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Immersed in Movies: ‘On Ice’ Takes Google Spotlight Stories to Next Immersive Level

Immersed in Movies: 'On Ice' Takes Google Spotlight Stories to Next Immersive Level

Emmy-award winner Shannon Tindle (Go Goo Go) and Google (ATAP) premiere On Ice on Tuesday, the newest 360 interactive short via the YouTube app on Android. Combining 3D and 2D animation, 360-degree spherical cinema-quality video, full-sphere surround sound, and sensor fusion techniques, the screen becomes a VR window for Tindle’s wacky ice skating comedy about a scene-stealing bear (based on a concept dating back to his days at CalArts).

In addition to launching On Ice on YouTube for Android, the short will also be debuting soon on  the Google Spotlight Stories apps on iOS and Android.

This marks the first time in Spotlight Stories that they’ve been able to achieve blend shape animation in real time in a human character, which changes and adapts depending on how the viewer follows the story. This was done by putting one feature rig just on Rudy Lazarus, the star skater, and combining Lucasfilm and Sony’s Alembic and Pixar’s OpenSubDiv, which together allows for flexible animation, and shapes that run fluidly and clearly on mobile, with no lagging, jarring movements or awkward transitions.

Plus, there are hidden surprises, both audio and visual, that occur on stage and off (see if you can spot the Star Wars references). This required rendering synchronization across the story, to allow for the non-linear excursions to take place (which in one part of the short is an over-the-top love ballad whose verses are only heard if you look away from the main story), while the viewer doesn’t lose track of Rudy’s performance, or has a hard time following a too fast skating show.

In addition, On Ice also features an improved Ambisonic 360 audio engine for animation. Thus, multiple spherical soundscapes are mixed, together with 3D positional audio, to produce the stage and crowd immersive sounds.

“The way I approached it was I wanted to take what I know and adapt it for the medium, but also be open 

to learning the new storytelling opportunities that this new format has,” explained Tindle, who’s getting story and character design credits on Laika’s upcoming Kubo and the Two Strings. “We were the first to transition outside of Google ATAP and work independently with Evil Eye Pictures.”

Collaborating with Tindle, who had total creative freedom, were production designer Lou Romano (The Incredibles) and supervising animator Mark Oftedal (Inside Out dev artist), who directed the second Google Spotlight, Buggy Night. He credited them both with upping the animation capabilities while Evil Eye TD Matt McDonald and his crew were good at achieving cheats for consistent style.

“One of the first things Shannon told me was that he wanted to do the short in a Chuck Jones style,” said Oftedal. “Jones is known for really extreme poses and quick, fluid transitions, like you see in Bugs Bunny and Road Runner cartoons. The Jones style is perfect for the ice skating world. We referenced Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushenko a lot. The poses he hits over the top. It’s almost like he’s already animated. We only had to add a dash of caricature to push it into the Chuck Jones world. 
“Not only was it the right aesthetic choice, the Chuck Jones highly economical style helped us get a lot of work done in a short amount of time. Jones would hold his poses still for a long beats, rather than trying to keep it constantly moving and breathing as you would see in a Disney feature. It was definitely a shift in the style we were used to, because all of our animators were coming from the world of features. There a normal footage quota is 3 or 4 seconds a week. For On Ice, we had to double or triple that output. One animator, Sean Mahoney, animated well over a minute of multi-character animation in about 6 weeks. Making the shift to the Chuck Jones style helped us achieve a high quantity and quality of animation, and was really fun too.”
Added Romano,”The design aesthetic was really based on the fact that there’s a corniness to ice shows and that there are so many sci-fi shows in the late 70s/early 80s that we could use for inspiration, like Battlestar Galactica, The Black Hole, Buck Rogers and one we particularly liked called Star Crash. Part of the design also came out of wanting a setting where you would never expect a bear to show up. So, the technological/Sci-Fi environment seemed most appropriate, vs. a forest winter land setting.” 

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