Facebook Spins Out and Open-sources Excellent VR Quill animation app


Penne is a brilliant VR drawing and animation app originally born in the now closed Oculus Story studio. The app continued after the group shut down, but with seemingly few long-term plans for the app, Facebook decided to keep it running by handing over ownership to its original creator. As part of the transition, Quill’s the proprietary file format is being open source.

At the start of Oculus, the company launched internal groups like Oculus Story Studio, which was responsible for exploring cinema through the lens of virtual reality. One of the films released by the group was Dear Angelique (2017), which was read in real time with a unique pictorial aspect. This VR movie was made possible by an in-house tool that allowed artists to use VR headsets and controllers to draw and animate in 3D. Finally, Oculus decided to distribute the tool to the general public for drawing and animation in virtual reality; this is the short story of how Penne arrived at.

Penne Uniquely combines the art of hand drawing and animation with the benefits of CGI, enabling very beautiful works of VR cinema.

This is why it is somewhat of a shame that Facebook has announced that it is abandoning the app. Seemingly indifferent to any long-term play with this brilliant tool, the company cedes ownership.

But only time will tell if this is an end or a new beginning. Fortunately, Facebook chose to donate Penne to its original creator, Iñigo Quilez and his company Smoothstep, who will maintain the application in the future. The app will continue to be available on Rift under the name Feather by Smoothstep. The Feather theater The viewer app on Quest will continue to be available but generically renamed VR animation viewer.

While Smoothstep hasn’t said much about their long-term plans, Facebook’s transfer came on the same day as a new patch for Quill, version 2.9, which made some small improvements and fixes.

Apparently in an effort to untie Penne by its proprietary nature, the transfer also brought an open source version of Quill’s unique file format called IMM. Facebook says it hopes the move will bring an “expanded ecosystem of creators and audiences for VR animation.”

Indeed, one of the Quill’s the main challenges were distribution. Unlike making a flat movie that can easily be viewed through built-in players on literally billions of devices, the proprietary nature of Penne This means that native playback of the artwork is “blocked” only on Oculus headsets. The only other approach is to export to a more interoperable format and then use other tools to render and distribute your project.

Now that IMM is open source, it should be possible for people to create IMM players for more devices, which could mean wider distribution. We would like to see a version built with WebXR so that Penne The works could be easily viewed by a wider range of devices, from VR headsets to smartphones. Along with the open source format, it is also possible that other VR illustration tools will support exporting to IMM.

With Penne in the hands of Smoothstep, the app could also overcome another problem: the exclusivity of the platform. Because Penne was made by Oculus, there was little hope that we would ever see a version for other VR platforms, like PSVR or SteamVR. With the app now owned by an independent company, this could be a real possibility going forward, allowing more artists to access this great tool.

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The way of Penne is surprisingly similar to what happened with another VR art tool that also launched at Oculus, Average. Apparently not interested in any long-term plans with the tool, Facebook chose to sell the project to Adobe, who recently incorporated it into their latest 3D creation tools.


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