By now it’s trite to call any CG VR film studio “the Pixar of VR,” but one reason for that pervasive comparison is that Pixar’s waxy-textured, brightly-colored, hard-edged geometry has become a dominant style for big-budget CG films. But we hear over and over about how ‘VR is a completely new medium’; doesn’t it deserve a new look? Baobab Studios‘ latest work, Rainbow Crow, is starting to branch out from that style with a unique new look that taps into VR’s strengths.

Executive-produced by and starring the voice of John Legend, Rainbow Crow is Baobab’s latest CG VR film project following shorts INVASION! and ASTEROIDS!. The piece is an interpretation of a Native American folktale about how the modern day crow came to be. The video you’ll see below introduces the tale, but all the visuals are concept art.

Baobab has exclusively given Road to VR the first captures from the actual rendering within the experience itself, showing their new visual style which uses what they’re calling a soft “dithering” approach combined with strongly stylized lighting. Although they say it’s still a work in progress, you can see that it’s quite beautiful and different than their prior work, and many the Pixar-esque CG VR film pieces we’ve seen elsewhere.

‘Rainbow Crow’ screenshot | Photo courtesy Baobab Studios

This dithering effect, which you can see predominantly in the tail of Becky the skunk, actually works uniquely well in VR because it makes objects like the tail semi-transparent which reads especially well thanks to 3D; it shows the volume of the object in a more tangible way than a solid object. It also ‘leaks’ light and color from objects behind, melding disparate elements of the scene into what the studio is calling a dreamy “storybook” look.

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Baobab says that the effect came about through a back and forth between the company’s art and tech teams. The concept artist mocked up a look which explored some fuzzy edges for softer objects like foliage and fur.

‘Rainbow Crow’ concept art | Photo courtesy Baobab Studios

This style was well received, and the tech team set about seeing if they could devise a method for efficiently achieving the look in real-time. Once that was proven out, the technique was taught to the digital artists to begin employing it throughout Rainbow Crow’s development.

‘Rainbow Crow’ screenshot | Photo courtesy Baobab Studios

Accompanying the dithering effect is Rainbow Crow’s stylized lighting, which you can see has also been impressively replicated from the vision laid down in the concept art. Whereas the Pixar style often takes a realistic approach to lighting, Rainbow Crow’s warm, over-exposed lighting enlivens the scene with emotion. Again, this ’emotional lighting’ approach feels uniquely suited to VR because it colors (literally and figuratively) the entire scene around you, no matter where you look. It suggests a feeling that realistic-lighting would not, and purposefully sets the stage as warm and glowy for a narrative which hinges on the prospect of an eventual cold and eternal Winter.

As part of the story, eternal Winter sets upon the world of ‘Rainbow Crow’ (screenshot) | Photo courtesy Baobab Studios

Both the dither and the emotional lightning play to the stage-like setup that Baobab has constructed to tell the story of Rainbow Crow. As Road to VR’s Paul McAdory recently put it in his preview of the piece at TriBeca:

The experience begins and ends on a patch of grass in the woods. Rainbow Crow’s forest circumscribes the viewer. The first chapter of a project that will ultimately encompass at least three situates you in the center of a small clearing, a sort of audience dais, and treats the enclosing flora as a stage, kliegs included.

As the viewer you are encompassed by the dense forest, with only indirect light bouncing under the canopy from the periphery. You’re situated down low compared to some nearby mounds and built-up foliage on every side. Lighting against each of the surrounding faces of geometry helps guide your eye as the action moves, and the mounds offer a way for the characters to work the stage vertically rather than just horizontally.

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At least in the few short minutes of Rainbow Crow’s first chapter, the visuals and stage-like set haven proven to be both a unique visual treat and an effective communication of emotion and direction. I’m looking forward to seeing how these approaches are applied in future chapters of Rainbow Crow, especially as the story takes the viewer out into space to follow the character’s journey to find out what’s causing the eternal Winter.

VR is a whole new medium. I’m hopeful that Baobab’s exploration of new visual styles in VR film will encourage others in the space to do the same. Maybe then we can stop the oversimplified comparisons to Pixar, and instead focus on what CG VR film does differently, not what it does the same.

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  • MW

    This still does not look like reality,so it is nor VR (V-PC maybe). End of story (of modern vr). I have a better graphic on my 32′ monitor and ma brain do the rest, so what’s the point…

    • benz145

      Some of the best and most immersive VR games out there are not photorealistic. Why constrain yourself to photorealism when you can have many different visual approaches?

      • MW

        ‘Some of the best and most immersive VR games out there’. Yeah,thats the point. And you use word ‘realistic’ by yourselve. VR has to be realistic by definition, because, in other way it is not VR. Of course,we dont have hardware for that. But facts are facts.

        • Simon Therrien

          MW..Thank god you have nothing to do in VR development lol

          • Wednaud Ronelus

            Lol, totally agree with that statement.

          • MW

            Of course I don’t have. I’m a customer-I have the money…

          • Simon Therrien

            Then why are you complaining on a subject you clearly doesnt grasp? If you consider yourself a customer, fine, you have the rights to have your own preferences, and if this style of game doesnt fit your tastes, then dont buy it.
            I just dont understand why you would start saying what Vr should and shouldn’t be as you just did. Even seasoned developpers and VR researchers doesnt even know what VR will, and should be in the years to come.
            You should embrace all the way VR will change our perception, beliefs and paradigms instead.
            Thinking the way you do would result the same as saying to a cinematographer in 1900 that using montage should not be the way to think of cinema, since time and scene warping isn’t part of our life.
            Way to kill progress and all a medium’s richness and potential man!… Because…grafixxxxxxx u know

          • MW

            VR is a new medium – I agree. And that’s the problem. From something new, I expect something new! And I don’t want to kill progres – I just have specific expectations from product, and that’s my right as customer. I was very excited about VR, but 2-3 years ago (I have Dk2, and I’ve try everything).
            But insufficient hardware in comparison to my expectations dissapointed me. Ridiculously small resolution, and fov, with demand for gpu power (and I have 1070), and lack of real VR content just kill the dream (I understenad reasons, but facts are facts). For me (and for everyone I know, and for 90% of all people, I suppose) VR has to look much much better to have any sense. And I know it wont be in many years.
            Moreover – today VR is trying to copy content from 2d screen to 3d screen to make quick money – and that is very stupid idea. Because one real VR room will be better, than flow of crappy simple games from smartphones, created for today HMD’s.

          • J.C.

            The low resolution and FOV are products of hardware limitations. Eye tracking and foveated rendering should help with the GPU requirements AND simultaneously allow for higher resolution screens. The FOV issue is down to lenses/headset size. There are already experiments to get that widened significantly.
            It just sounds like you aren’t the target audience for the hardware. You’ve got currently impossible “requirements”. It will get there, but without the first headsets, we won’t have the much better ones down the road. Go back and fire up an original iPhone, and remember, that was state of the art when it came out.

        • PK

          why do many people prefer paintings to photographs? stylized versions of reality can be beautiful, and vr offers some really unique new ways to make fantasy feel real.

          • MW

            Funny thing – I agree. But today VR is like trying to show classic paintings in 3d. I don’t need that.

          • PK

            i encourage baobab to try different art styles, their first short was well done but i don’t think that years from now it’s going to look impressive. it’s a kid’s story. not sure why adults gave it as much love as they did. sounds like their next one goes a bit deeper though.

        • Hartmut

          Do you even own any VR devices or are you just venting?? This isn’t the place for that.

          • MW

            Read what I wrote.. I have opinion, VR believers attacked me – I defend my opinion. And what is this place for? For mindless praising everything associated with the VR…?

    • Tadd Seiff

      I’ll tell you what you can do with your 32-foot monitor….but you won’t like it ;)

      • MW

        Really? Maybe you should try. Because vive is smaller than 32′;-)

        • LMAO

        • Tadd Seiff

          Indeed, the Vive is much smaller than a 32-foot screen…I’ve lost track of your opinion at this point…moving on…

    • Lucidfeuer

      Ultra-realism doesn’t exist anywhere in graphics beside in movies, and even then CG/VFX are not “ultra-realistic”. You are talking about things that don’t exist even as a technic.

  • CURTROCK

    This is remarkably similar to the results that MediaMolecule are getting from their upcoming DREAMS title. If you like this, you will prob like that too.

    • Lucidfeuer

      Btw, I wonder why hasn’t Sony announced PSVR compatibility for Dreams.

      • CURTROCK

        Mm has stated DREAMS will be VR compatable, however I think they are focusing on standard gaming 1st, before implementing VR support. Honestly, I think VR support for a game where non devs can make anything they want is a recipe for nausea inducing experiences galore. I’ll be happy just to have the non VR version. Let VR support come later, if at all.

  • yawwwnn, looks pathetic. does not excite.

  • Lucidfeuer

    Hard to judge from artworks, but it seems they found smart and nice shadings in this one.