Google Spotlight Stories continues to evolve as an “on device” experience, luring Patrick Osborne (Pearl) and Shannon Tindle (On Ice), who appeared on a first-time Google panel at Comic-Con.
The phone creates a window to a 360-degree story, providing the freedom to look anywhere, set the pacing and frame the shot. Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group thinks of it as a mobile movie theater in your pocket.
In addition to the launch of a new Google Spotlight Stories app (now available on Android via the Play Store and coming soon to iOS), the group recently unveiled Story Development Kit (SDK), enabling studios worldwide to create customized, curated stories for the app, offering various tools such as Autodesk’s Maya to help storyboarding, music and sound design, as well as publishing and testing on phones.
“The thing that’s happening now in VR and Google Spotlight Stories is that the camera’s in the middle of a space and you can look in any direction,” explained Feast Oscar winner Osborne. “How is that going to limit you and maybe inspire you in other ways to do something interesting? And there’s this phrase that people say: ‘I turned around and my kid went from 10 to 25.’ And the idea of turning around to advance time seemed kind of cool that you could do with the Google Spotlight.
“So my initial inspiration for this was using the perceived limits to make this more interesting to watch. And all of the interesting looks that I’ve been into playing around with at Disney could be done in real-time. I was trying to simplify color and shape, and it seemed like something you could do in a game engine: playing with edits and a pared down look. What you see is what you get, so as you’re working and animating you don’t have the compositing step that you normally do. On top of that we’re doing stuff with music and syncing audio to what happens on screen.”
Pearl is a road picture told in musical format (composed by Scot Stafford) and made at Evil Eye Pictures and Google ATAP. It’s produced by David Eisenmann, exec produced by Karen Dufilho of Spotlight, with Tuna Bora serving as production designer and Matt McDonald as VFX supervisor.
“Because your composition is changeable, I wanted a set that has windows built into it like compositional frames,” Osborne continued. “So it takes place inside a car that gets passed from owner to owner and you see different moments. The main story is about a guy and his daughter touring the country as he’s trying to become a musician. You get to see his successes and his heartbreaks all while on the road in his 1983 Chevy Citation. My parents had one, I had one: it’s an everyman’s car. I’m a musician myself; my dad’s a musician also, so this idea of what you inherit from your parents and what you pass on to your kids is interesting, be it talent or all of your vices.
“You’re not sure the audience is going to see everything, so you have to make sure that the feeling of the moment comes across. Tuna comes from the commercial world and I’m thrilled to see her work come to life in a more theatrical way. It’s mainly CG but we have hand-made effects. And we’re still not sure about how we’re going to do the clothing and the hair. It has simple graphics with an illustrated look similar to what you see in a lot of TV commercials: a lot of flat shapes and flat color and angular.”
Osborne, who’s working with Disney pals and other animators remotely all over the world, said there’s a version of this story where you look out the window and watch the world pass by, gazing at Tuna’s artwork. “It means animating more than you normally would on screen but worth it to have people play around with it.”
Since leaving Disney, Osborne is also currently developing his first feature, an adaptation of Noelle Stevenson’s graphic novel, Nimona, at Fox (though he has no idea if it will be animated at Blue Sky). It’s about a mischievous shape shifter with themes of identity. “If you’re a shape shifter and can be anything, how do you present yourself to the world? It’s medieval and futuristic — swords and lasers. It should be done now,” he proclaimed.
Meanwhile, Tindle has been also working with Evil Eye and ATAP on his wacky comedy, On Ice, about a bear that wrecks an Ice Capades show for the star skater. Tom Knott produces, Dufilho exec produces for Spotlight, Lou Romano is production designer, Mark Oftedal serves as animation director, McDonald is VFX supervisor and the score is by Stafford.
“You have this story happening all around you but imagine placing that camera on the ice with the skaters?” said Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends Emmy winner Tindle. “It’s over-the-top and plays around with Star Wars and Flash Gordon but there’s a twist. Lou Romano and I tend toward more graphic sensibilities. I designed the characters and I want to get as close to Lou’s artwork as possible.
“So we took inspiration from ’70s/’80s sci-fi and I carried that through to the music as well. I wanted it to sound like Queen did the music for this and I think Scot did a good job of that. It’s heavy guitar, big music, and kept saying go bigger.”
The same philosophy applied to the animation as well. “Once you’ve hit way too stupid, you’ve probably hit where I want. The look is inspired by 2D graphics: simple silhouettes and rich color. I wanted a more stylized, flatter look even though it’s in CG. And a fairly broad palette.”
On Ice really pushes the SDK with so much going on. Tindle makes use of an extended arena screen for additional clips, and the viewer is free to explore other skaters to some degree.
“It’s pretty amazing what we were able to get using real-time graphics,” Tindle added. “And it wasn’t iterative except to refine — it was whatever I wanted and whatever I liked. ‘Get it on device.’ You hear it all the time. And we thumbnailed it and got it into Maya as quickly as possible. It’s an amazing way to work.”