculus as Head of Film and Media, at a time when a lot of people there were from the gaming world. I was fortunate to have the opportunity, and I realized that we had to create content to inspire and educate consumers. I co-created something that we called Oculus Story Studio, and we started making films.
"About two years ago, I co-founded Penrose, and we've created several VR stories to date, including, The Rose and I, Allumette, and now, Arden's Wake."
Oculus Story Studio eventually got acquired by Facebook, and that changed the nature of the whole industry. I think that catalyzed a new way of thinking about how this art form is going to emerge, and it took what I thought would be a lot more time for development and condensed that to a much shorter period.
About two years ago, I co-founded Penrose, and we've created several VR stories to date, including, "The Rose and I" "Allumette," and now, "Arden's Wake."
"ARDEN'S WAKE" AND THE HUMAN STORY
"Arden's Wake" is a virtual reality story. We debuted the prologue at the Tribeca Film Festival just a few months ago. It's a coming of age story about a young woman losing her family, her search for her lost father, and her journey into unchartered waters to discover more of who she is.
As with our other stories at Penrose, "Arden's Wake" is an authentic, human story, one that will ring true to the audience. That's an important factor for us, and though we're still working on "Arden's Wake," we're certainly very happy with the early feedback and reviews it has received.
"It's about taking the best of film, the best of theater and the best of games, and all the rules that apply, and crafting a brand new language of how to craft stories."
As I said, we want to define the next generation of human storytelling at Penrose. We think storytelling means different things for different mediums. In a novel, you would tell a story differently than you would in an epic poem, even though those are two things that are written. You have to modify what you're doing, what you're creating, based on the art form. That's kind of how we think about virtual and augmented reality. They are two separate art forms that related but different.
I think VR/AR/MR, whatever we decide to call it, will blend. People today seem to have this dichotomy between VR games, VR stories or movies, but I think there's a spectrum. It's about taking the best of film, the best of theater and the best of games, and all the rules that apply, and crafting a new language of how to craft stories. That is the way we perceive this thing.
"We use both 3ds Max and Maya here...it's helpful to have these familiar tools to guide us through the fog of this dawning era."
GUIDED BY MAX AND MAYA
Being part of this journey is thrilling. It’s a privilege to build for this space, to build the technology, the stories, and the content.
We use both 3ds Max and Maya here. My team has used them for years, and a lot of them have spent their careers with these incredible tools that Autodesk has built. In a world where there are few standards, it's helpful to have these familiar tools to guide us through of this dawning era.
Maestro is our own network review tool that allows us to review things directly inside of virtual reality. Since the beginning of Penrose, it's been about taking world-class technologists and engineers and pairing them with world-class creatives and making things happen. There are no standard technologies, and so we've had to invent a whole bunch of stuff on our own and be creative. That instant feedback loop between creative and the engineering team has been helpful in that respect.
"...we've been building for augmented reality since day one. There's a reason why our company's name isn't Penrose VR, right?"
You know, we're excited about augmented reality. There hasn't been a whole lot of consumer products yet released, but there are many exciting things on the horizon and we're looking forward to those developments. Again, I think virtual reality and augmented reality are related but are different, and we've been building for augmented reality since day one. There's a reason why our company's name is not Penrose VR, right?
We're ready to go and move in that direction, and I'll say that virtual reality is in many ways an excellent staging ground for augmented reality, and it's a huge learning area for that, so we're excited about that.
"I think it's invigorating to see this art form develop on a day to day basis."
VR MOVES FAST
Yeah, I think the industry is moving crazy fast. There is so much happening all the time, so much being developed, and we need to stay on top of all of it. But our mission at Penrose has remained the same since we started. How we go about things can shift somewhat day by day but as we learn, as we progress, things become more solidified. I think it's invigorating to see this art form develop on a day to day basis.
Everyone is tackling this new medium from different angles and in different ways. No one knows how it's going to emerge, but we all have high hopes.
LEARNING, GROWTH, AND INCREDIBLE POSSIBILITIES
Look, the reality is that most people in the world have not tried VR and AR, or even know about it, and if they do, they don't own the devices. But as more and more people give it a try, given how immersive these experiences are, the more they'll drive others to go out and give it a try, too. I'm excited about that. Super excited.
I try new things in VR and AR every day, and I am wowed by what we can do. I'm thrilled by the things people are doing to advance the medium.
One of the most incredible things about working in this industry has always been that we learn and grow with every project. It's always been a guiding North Star of mine to do things that give you the ability to learn and grow, to give your team the ability to learn and grow, and I think the growing and learning potential of this new art form that is VR, AR, MR is incredible. It's one of the most fulfilling parts of being in this space, doing what we're doing. It's always about being open to the possibilities.
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