Ten Questions For Jake Rowell Director, theBlu: Whale Encounter, Gnomes & Goblins
Those who have been watching the VR scene closely are probably familiar with the work of Jake Rowell, who has been making a big splash with indie projects such as theBlu and the more recent Gnomes & Goblins. We caught up with Jake to find out what he has in store for fans of his innovative projects. Please tell us a little about your background and how you got into VR. I’ve been in the entertainment industry for over 20 years working for various studios (SquareEnix, DreamWorks, Sony and Activision) creating illustrations, vfx and animation art. Four years ago, Andy Jones (animation director on Avatar and Jungle Book) recommended that I visit a studio in Venice, Calif. called Wevr to look at an early prototype of the HTC Vive. A week later, I pitched my vision for Whale Encounter and what I felt theBlu could be in VR. That day, I signed on as the director and have been making VR products ever since. In 2015, Andy brought Jon Favreau to visit Wevr and experience theBlu. A few weeks later, he pitched us the origins of Gnomes & Goblins, and I signed on to be his creative director. What are you working on right now? In addition to being the creative director on the Gnomes & Goblins franchise, I am directing another installment of theBlu while we continue to push the R&D efforts around the franchise. I am also the Head of Interactive for Wevr. I’m excited about an upcoming partnership I have with Wevr to create one of my original IPs, which is something we’ve been working towards for the past year, and thrilled about its potential. What did you love about working on Early on, Jon, Andy and I had to try and breathe life into a new idea. It is one of the hardest thing to do: start with a blank sheet of paper and create a new IP from the ground up. I feel good about what we came up with, and some of the DNA that I’ve added to it along the way. It really is a fun collaborative experience with Jon and the team. What was the inspiration behind How long did it take to produce? My vision of theBlu was to capture the scale and wonder of the ocean and its inhabitants while creating a room-scale VR experience for everyone to enjoy. The goal was to create a powerful example of what VR can be and inspire people to work in the space. The first episode ( Whale Encounter) took us about three months to create. The next two episodes ( Reef Migration and Luminous Abyss) took about four months each. How did your experience with animated movies and VFX-driven projects help you with your VR projects? My time in feature animation taught me a lot about creating beautiful worlds from the ground up (pre-production). Shape language, color palette and consistency of the characters and the worlds matter a great deal. The video game industry had a strong emphasis on interactivity and player agency. Like animation, the consistency of the characters and world
When it comes to animation education, “this year’s model” has more bells and whistles than ever before. During the past few decades, we’ve seen higher education classes expand from 2D hand-drawn animation to 3D CG and computer games, and most recently to augmented reality and virtual reality.
“The challenge for schools is to make sure that traditional skills don’t get lost amid the emphasis on learning software,” says Tom Sito at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. As the Chair and Professor of Animation in the John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts, Sito has watched higher education evolution take un-
topia The New (Virtual) Reality While classic 2D and stop-motion techniques are thriving in the digital age, animation colleges also are gearing up for the emerging impacts of augmented reality and virtual reality. In Bachelor’s programs at CalArts and USC’s
CalArts School of Film & Video filmvideo.calarts.edu New York School of Visual Arts sva.edu Ringling College of Art & Design ringling.edu Savannah College of Arts and Design scad.edu USC’s John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts cinema.usc.edu/animation