Virtual reality and augmented reality company Penrose Studios recently raised $8.5 million from Accelerate-IT Ventures (AITV), with participation from TransLink Capital, Suffolk Equity and 8 Angel. The company will premiere its latest virtual reality experience, Allumette, at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 14.
Eugene Chung, founder and CEO of Penrose Studios, says Allumette is a story about loneliness, love, and loss.
“It’s about the love between a mother and her orphan child, and the trade-offs that people have to make in order to sacrifice themselves to the greater good,” Chung says. “It’s a very deeply personal story, and it’s one that really just traces back to the age-old conventions of storytelling from thousands of years ago. But it’s done in this entirely new and exciting medium of virtual reality.”
An abridged 10-minute version of the story was previewed at a Sony Interactive Entertainment PlayStation VR event during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco last month. The full film will clock in at over 20 minutes.
“It’s going to be the longest experience of its type and category in virtual reality, so we really are breaking new ground while trying to tell a narrative experience with interactivity,” Chung says. “Our goal is to push the boundaries of VR storytelling and narrative storytelling in this medium.”
Allumette will be a launch title for Sony’s PlayStation VR, but the company has taken a cross-platform approach to releasing its content. That means Facebook’s Oculus Rift and Valve and HTC’s Vive are expected to be part of the release plans.
Penrose Studios has strong ties with Oculus VR, the company Facebook (fb) acquired for $2 billion in 2014. Penrose was founded by Chung, co-creator of Facebook’s Oculus Studio. Chung served as executive producer of Lost, the first virtual reality short film from Oculus’ storytelling division. And Penrose has employees from Oculus, Pixar, and DreamWorks Animation.
Since launching Penrose Studios, the company has been one of the busiest in the emerging virtual reality storytelling market. The company’s first short film, The Rose and I, which is an adaptation of The Little Prince, was featured at the Sundance and Tribeca Film Festivals. It also released a free mobile app for Samsung Gear VR called Rose, based on that piece.
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Chung says the $8.5 million funding (the largest institutional seed round to date in the industry) will enable Penrose to craft new augmented reality and virtual reality experiences, as well as expand its team of engineers and artists.
“We'll continue to explore the possibilities AR and VR hold, and develop its proprietary content and technology, such as its native creation tools,” Chung says.
All of Penrose’s projects are developed using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4 technology.
“On top of that our engineers have developed a lot of Penrose’s proprietary technologies to build and craft our worlds natively in virtual reality,” Chung says.
Allumette blends interactivity with storytelling through a magic matchstick, which is controlled using the PlayStation Move controller in the PlayStation VR version of the game that debuted at GDC.
“When you’re being told a story you’re often disassociated from your body and you’re listening to what the other person is saying,” Chung says. “In virtual reality, because you have the ability to interact, it actually becomes a difficult challenge. But it’s a challenge that we at Penrose are incredibly excited to be tackling.”
Penrose can seek advice from experienced veterans in both the technology and entertainment landscapes. Brad Allen, executive chairman of NextVR, recently joined Penrose as a strategic adviser. Allen joins American film director, screenwriter, and producer Roman Coppola, who has been advising Penrose in a creative capacity.