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Oculus Story Studio Releases New VR Short ‘Henry’

San Francisco studio’s cute story about a lovable but un-huggable hedgehog shows the inherent power of storytelling within the Oculus Rift virtual reality system.

Mark Zuckerberg’s recent proclamation about its importance aside, is VR really the next great entertainment medium? Well, if the work of Oculus Story Studio is any example, then the answer is “Yes, yes, yes!” Their Tuesday premiere of a brand-new “short film,” simply named Henry, was a truly immersive VR experience, a realtime rendered meld of wonderfully designed, cute, colorful and eventually huggable CG characters with a simple, funny, emotional and nicely paced story. All experienced through an Oculus Rift VR headset.  

By the numbers, Henry is a new ten minute short film, created by a group of ex-Pixar and DreamWorks artists and technologists working at Oculus Story Studio, a small San Francisco startup working in close conjunction with Oculus Rift to create animated VR short films. The Henry team is led by director Ramiro Lopez Dau and creative director Saschka Unseld, both Pixar alums – collectively, the group’s expertise in both design and storytelling is evident from the moment you step into Henry’s universe.

And who is Henry? Henry is a hedgehog who loves to hug. Which, of course, is problematic for a hedgehog. Resigned to a friendless life of isolation, Henry makes a special wish as he celebrates his birthday…let your imagination fill in the blanks.

As Oculus Rift founder Palmer Luckey said in his introduction to the short film presentation, “Most of what we’ve seen so far in Virtual Reality has been focused on marketing, lobbying for the existing franchises. But what we haven’t seen is Virtual Reality used to tell an entirely new story, a story that was made exclusively for Virtual Reality.”  The release of Henry signifies a welcome shift in what seems like the never-ending onslaught of hype and hyperbole regarding the coming tidal wave of VR entertainment. It also addresses, at least in part, the important question, “How are you going to bring narrative, camera lens-centric narrative storytelling to the VR space?”

To say Henry is a short film is like saying the Grand Canyon is just a big hole in the ground. Once you don the Oculus Rift headset, you’re brought right onstage – the story unfolds all around you, like you’re standing within a live cartoon performance. As you share the same virtual 3D space with Henry, looking about his den, watching him blow out the candle on his birthday cake, you realize this is a completely brand new, almost impossible to define and inherently enjoyable entertainment medium. Looking directly across the room at Henry, he shifts his stance, glances back at you, locks eyes, and smiles. In that moment, you realize, the possibilities of this new medium are truly endless.

Don’t look for VR to replace film or TV any time soon, if ever, though it will probably impact the hard-core gaming community more than any other consumer entertainment medium. As the underlying development engines and technological tools become more robust and less expensive, VR content will begin to proliferate. For now, films like Henry remain expensive and time-consuming efforts that serve primarily to demonstrate and reinforce the unique value of the immersive VR space. But, for the moment, as witnessed Tuesday, Henry clearly demonstrates that the “potential” of VR we’ve been hearing about for decades is actually becoming a tangible reality. And when the Oculus Rift, along with Henry, begins shipping sometime Q1 2016, the world will get a chance to share that experience.


Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.