Mo Davoudian, the creative director/CEO at Brain Zoo Studios – an Academy Award selected and Emmy Award winning CG animation studio that has worked on projects including Disney Infinity, Telltale’s Game of Thrones series, and Gears of War – is hoping that the company’s newest project, a VR series called Console Marinez, will bring together the long estranged worlds of interactive entertainment and Hollywood movies.
“I’ve been in the gaming business for a long time, and I always just saw how movies that came out based off of game properties are continually failing because people in Hollywood just either didn’t understand the culture or didn’t understand the people or the franchise,” Davoudian said.
As a fan of gaming, film, and animation — and someone who has worked in all three mediums — it was discouraging for Davoudian to see such projects continually fail. Instead, he started wondering if somehow the two industries could be brought together in a way that would click. The current advancements in VR technology moved that idea closer to reality.
“And then with VR showing up, it was kind of like, OK, this is the time where you can kind of just link both of those two industries together,” Davoudian said.
Console Marinez draws inspiration from real life, not just the digital space, particularly the current fear of terrorism and economic worry, as well as the rise of rapid technological advancements.
“The idea behind Console Marinez just kind of came about with those elements of ‘What if?,’ you know, the technology and AI had gotten to a point where the game world basically became aware of itself and became aware of all the things that we’re doing in our world,” Davoudian said. “Which in fact, if we destroy our world, it would kill them.”
In the series, the main character Percy is the avatar of a gamer who has transformed and gone into the gaming world. His goal is to try to stop the video game villains from entering the real world and turning it into one big, virtual game.
“He’s an uber gamer,” Davoudian said. “He’s kind of a geek and dork like the rest of us. And he’s a Star Wars nut. Star Trek nut. Lord of the Rings guy. So we can all relate to this kid as being that geek and a dork that’s inside of all of us.
“All of a sudden he goes from just being a kid at home playing a game, to being responsible for saving the world,” Davoudian said.
Additionally, as a VR series, Console Marinez will be looking to bring viewers into the experience in more ways than they may be used to.
“[The Idea] is to be able to have the audience have a stake in what’s taking place and to be able to experience what’s taking place in the story,” Davoudian said. “And be able to have some form of interactivity with what’s taking place in the story.”
With VR, Davoudian’s able to combine the linear narrative with the ability to place audiences directly into the story. You can watch a very short teaser 360-video here.
“And maybe, if it’s a mystery, then they’re able to look around with the other characters and see what kind of things they’re looking at, in order to try and solve that mystery…You’re right in the thick of it, so it really does emotionally impact you a lot deeper than it would if you were just watching a linear story,” Davoudian said.
But, Brain Zoo is also careful to not place too much emphasis on interactivity, which then could push Console Marinez further toward total video game territory, and away from being a watchable series. Too much interactivity, Davoudian said, can pull viewers out of the more passive, film-like experience.
Console Marinez is still in pre-production, so Davoudian wasn’t able to share any details on how the series would balance bringing in such interactivity yet, but did say that he feels it will have to appeal to both people who want interactive VR content and those who may want something simpler.
“It’s going to have to be one of these things that kind of helps both sides of the coin,” Davoudian said. “That when you feel like having that interactivity you still can, but if you choose not to you can still watch a linear story…”
And, as VR continues to grow as a medium, there are still challenges left for content creators to figure out as they bring more traditional storytelling into the virtual-reality space.
“Right now…the technology is what’s hindering that kind of storytelling,” Davoudian said. Alluding of course to the fact that VR can cause some people to get sick, making some traditional filming techniques unusable.
“Once the technology gets worked out and it allows the audience to watch a story like this and not have motion sickness, then I think we’ll be in a much better place to be able to do more narrative or camera cuts and those kind of things.”
Currently, Brain Zoo is limiting the number of camera cuts it uses, and is also working on how to transition from different perspectives, while keeping the story going.
“I think we have to be very careful about the kind of entertainment that we create the next three years with VR, because based on a lot of the entertainment that’s been out the past year, it hasn’t been incredibly impressive, ” Davoudian said. “And what concerns me is that if it continues down this road where people just throw stuff out there…[users will] give up on VR.”
While the VR industry is very focused on VR headsets right now, Davoudian feels that the future may include 360 videos on Netflix and YouTube that will give people a similar experience, but without getting sick or without the need for a headset. Or, at least, perhaps a more ergonomic version of a head-mounted display.
It also sounds like it might be some time before Console Marinez is a completed project. Since Brain Zoo mostly works with clients on outside projects, developing internal IPs, like Console Marinez, can sometimes take the back seat.
“It’s a much slower process, because we cater to our clients first,” Davoudian said. “And then it kind of comes in second, and it’s always a labor of love for us. So we don’t want to just haphazardly do something and get it out there.”
But for Davoudian, it all comes back to the idea of avoiding what has made past video game movies fail, and doing something that can bring the fans of both mediums together.
“I’m really excited about connecting narrative filmmaking with the gaming business in a successful way,” Davoudian said. “That’s what I’m really looking forward to. That we can do something that is a connection between the two industries…we want to make sure that this is the one that’s successful and brings both sides of the market together.”
Other similar projects to keep an eye on include Gary the Gull, from a Pixar alum, and Invasion!, which is releasing very soon with Hollywood-caliber talent behind it.
Willie is a freelance writer with work appearing in prominent publications such as VentureBeat, Polygon, Vice, Killscreen, and multiple print publications and newspapers. You can follow him on Twitter: @_WillieClark.