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John Legend Makes His Virtual Reality Debut in Baobab Studios’ New Animated Series ‘Rainbow Crow’

Variety logo Variety 4/11/2017 Janko Roettgers

John Legend has caught the VR bug, in a big way: The pop star slash actor is not only lending his voice to one of the main characters in “Rainbow Crow,” a new animated VR series that is set to debut at Tribeca later this month, “Rainbow Crow” maker Baobab Studios also got Legend to sign on as executive producer for the entire series. “He wants to be with us for the long-term,” said Baobab founder and CEO Maureen Fan during a recent interview with Variety.

“Rainbow Crow” is an animated series based on a Native American folk tale around themes of self-discovery and diversity. Baobab’s adaptation has been written and directed by Baobab Chief Creative Officer and “Madagascar” director Eric Darnell. It focuses on the unlikely friendship between a shy and self-conscious skunk and a colorful, self-assured crow, voiced by Legend, who happens to be a kind of pop star among his fellow forest animals.

Baobab is best known for “Invasion,” the animated VR short that has become one of the most popular experiences on all major headsets, and has also been commissioned to be turned into a traditional motion picture. The VR short film, as well as the follow-up title “Asteroids!” were very much in the visual tradition of a Pixar short.

For “Rainbow Crow,” the studio decided to go down a different route, using an animation style that is more reminiscent of Eastern European children’s illustrations, complete with soft and fuzzy borders that make the show’s characters and the forest that surrounds them look like made out of felt. The goal was to develop something that felt like a VR book, Darnell said.

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Baobab will premiere the first episode of “Rainbow Crow” at Tribeca, but the studio has yet to finalize the release schedule as well as other details for subsequent episodes. Fan said that the show will have some interactive elements, and also innovate on stage theater-like lighting to grab the viewer’s attention.

Baobab Studios has raised $31 million in funding from investors including 20th Century Fox, Comcast Ventures, Horizon Ventures, Shanghai Media Group and others.

The company is one of just a few VR startups led by a female chief executive, and Fan told Variety that “Rainbow Crow’s” theme of diversity and inclusion also inspired the company to assemble a more diverse cast for the show. “We cast female and minority talent,” she said, quipping: “We are the bosses, so we can do whatever we want.”

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