Limitless Entertainment is a new startup created by Tom Sanocki who hails from two of entertainment’s biggest heavyweights, Pixar and Bungie. He saw the promise of virtual reality and decided he had to be involved. We talked to Tom to find out more about his new venture and how his past has lead to him getting involved the VR space.
“We will be the Pixar of VR”, Tom Sanocki, CEO of new VR startup Limitless Entertainment, tells me towards the end of our interview. It’s a statement Sanocki acknowledges has been uttered before but, more than most companies we’ve come across, this new startup may have the chops to deliver on the hyperbole.
Tom Sanocki is an entertainment industry veteran, having cut his teeth at animation giant Pixar, he has worked in some capacity on most of there output beginning with Finding Nemo (2003), working as a Lead Technical Director. He later moved on to work at Bungie on Destiny, following the project from inception to release.
Sanocki’s work at Pixar, and later at Halo and Destiny creators Bungie, bridged the artistic and technical requirements of those modern entertainment houses. “At Bungie for example I was working on projects that were at the intersection of art and technology, where one team couldn’t solve [problems] by themselves. So things like cloth simulation, where there’s a very heavy technical component but also a lot of artistry to it.” Sanocki says. “Similarly at Pixar. ‘Characters’ is right in the middle of artistic vs technical. It was a great opportunity to take one’s technical skills and use them to create art, in a way that you couldn’t really do if you were just approaching it artistically.” His fondness for both companies and the work he did there is transparent too “You’re building your own piece of history.” he says.
So why leave this formidable resume behind and jump both feet into virtual reality? “I’m convinced it’s the next big thing!” he says bluntly. Turns out an old friend of his from Pixar, one Max Planck, demonstrated VR to Sanocki last year to convince him to become the fourth co-founder on a VR film startup Planck was creating. The timing didn’t quite work out, but that startup went on to become Oculus Story Studio who recently premièred there second realtime rendered VR movie Henry.
Nevertheless, Sanocki admits to being pleasantly surprised at the level of maturity this latest round of VR technology had reached. “I was able to get a real sense of where VR was at the time and it was much further along than I thought it was. It was pretty clear that it was going to ‘happen’ very quickly.” A long time devotee to games and their associated technology, Sanocki juxtaposes past with present. “I got to see computer graphics evolve from 320×200 CGA graphics all the way to VGA and I saw how long that took. But, the quality difference between a DK1 and a DK2 was just enormous and I could tell the graphics curve was going way faster that it had historically.”
So, hooked on the rapidity of VR’s evolution, Sanocki set about creating his own startup company – one dedicated to creating interactive virtual reality content. “VR is going to happen now and it’s going to happen fast, and if the hardware is there, the thing that you need left is something to do with it.” he tells me. “I wanted to catch VR at the beginning, because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.” Says Sanocki, “So that’s why I created a VR film and games company, focusing on story driven games and content.” Thus, Limitless Entertainment was born. Limitless is still in semi-stealth mode, but Sanocki does let on that he will be joined by other Bungie alumni at the new company once funding is finalised this summer.
Limitless Entertainment already have multiple projects in the works, some partnerships with other companies in the space. But Sanocki, somewhat ambitiously, has his sights set on the winning over the general populace, rather than just VR enthusiasts, with his games. “These are projects which are designed to be mass market.” he tells me. “..we’re trying to imagine what is the game everyone will watch and play. Just like Spielberg made movies for everybody, what in VR can we make that will appeal to everybody?”. Don’t be under any illusions however, as with Spielberg’s filmography, mass market does not always mean poor quality “We believe in high quality content.”
Action adventures in the Spielberg vein (rather than pure Action films) will be Limitless’s bread and butter in the VR market Sanocki says. “All of our projects will have a strong character component, which will involve rich interaction with those characters.”
Like many companies having to grapple with the slippery timelines of an emerging technology, Limitless Entertainment are aiming to prototype quickly and deliver content early “It’s going to be important for us to get to market soon” says Sanocki, “So we’re going to be shipping our content episodically so that people get to experience parts of it, as we build it.” He believes that being available as soon as possible will enable them to learn from their early attempts and react quickly to correct issues. After all, this is the first time truly mass market VR has even been a possibility, there are many lessons to be learned. Limitless will target multiple platforms however with no current plans to be exclusive to one platform or another.
The question of motion controls is another difficult and ever-evolving area VR developers are having to grapple with, but rather than play it safe – targeting a known device such as an Xbox controller – it’s a challenge Sanocki is excited to tackle “We’re actually going to go with motion controls first as our primary UI” he says “That being said, we’re designing our UI and controls to be minimalistic – we’re taking a page from Apple and asking ‘what’s the bare minimum you need?’ Because of that, we can go to a gamepad for control if we need to, but motion control is the absolute perfect way to go.” Sanocki says that they’re building their technology to work with all motion controllers. “Motion controls are going to bring the accessibility for VR. They could be that little piece of the puzzle that we didn’t realise we needed until afterwards.”
In terms of when we can all expect to see Limitless’s first title appear, Sanocki tells me the company is shooting to land alongside retail VR hardware, although at this stage no absolute release date is yet locked down. Realistically with HTC’s Vive due to land at the end of this year and Oculus’ Rift following in Q1 2016, we have a little wait until we’ll get our hands on the content.
We’ll stay in touch with Tom and his team as we’re eager to find out what this team of industry veterans from both the game and movie world come up with. In the mean time, you can keep an eye on the Limitless Entertainment website and follow Tom on twitter.