This Entrepreneur Is Pushing VR Into Animated Movies


Everyone has heard of Virtual Reality, but with Maureen Fan, CEO of Baobab Studios, films are about to get a lot more engaging. In particular, the Emmy nominated actress and director Elizabeth Banks, is going to star as the main voice for the new Baobab Studios VR animation “ASTEROIDS!”, which is scheduled for release in 2017. Banks is widely known in pop culture, and combining her talent with this new entertainment medium is sure to make Baobab Studios much more widely known.

Maureen Fan is somewhat of an animation superhero, who studied at Stanford undergrad and designed her major to be computer science, art and psychology, which is the perfect major for animation. However, instead of going into film after graduating, she went into Ebay as a designer and was there for five years. Fan still really loved animation, though, and made a point of taking classes at the community college to further her talent.

As an incredible overachiever, Fan then went on to Harvard Business School for her MBA and took an internship at Pixar, helping the production team with Toy Story 3--yes, I’m sure you’re all jealous too! Following her work with Pixar, Fan was employed by the game company Zynga as a senior product manager, and worked her way up to be vice president of games. On weekends she helped two friends work on the short film, The Dance Keeper, which was eventually nominated for an Oscar.

This diverse background is what lead Fan to launching her new venture Baobab Studios, changing the entire animation industry through VR.

“When I watch animation, it brings back that five year old in me, it brings out my sense of wonder."

When she worked at Zynga, Fan had the most women and the most minorities on her team, and as a female minority, she says that she was more comfortable hiring similar people to work with and build a trust with. She has brought this idea of inclusivity to her new VR-focused company Baobab Studios, which has an incredibly diverse workforce.

Baobob's first product, “INVASION!,” was actually meant to be an experiment to see if the company had what it takes to make a successful product. Much to Fan's surprise the animated VR movie became the number one downloaded piece of content (in VR), and later got picked up to be made into a feature length animated film. Thanks to Baobab Studios and Fan’s genius, this is the first time VR is being sourced into Hollywood instead of the other way around.

And while it appears that Fan has only had successes in her life, that is not actually the case. While still working at Zynga, she was part of a team designing a game that got cancelled. About this trying time, Fan says, “That was very difficult for me because I hate failure, but at the same time I always tend to gravitate towards projects that are riskier, that I think will make a huge impact.” Words to live by. How quickly can you pick yourself back up and try again after experimenting with a risky project? Well that might be a little easier with two more points of advice from Fan:

Always make sure you’re asking questions--if you’re not asking, you’re going to lose out. Men are asking for promotions etc, so don’t become disadvantaged by not doing the same.

Get a ton of sponsors and mentors.

She also makes sure to clarify that women shouldn’t strive to become more like men in these industries--women don’t have to change, but the system has to change. With more women like Fan entering and improving the industry, this change should hopefully happen towards bettering women in a more male dominated work place.

So what’s the big vision for Baobab Studios? “With virtual reality, not only are you inside the experience, you can become an active participant in it.” Meaning, Fan and her coworkers want to make VR films that affect people’s emotions and allow them to truly become apart of the film they are watching. You are a character and you have impact on what happens to the other characters in the story. What you do impacts how the other characters feel, and how they feel about you, which then changes your emotions. Incredible, right?

Make sure to keep a lookout for the newest animation, “ASTEROIDS!” and what’s sure to be many more successes in Fan’s, and Baobab Studios, future.


A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.

Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.