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EXCLUSIVE: Eric Darnell on the making of VR film “Invasion!”

EXCLUSIVE: Eric Darnell on the making of VR film “Invasion!”

With Baobab Studios‘ “Invasion!” making waves at Tribeca Film Festival, VR Film Pro caught up with Eric Darnell, the film’s director (and chief creative officer at Baobab Studios), to talk about the making of the animated VR short.

VR Film Pro: How did Invasion! come about? Where did the initial idea spring from?

Eric Darnell: I had seen the original “War of the Worlds” movie and it got me thinking about what a bunch of bumblers those “advanced” aliens were. All that tech and they never thought about microbes… or bunnies.

VR Film Pro: When did initial work start on the project?

Eric Darnell: Last December. It took about four months to complete.

VR Film Pro: What technology and software did you use to produce the animation?

Eric Darnell: We used Maya for creating assets and animation, Unreal for real-time rendering, and our own technology as a “secret sauce.”

VR Film Pro: What were the main challenges you faced making the film? How did you overcome them?

Eric Darnell: Technically, we had to invent some of our own VR authoring tools. There’s not much you can get off the shelf right now. Baobab is “platform agnostic.” In other words, we want to be on as many headsets as we can. This means modifying our work, sometimes in dramatic ways, to allow it to play on many devices.

Creatively, VR and film (my background) are two very different mediums. Unlike when watching a movie, the VR audience can look where they want to look and pay attention to whatever they want. But good storytelling is often a function of pacing and timing. I may not want to pause the story while the viewer is busy watching the clouds roll by. As a VR director, sometimes I have to think like a magician and inspire the audience to look when I want them to look at something specific. The choice is always theirs to make. I just have to design things so that the viewer makes the choices I want them to make.

Eric Darnell, chief creative officer at Baobab Studios and director of "Invasion!"

Eric Darnell, chief creative officer at Baobab Studios and director of “Invasion!”

VR Film Pro: How many people worked on the project and how long did it take?

Eric Darnell: About 15 people over four months.

VR Film Pro: How do you feel about the future of VR for film and broadcast? How big will it grow?

Eric Darnell: I have no doubt that VR has a big future in countless arenas like journalism, travel, real estate, education, medicine, manufacturing and, yes, entertainment. I had my doubts when I started hearing about VR trying, yet again, to go mainstream. But once I put on a headset, my mind changed. You really have to try it to understand. The good news is that you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on fancy equipment. You can try it if you have a smartphone. And there are many headsets out there for less than $100, or even $50.

VR Film Pro: What do you see as the main obstacles facing the development of the VR film industry?

Eric Darnell: We need more good content. It is all about the content. That’s what is going to drive the sale of headsets, and that’s what will, in turn, establish robust channels of distribution and ultimately fund more content.

VR Film Pro: What plans does Baobab VR have for the rest of the year? Are there more film concepts in the works?

Eric Darnell: You bet. We are focusing on shorts right now — shorts that we hope have universal appeal. If a world or character we create really resonates with the audience, we can move quickly to do another episode in that character’s world. And by iterating quickly we can leverage off what we learn to make the next piece that much better.


Eric’s career spans 25 years as a computer animation director, screenwriter, story artist, film director, and executive producer. He was the director and screenwriter on all four films in the “Madagascar” franchise, which together have grossed more than $2.5 billion at the box-office. He was also executive producer on “The Penguins of Madagascar.” Previously, Eric directed DreamWorks Animation’s very first animated feature film, “Antz”, which features the voices of Woody Allen, Gene Hackman, Christopher Walken, and Sharon Stone. Eric earned an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Colorado and a master’s degree in experimental animation from The California Institute of the Arts.

Invasion! is being shown at Tribeca Film Festival as part of the Virtual Reality Arcade which can be found at the Festival Hub at Spring Studios at 50 Varick Street, Manhattan.

If you don’t have your virtual reality goggles handy, check out Invasion! in 360-degree video on YouTube

About The Author


The Editor is a technology journalist with 15 years experience of covering telecoms and media.

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