Making movies in virtual reality is easy. Making good animated movies in virtual reality is hard. There's no "mise en sc?ne" to play with, and the even the basic 180-degree rule is washed away with a head turn. The limitations of a cinema screen make storytelling easier, linear, comfortable. Penrose Studios doesn't care much for comfort, it seems. The same studio that gave us the haunting Allumette and infantile captivation of The Rose and I is back at the Tribeca Film Festival this year with its third VR story -- Arden's Wake -- and it promises to be bigger, more detailed and more technically improbable than anything we've seen from the studio seen so far.
Little did I know when I watched a preview of Arden's Wake recently at Penrose's San Francisco HQ that the world of virtual reality was about to shift. This week, Facebook revealed Spaces, an app that melds hanging out with real friends with the synthetic worlds of VR. While Zuckerberg's frivolous virtual selfies might be getting the headlines, Penrose has quietly been using VR collaboration almost every day for the past 18 months. CEO Eugene Chung explained to me that Arden's Wake likely wouldn't have been possible, not at this level of visual fidelity and sophistication, without it.
Collaborating inside the actual virtual world they were creating itself was so crucial that Penrose developed its own in-house tool for the job: Maestro. Imagine a VR Slack with moonlike faces for avatars, and chunky articulated hands. Maestro allows everyone involved on a project, creatives and engineers alike, to step out of their separate professional worlds, into the same virtual one. "We're cooking food in the kitchen because we're hungry," Chung tells me, explaining that in absence of any existing tools for the job, Penrose was basically forced to create its own. "I don't think we could have done any of the Penrose sequences without Maestro," he says.