Morgan lives in a Rocket House in VR – Press Kit
Morgan lives in a Rocket House is a short little cartoon about Morgan, a kid marooned on an alien planet light years from Earth. Come join Morgan for the first episode of Morgan lives in a Rocket House in VR!
- A short (4 min) cartoon in VR
- A VR episode of a flat-screen kids show being made with Unreal Engine 4
- Created by a solo developer/animator from New Zealand
- Watch the cartoon at different scales (ant size, normal, big and giant)
- Teleport around to explore the set or watch the cartoon from a different angle
- Playback controls (often missing from non-interactive, narrative VR experiences)
- Available on Steam, Nov 3, 2017 @ 3:00pm PDT
- For HTC Vive and Oculus Rift
About the project
My name is Peter Monga. I’m an animator from Auckland, New Zealand. I’ve always wanted to create my own animated kids’ show so for the last couple of years I’ve been developing Morgan lives in a Rocket House. My goal with making Morgan was to design a show that could feasibly be created by a small team (i.e., just me) and with a small budget, but still retain visuals that were on par with contemporary CG animated kids shows.
Apart from specifically designing the show in a way that would make it easier to animate (e.g. the characters don’t have hands or feet, the characters don’t speak so don’t need lipsync etc), I also looked into software and production techniques as a way to speed up production. One of the decisions I made was to use real-time rendering to cut out the need for a render farm (or pay for cloud rendering services) and started using Unreal Engine 4. UE4 has allowed me to create top quality renders as well as essentially replacing the lighting, rendering and compositing stages of a regular CG animation production pipeline.
The VR Episode
Morgan lives in a Rocket House is primarily a flat-screen show but because my assets were already in Unreal Engine 4, and because I am a big fan of VR, I thought I would try and create a VR episode!
I had to learn Unreal’s Gameplay Framework and more in-depth Blueprints (UE4’s visual coding) than I was using previously so creating the episode took a bit longer than creating a normal episode. I also had to learn how to tell a story in VR i.e., learn how to control the viewer’s gaze and grab their attention. I couldn’t just cut to what I wanted the viewer to look at. I ended up using things like contrasting movements, characters’ facing direction, characters pointing, and positional sound to try to control where viewers were looking.
“Morgan lives in a Rocket House in VR” is the name of the app, but Paper Pilots is the name of the actual episode. It’s a fun little episode where Morgan and his best friend Elliot try to make paper planes but they can’t remember how. Their robot friend Commodore comes to help and has a few surprises in store for the boys and their planes.
Watch at different scales
One of the things I love about VR is the potential to experience things in a way that might be different for how you normally perceive them. I added the ability to change your scale so you can watch the cartoon from different perspectives. It’s pretty cool to watch from an ant’s perspective and see the characters as towering giants, or watch from a giant’s perspective which makes the characters look like little toys. The cartoon doesn’t have some deeper meaning revealed by watching at different scales, I just thought it would be fun.
You can enable teleport so you can jump around the environment. You are free to hop around the set to just look around, or you can watch the cartoon from different angles. I’m hoping most people will watch from the intended position first and hop around in subsequent viewings. I realise people could potentially hop around during their first viewing and miss the story, but I’m ok with that. The run time is short enough to encourage replaying the cartoon. I should mention I didn’t include free locomotion as I do not have sturdy VR legs and I wasn’t comfortable with adding a feature without being able to test it myself.
Something that is missing from most non-interactive, linear narrative, real-time VR experiences is the ability to control playback. I’ve added pause/play, stop and scene select to the menu.
The app will be free on Steam, but there is a “Tip Jar” Costume Pack DLC available for US$1.99. It’s really meant as a way for people to show their support if they like it, and as a bonus it unlocks the ability to change Morgan and Elliot’s costumes during the cartoon.
My main focus is on the flat-screen version of the show, but if the app is popular I will look into creating more episodes and offer them as DLC. Now that I have experience, it should be quicker to create more episodes.
The main driving force behind making this VR experience was just that I thought it would be a cool thing to try, and to see if I could actually do it. I’m happy with it, and people seem to like it, but it’s going to be interesting to see how the public react to it.
The flat-screen show is aimed at a preschool audience but I realise VR in its current incarnation isn’t intended for users younger than 12 or 13 years old. My hope is that adults/parents/older siblings watch it, enjoy it, and seek out the normal show for any younger kids they know. Mind you, adults are free to enjoy it too. I like watching silly little cartoons, so I assume other perfectly normal, adult humans do too.
- I’ve been animating professionally for 13 years.
- Was an Animation Director at an outsource studio (Oktobor Animation) for Nickelodeon shows like The Penguins of Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness.
- Morgan was influenced by old stop-motion cartoons like The Wombles, Postman Pat and Pingu.
- I create the music using Casio toy keyboards.
- The cartoons are narrated by me, but if they get popular enough I will probably hire a proper voice actor.
- The animation for the VR episode took longer than usual. Making sure the animation looked good at 90fps takes a lot more finessing than animating at lower frame rates. I usually animate at 12 or 24 fps, but anything below native frame rate looks terrible in VR.