NEW YORK CITY - Just call it close encounters of the cuddly kind. Available on several virtual reality platforms, including the Oculus Store and Steam VR, "Invasion!" is hands down one of the cutest experiences you'll encounter in VR. Created by VR company Baobab Studios, the interactive short has just gained some A-list star power in the form of four-time Academy Award nominated actor Ethan Hawke.
If you're unfamiliar with "Invasion!", the short centers around a pair of adorable rabbits as they thwart an an assault from a pair of rather inept aliens. Hawke lends a bit of gravitas to the piece by reading a segment of Orson Wells' opening monologue from the "War of the Worlds." From there, viewers have the opportunity to take in the stunning beauty of the film's interpretation of Earth. I got an eyes-on demo of the finished short during the Tribeca Film Festival, which elicited a surprising amount of emotional attachment.
After taking a look around the frozen backdrop of the short, I saw co-star, a fluffy white rabbit with eyes so large and expressive, they put "Shrek's" Puss in Boots to shame. As I gazed at my bunny partner during my Oculus VR demo, I couldn't resist the urge to reach out and pet it. That's when I discovered that I too was covered in what looked to be soft white fur. Although I couldn't see my face, I'd hazard a guess that I was unbearably cute.
Aside from the gorgeous art and cuddly star, "Invasion!" is a great entry point for people new to VR. Even though you can look around in 360 degrees and move your arms around a little, there aren't any sudden moves that could bring on simulation sickness.
If the animation style looks familiar, you have Eric Darnell to thank. Baobab's Chief Creative Officer was the director and screenwriter each of the "Madagascar" movies. Having spent 25 years in the industry holding a number of hats: computer animation director, screenwriter, story artist, film director, and executive producer, Darnell wanted to try something different and innovative in animation. That meshes well with CEO, Maureen Fan, who brings a wealth of experience from film and gaming. In her most recent role, she served as vice president of games at Zygna.
Combining an undeniable love of animation and years of data of tracking human interactions with games enabled Baobab to add an impressive level of connection with a character you spend only 6 minutes with in the short. From the first time I made eye contact, I wanted to know more about that bunny--and to love, pet and squeeze her. When the aliens landed and she hid behind my back, I wanted to protect her from these weird creatures. Ultimately, she ended up saving me from being obliterated with some quick-witted moves that would make Bugs Bunny or the Roadrunner proud.
In addition to being featured on the Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, the short will also be debuting on the upcoming PlayStation VR. Hopefully by then, Baobab will release another film to give fans their next bunny fix.