For all the times you wondered what it would feel like for Oprah — an godlike insect with the power to summon anything into being — to look you in the eye, now you can.
Oprah Winfrey joins other big-name stars like John Legend, Constance Wu and Diego Luna in Crow: The Legend, a free 20-minute virtual-reality experience released Thursday on Facebook's Oculus store. The piece — a Pixar-like journey that follows Crow he attempts to save the world and his community of cartoon animal friends from eternal winter — is available in virtual reality on Oculus Rift, Oculus Go and Samsung Gear VR.
Now playing: Watch this: Baobab's "smart" animation gets into your head
VR has been one of the buzziest tech areas in the last five years, as giants such as Sony, HTC, Samsung, Google and Oculus have poured resources into the head-mounted devices that transport users into a digital world. But VR has yet to strike gold with a gotta-see-it experience that popularizes the format with the mainstream.
Baobab is among the few studios that has made VR that's broken out of its niche. It's earlier VR experiences, about cute bunnies and zany aliens, won Emmy awards, and Hollywood production house Roth Kirschenbaum Films has a deal with Baobab to turn its characters into films for traditional theaters too.
But Maureen Fan, Baobab's CEO, called Crow the company's most ambitious project to date.
Crow: The Legend is based on a Native American folk tale, following its namesake bird on a journey from his endangered community on earth beyond the moon and sun to a spiritual center of the universe. When you experience it in VR, you follow Crow beyond meteors singing like prima donnas in an opera and come face-to-face with that all-powerful Oprah bug.
In the virtual reality version on Oculus's high end Rift headset, you are able to interact with the environments around you and the characters. As Crow flies past planets and constellations, the waving of your hands activates stars like bell chimes, so every person's soundtrack traveling through space is a little bit different.
"I thought they were crazy," said Colum Slevin, head of experiences at Oculus, of Baobab's ambitions for the story. "My first thoughts when we were hearing the pitch were…how is this ever going to come together."
Legend, who voices Crow, said the film "brings storytelling and music together in a way no one else has yet in virtual reality."
"It's an incredible medium for inspiring a journey of self-discovery and finding your way in times to darkness," he said in a statement. "In light of what's going on in today's world, it's a message of deep meaning that people from all walks of life can embrace."
The story's Native American origin was something the studio strove to treat with respect. Baobab partnered with Native Americans in Philanthropy. Sarah Eagle Heart, the CEO of the organization, voices the character of Luna, and Randy Edmonds, an elder of the Kiowa-Caddo tribe and founder of the National Urban Indian Council, narrates the film.
"We share this wisdom through storytelling, with tales passed down through many generations over thousands of years," Eagle Heart said in a statement. "We are emotionally, physically, and spiritually connected to these stories that teach us right from wrong, and provide a framework for how to live fulsome, compassionate, and engaged lives."
Part of Baobab's consideration for the tales indiginous origin was a commitment that Crow: The Legend would be released free for anyone to see. The company has also worked with Eagle Heart's organization NAP, Vision Maker Media and Longhouse Media to create a fellowship that mentors young Native Americans in VR creation.
"There's a lot of talk in the native american community about how the culture feels like it's being erased in a way because they can't tell their stories," Fan said. "We felt we really need to do it jsutice and do it the right way, and share it with as many people as possible."
Originally published Nov. 15 at 9 a.m. PT.
Updated at 9:30 a.m. PT: With more details.
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