California – Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) has recently decided to invest in a virtual-reality technology and filmmaking company named Jaunt, helping it raise more than $65 million on Monday.
The recent investment may be a sign that Disney is joining companies like Google that have also taken steps inside the virtual reality world. Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) is said to be developing a virtual reality video app, and GoPro recently teamed up with Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL), debuting a $15,000, 16-camera VR-filming rig at Google I/O.
The company Jaunt Inc. will use the money to expand its virtual-reality production and improve its camera hardware and software tools, according to a statement on Monday. Jaunt also plans to expand staffing at its Palo Alto, California, headquarters and a new Los Angeles studio.
“The funding gives us a few years runway and enables us to scale up,” Jens Christensen, Jaunt’s chief executive officer and co-founder, said in an interview. Altogether, the company has raised more than $100 million, according to the statement.
The funding strengthens Jaunt’s Hollywood ties, and will give a boost to the fledgling VR industry. In addition to Disney, with its diverse film and TV holdings, Jaunt’s investors now include Evolution Media Partners, a partnership of CAA-backed Evolution Media Capital, TPG Growth and Participant Media.
Jaunt has released concert videos from artists including Jack White and Paul McCartney, and content such as rock-climbing footage sponsored by North Face. Last week it released a VR storytelling “experience”, produced in collaboration with Disney’s ABC News, that takes viewers to Damascus, Syria, to see the work of curators trying to preserve Syria’s antiquities amid the country’s civil war and a 360-degree view of life on the streets of that war-torn country
The video “puts you in Damascus,” Christensen said. “It’s truly objective. There’s no filter between you and what’s going on.”
There have already been attempts at making feature VR films. Notwithstanding, Disney’s lead role in the funding round, Christensen says he doesn’t think the studio’s interest is about getting into the production of feature-length virtual-reality films, at least not yet.
“I do expect people to start doing more and more in VR, eventually people will be doing feature-length entertainment […] Right now, with the state of the devices, and I don’t think people will want to wear bulky headsets for two-hour features. They need to get a lot lighter” he reportedly sayd.
Other Hollywood studios are also experimenting with VR, for example, Twentieth Century Fox produced a short VR film based on the Reese Witherspoon movie Wild. However, it’s mostly been in the education phase, rather than full-scale production, given that consumer virtual reality hardware has yet to flood the market.