Elizabeth Banks has landed another fantastical role: an alien in an animated virtual reality film.
The actress, perhaps best-known for the fanciful character of Effie Trinket in The Hunger Games films, provides the voice for the part of Cheez, described by Banks as "a cute little alien," who appears in an animated VR short called Asteroids!
A four-minute version of the film short, produced by Silicon Valley VR upstart Baobab Studios and out today for Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream, drops in on Cheez and fellow alien space traveler Mac as their space ship unexpectedly encounters an asteroid field. A longer 10-minute version will debut at the Sundance Film Festival next month in Park City, Utah.
"There’s a lot of really fun surprises in the revelations of what they are doing on their ship and their relationship to each other," Banks said in an interview. "It’s a great mix of humor and excitement. If you have never experienced VR, you know it’s really wild to be watching something in front of you but know there is something behind you. And then when you turn around, it is wild."
Mac and Cheez made their first appearance in an animated VR short released earlier this year calledInvasion!, also from Baobab, one of several studios working on animated 360-degree VR content. CEO Maureen Fan (Toy Story 3 and Zynga's Farmville sequels) and Chief Creative Officer Eric Darnell, who directed the Madagascar films, founded the studio founded last year. (You can find links to download theInvasion! app for various VR devices on the Baobab website.)
In that VR adventure, Mac and Cheez land on Earth and encounter two rabbits -- VR viewers take the point of view of one rabbit. Asteroids! puts you in the action, too, as a bot who must help Mac and Cheez make it through the asteroid field. Also along for the ride is Peas, "a little bot (that) acts almost like a pet," Banks said.
In addition to providing the voice for Cheez, Banks also had her facial movements recorded, "so when you do inflection and everything they can match it with everything you are doing with your face at that time."
Oh, and about the voice, it's not totally intelligible, she says. "We sort of created a language and then we sped it up," said Banks, who also voiced the character Wyldstyle in The Lego Movie. "It does make sense if it were translated for you and you saw it written out. It’s a little like pig Latin in a way."
As for experiencing VR, Banks says she felt "a little bit of vertigo," but when the married mother of two took off the headset she thought, "My kids are going to lose their minds when they see this. It is so fun to be immersed that way."
Banks sees VR as one of several new career paths for actors to explore. "There's fewer movies but at the same time there is an explosion of games and VR and all the streaming content and a lot of television. There’s more television than ever these days," she said. "It is going to be very exciting as (VR) unfolds and as they make more and more strides with the technology. I'm excited to feel a part of something that feels very fresh and new and is the future of film."
Banks immerses herself in another out-of-this-world role in the upcoming Power Rangers movie reboot, in theaters March 24. Her character Rita Repulsa, she said, "is sort of an uber-villain in the Power Rangers universe."
No word yet on whether Banks will have a part to play in a planned full-length feature film starring Mac and Cheez in the works from Baobab and Roth Kirschenbaum Films (Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent).