Felix & Paul Studios, the upstart Montreal company that is establishing itself as a major virtual-reality player, has raised $6.8 million, a large portion of it from Comcast Corp.
The Quebec-based firm announced the funding Wednesday, saying that in exchange for its lead investment, the Universal Pictures parent would receive a board seat and work closely with the VR company. Homegrown entity Caisse de Dépôt et Placement du Québec, the China-based LDV Partners and current financier Phi Group also are part of the financing round.
Felix & Paul will use the money to ramp up technology such as cameras as well as development and production efforts.
Founded by the digital filmmakers Felix Lajeunesse and Paul Raphael, Felix & Paul was among the first entities to jump into the VR game, creating an in-studio piece with the musician Patrick Watson several years ago. To the film community, Felix & Paul is best known for its work on adjunct VR pieces to the Reese Witherspoon drama "Wild" and the 2015 summer blockbuster "Jurassic World."
The latter helped cement ties between the firm and Comcast, and Felix & Paul could now be working on more Universal or NBC projects as well as taking advantage of Comcast's cable-box presence in American homes.
In an interview, Raphael said he saw the money as a way to up the amount and quality of scripted content in the nascent medium.
"The demand has just been exploding over the past year and a half, and so have the opportunities," Raphael said. "We'd like to expand the technology, the team, the content and the partnerships with other studios."
With 35 employees, Felix & Paul aims within the year to "double its size and triple its content," he said.
About 30 pieces of VR are in development. The hires will also allow Raphael and Lajeunesse to produce work for other Hollywood filmmakers instead of just directing themselves.
While some have said that, when it comes to VR, technology often outstrips content, Raphael said that was largely true in the headset realm, where the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Sony Playstation's device are all coming on the market this year. But camera technology, he said, has lagged behind, and some of Felix & Paul's efforts will be channeled in this direction.
Raphael said the pact with the Facebook firm was not exclusive and his company would be producing content for other platforms and with other backing.
Raphael declined to offer specifics on new content but did say the company was far along on a longer-form scripted piece; such a VR film would offer a trial balloon of sorts for more substantial content instead of the short-form pieces most companies are toying with.
Michael Yang, the managing director of Comcast Ventures who'll be getting the Felix & Paul board seat, noted in a statement that the startup is a "trailblazer in cinematic virtual reality" and that Comcast was "attracted to their artistic vision, their track record with viewers, and their full technology stack."
The financing news comes as part of a flurry of venture capital for VR companies. Last September, Jaunt Studios announced a $65-million round, while earlier this month Hollywood director Robert Stromberg's The Virtual-Reality Company, best known for creating the recent "Martian VR" piece, has raised $23 million. All of these companies are working on so-called cinematic VR – that is, Hollywood-style narrative and documentary storytelling – as opposed to video games.
While some of these arrangements can seem abstract to those accustomed to seeing a list of recognizable personalities in Hollywood trade announcements, they are nonetheless helping to establish the rules of the road. In addition to determining which startups will be the biggest players, the news also aligns media and entertainment giants with these entities. Disney and CAA were among those behind the Jaunt funding, while money from Stromberg's VRC comes from backers as diverse as China-based Hengxin Mobile Business and Metallica frontman James Hetfield.
"I guess a lot of us [start-ups] are looking for money at the same time," he said with a small laugh,"Raphael said. "And a lot of backers are seeing the opportunities."
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