The analogy “Pixar Of VR” is sometimes used to describe a new class of startup focused on building high-quality immersive experiences for VR and AR systems. San Francisco-based Penrose Studios is one of these companies, led by Eugene Chung, who was previously head of film and media at Oculus. He started the studio in 2015 and this enormous seed round of investment — the largest seed round announced for a VR content startup — will help Penrose add to its team of innovative artists, storytellers and engineers as the company prepares to expand beyond its first two projects.
The first project from Penrose, The Rose and I, was featured at the Sundance and Tribeca film festivals. Allumette, the studio’s second piece, will premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. Samsung Gear VR owners can also see a version of The Rose And I called ROSE, currently available in the Oculus Store. The company is producing content for the Sony Playstation VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive and developing tools for its artists to create VR content using natural hand and arm movements while immersed in VR.
“Our next pieces are being made more and more by our own proprietary in-house VR creation tools,” Chung said. “So our engineers and our artists are literally making in VR with interactivity tools. So a lot of the world of Allumette is in fact being made in virtual reality natively with some of our people spending hours and hours in VR making and hand-crafting some of that VR.”
Financing was led by Accelerate-IT Ventures (AITV), with participation from TransLink Capital, Suffolk Equity and 8 Angel. Angel investors also contributed to the round.
“We’ve had our eye on the virtual reality industry for some time, and Penrose is creating something special in AR and VR,” said Bill Malloy III, co-founder and general partner at AITV, in a prepared statement. “We want to see their work be taken to its fullest potential, and we look forward to watching what they do and supporting them along the way as VR continues to gain momentum in the technology and entertainment industries.
Strategic advisors include Brad Allen, executive chairman of NextVR and film director Roman Coppola.
I haven’t seen Allumette, but an early version of the Rose And I featured some of the smoothest and prettiest animation I’ve seen in VR. Everyone producing high-quality content in VR is exploring, and as Penrose builds out its team and continues to develop its projects, the startup will definitely be one to watch closely.