August 28, 2018 / 6:30 PM / 23 days ago

Oprah, John Legend voice 'Madagascar' director's VR passion project

VENICE, Italy (Reuters) - It’s been around for decades, but, unlike regular 3D, virtual reality (VR) has yet to make a big impact in the movie industry, something a maker of Hollywood animations believes can change - if the films are good enough.

Eric Darnell, who co-wrote and directed the “Madagascar” movies, showed his own VR film at the Venice Film Festival this week, “Crow: The Legend”, in which the viewer is immersed in the story of a mythical bird that has to fly to the sun to bring back warmth to the Earth.

With a voice cast that includes Oprah Winfrey, John Legend and “Crazy Rich Asians” star Constance Wu, “Crow” is hardly an amateur affair, but Darnell’s Baobab Studios will be giving the movie away rather than selling it, as a way to generate interest in the medium.

“I don’t expect it’s going to be today or six months even,” he said of when VR might go mainstream.

“The technology has to get better, headsets have to get cheaper, the content has to get better and that’s at least as important as anything else,” Darnell told Reuters.

FILE PHOTO: Cast member Oprah Winfrey poses at the premiere of "A Wrinkle in Time" in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 26, 2018. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

“It’s a chicken and an egg thing. You can make all the great headsets you can but if there’s not great content ... what’s the point?”

Darnell said he was attracted to VR after becoming “a little bit stale” making regular animation.

“When I put a VR headset on, it just blew me away and it reminded me of the first time I saw computer animation back in the early 80s ... (That) launched a whole career for me and so when I put that headset on it reminded me of what I felt like back then.”

In “Crow”, based on a native American legend, the viewer wears a VR helmet and hand-controllers to join the bird on its adventure, using the hands to send waves of virtual energy to help it on its way.

“I think the way we are really going to get there is by putting the viewer inside the story,” Darnell said.

“Not just playing a story for them, putting them inside the story so that other characters recognise that the viewer is there and that it means something to them, that you are in their world.”

FILE PHOTO: John Legend performs during a national day of action called "Keep Families Together" to protest the Trump administration's 'Zero Tolerance' policy in Los Angeles, California, U.S. June 30, 2018. REUTERS/Monica Almeida

The Venice Film Festival runs from Aug. 29 to Sept 8.

Writing by Robin Pomeroy/Mark Heinrich

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