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Disney entering the world of virtual reality in new experimental animated short, Cycles

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Sep 12, 2018

Disney is known for being the global leader in animated films, but the family-friendly company also has a consistent track record of animated shorts that go back to the rubber hose days of Steamboat Willie in 1928.

Enjoying a small, yet satisfying cartoon before the main event is almost as old as the movie industry itself, but Disney and Pixar are the only companies to continue the tradition. 

As such, it only makes sense that they'd keep up with the times, utilizing modern storytelling techniques that enhance the moviegoing experience. That's the case for Disney's upcoming animated short, Cycles, which is the first to use virtual reality, reports Entertainment Weekly

Directed by Jeff Gipson (Big Hero 6, Frozen, Moana), the film will focus on Bert and Rae, a couple based on Gipson's own grandparents. Once they put on the VR headset, viewers will be transported back in time to a 1950s-era home, which will begin to change and update until it reaches the present day. The musical accompaniment is an original composition from Gipson's mother. 

“I think what draws me to it is that I don’t think anyone knows [what to do with VR],” Gipson said. “I feel like we’re starting to scratch on something where you can tell stories in new ways, and I definitely wouldn’t be surprised if there were more things to come from the studio. Since we’ve shown it, there’s been so much excitement and curiosity. In film, there’s a distinct language — how a camera is set up, or how characters move across a screen, or how to compose a frame. But in VR, we’re in a state where we’re still figuring it all out, and I love that. There is no right or wrong answer yet.”

According to head of production Lauren Brown, people would cry, simply from hearing the pitch. 

"I knew something was really special about this one," she said. 

“Growing up, I loved being around my grandmother and seeing old photos,” Gipson added. “Eventually, my grandfather passed away and we had to have the hard conversation, much like many families do, about moving her into assisted living. And eventually we put the house up for sale, and I remember looking over it one last time and seeing the indentations in the carpet where the furniture sat, and knowing that my name was etched into the back cabinet in the music room, and my handprints in the driveway. It was just like the homes that I go to in Los Angeles, except this home held the story of my family.”

The technology is obviously still in its early days, and Disney is only now piloting how to use it, but considering the studio's massive IP catalog (Star Wars, Marvel, children's programming) the future could be very, very promising.

Cycles, which is part of a larger experimental initiative at Disney, will make its worldwide premiere at the New York Film Festival later this month.


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