Former members of Oculus Story Studio, the cinematic virtual reality team that closed last year, are founding a new studio known as Fable. Fable’s inaugural project is a VR adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s children’s book The Wolves in the Walls. The piece started at Story Studio, and the first of its three episodes will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this week. Fable is working on four future projects that will explore different elements of VR storytelling, and they’re being made inside VR as well, using tools like Oculus’ illustration program Quill.
Fable is co-founded by Edward Saatchi, who previously co-founded Story Studio, and Pete Billington, the director of Wolves in the Walls. The studio’s head of creative production is Jessica Yaffa Shamash. With the exception of Wolves, they’re focusing on “made in VR” projects created by small teams.
One of these projects is Ten, an illustrated interactive documentary based on a real story. Another is Origin, an episodic tale about artists seeking stolen art through a “virtual reality scavenger hunt.” The animated Magic River Yacht Ride is supposed to explore the creative space beyond Dear Angelica, Oculus Story Studio’s last work; participants follow a giant salmon up a river as they compete in a 500-mile race. And Derailed, perhaps the most conceptually intriguing project, is a short collaborative experience — a “virtual amusement park ride” — about sleep anxiety. Multiple participants will work together to advance the story.
Oculus closed Story Studio in order to focus on funding external developers, and the Facebook-owned company has supported the production of Wolves. One of Fable’s goals, however, is to start asking people to pay for experiences — something that’s still uncommon with short cinematic VR. “Everything Fable produces, we want to charge for. That’s an important thing for 2018,” says Saatchi. “This is the first year that I think we need to show that VR movies, just like VR games, can generate revenue.” Prices will be set around $1 for every 10 minutes of content. Conversely, Fable wants to make projects that don’t cost huge amounts of time and money.
Fable won’t be the first cinematic studio to charge for its experiences; Penrose, also founded by a former Story Studio member, tried selling its experience The Rose and I. But it changed its mind after buyers complained that the $5 experience only lasted a few minutes. Saatchi says Fable’s prices will be more in line with what you’d pay in other mediums — proportionate to a $10 to $15 theater ticket for a roughly two-hour movie, for example.
Fable also isn’t just looking to work in virtual reality. The team is eyeing augmented reality experiences as well, whether through existing mobile platforms like Apple’s ARKit, or through more futuristic Magic Leap-style glasses in the future. AR enables what the team describes as a “persistent” experience, where stories don’t exist in discrete narratives. Fictional characters — like the protagonist of Wolves — could appear outside the bounds of their stories and spend time with their audience. “An interactive, long-form character story, at least for us, feels like the right place to go, instead of 90-minute chunks of individual movies,” says Saatchi.
The VR world changes fast, so any of these projects might evolve or be scrapped. Story Studio produced one five to 15-minute VR experience every year, with no expectation of making money off them. Other studios, like Penrose and Baobab, have worked at a similar rate. Fable could work faster using tools like Quill, though, and it could repurpose VR art for AR even more easily. Where Oculus Story Studio explored what the genre of cinematic VR might look like, Fable is experimenting with what a self-sustaining VR film studio might look like and potentially, how it could move beyond just VR.