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VR Watch: Jaunt forms studio, hiring Lucasfilm veterans to run it

Tech firm Jaunt is the latest company to dive into original VR content

Hoping to open a new front in the battle for virtual-reality primacy, Jaunt, a start-up that has focused primarily on technology, is launching a division to create original VR content.

The Silicon Valley company has named the unit Jaunt Studios and hired a trio of Lucasfilm veterans — Cliff Plumer, David Anderman and Miles Perkins — to run it.

Until now, Jaunt has been known mainly for more technical aspects of VR filmmaking, particularly cameras and software. But the company said it believes it can help both its own cause and the larger goal of mainstream VR content by diving into the original-entertainment space.

“The technology in some ways has gotten ahead of the content,” Chief Executive Jens Christensen said in an interview. “There’s always an initial wow factor when people put on a headset for the first time. But there needs to be compelling content for them to keep coming back.”

If you’ve been following the sector, you know that VR has become something of a land grab among Silicon Valley and (select) Hollywood entities. Though we’re still a number of months away, at the very least, from widespread headset distribution (or even the mainstreaming of phone apps), the creation of a new medium has set companies on hiring, investing and occasional press-release sprees.

Jaunt's announcement is a notable development in this regard, in part because of its names.

Plumer, who served for years as chief technology officer for Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic, will be the president of Jaunt Studios. Anderman, the former chief operating officer of Lucasfilm who helped broker the company’s sale to Disney, will be chief business officer, while Perkins, who ran corporate communications for Lucasfilm, will serve as vice president of marketing communications.

“Working with the technology over the last couple of years, we have some expertise — we’ve learned some of the tricks and solved some of the problems,” Plumer said, before adding, "But like everyone else, we're still figuring out what works."

To both open and test the market, the executive said, Jaunt aims to create as many as 1,000 pieces of content in the next 18 months, and has established an office in Los Angeles to help this effort.

Still, in the near term the company will be mainly partnering with outside entities — as it did for two early experiments, the genre shorts “Black Mass” and “Kaiju Fury!" — as opposed to developing material internally.

The hiring of more traditional development and production executives is in the offing, Plumer said.

Plumer said the type of content Jaunt Studios will back would run the gamut, and includes scripted entertainment as well as sports, concerts and other live-event programming. As part of the studio announcement, Jaunt executives said they had forged a partnership with Condé Nast to create several VR series that “explore Condé Nast’s strong portfolio of travel, lifestyle, fashion, sports, and technology content.”

As with the non-VR world, scripted content takes more time to develop than nonscripted — perhaps even longer since, in VR, a story happens all around a viewer instead of via a more simple series of frames and edits. Plumer, who most recently was an executive at the effect specialists Digital Domain, also said he hopes to bring to Jaunt Studios some of the ethos of visual effects that that company and Lucasfilm are known for.

Jaunt aims to make its content compatible with all platforms, including Oculus, Samsung, Google and iOS.

The announcement highlights the uncertainty that companies feel about which aspects of VR will be easiest and most profitable to operate in, leaving them to try to control various points of the supply chain, much as studios once did with movie theaters (and as Netflix now does with original content and distribution).

“The definition of a studio has changed dramatically over the last decade,” Plumer said, adding that even though Jaunt is a technology company, “We see ourselves producing content, and will have executives who are programming channels.”

Jaunt is not alone in these expansionist efforts — Oculus, known for manufacturing headsets, recently launched a content division and hired a number of former Pixar veterans to create animated shorts.

But challenges remain. Tech and Hollywood have had at times an uneasy relationship, with digital firms frustrated by the pace of change in Hollywood,  while Hollywood executives say the obstacles to original storytelling are larger than Silicon Valley sometimes understands.

It is a gap that outfits such as Netflix and Amazon Studios have tried to transcend, and that now VR companies say they can bridge as well.

"What we realize is we have a pipeline that allows us to create and distribute VR experiences quickly. We want to leverage that," Christensen said.

@ZeitchikLAT

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