Spotlight Stories which is a Google’s experimental filmmaking lab, consisting of Pixar and Dreamworks’s alums came up with a new animated shot called «Pearl». This tremendous heart-piercing cartoon may become the first ever-considered as an Oscar’s nominee. But what is really newsworthy, it was taken to virtual reality headsets.

Google presented “Pearl” at the Tribeca film festival in New York and used the film festival for the premiere of Spotlight Stories sweet masterpiece. And what is noticeably, the shot was directed by Patrick Osborne, a 2015 Oscar winner for the Disney short «Feast».

But that wasn’t all. At the Tribeca Interactive Playground Google presented immersive versions for mobile phones, Google’s own Cardboard VR headset and the HTC Vive. Despite the fact «Pearl» was intended to be seen in VR, it, ironically, is not eligible for Academy consideration. The challenge is neither 360 nor virtual reality version make up a formal theatrical release. Due to this, Spotlight Stories team has presented the 2-D theatrical cut which can be considered as an Oscar nominee.

Originally «Pearl» was made for 360-degree YouTube, which is also available on mobile phone and matches with Google’s Cardboard headset. Moreover, the shot was recently ported to the high-end HTC Vive VR system, it provides more freedom inside the car, which is the only and entire place of action. The Cardboard version is more immersive but at the same time it the view to the outside world.


The plot of the shot

Pearl. How Google Combined Mobile VR and Storytelling

Pearl. How Google Combined Mobile VR and Storytelling

Pearl is the story of a little girl and her father, who are growing up and old driving across the U.S. in their 1970s sedan. Both are completely living inside and around the car, daughter in the back and father in the front seat, she is getting older, making new friends and getting in troubles and he is struggling and getting old. They are playing all the same folk ditty “No Wrong Way Home» everywhere they stop for the everyone who will listen. This catchy song was composed by Alexis Harte and JJ Wiesler. At times it’s being performed by the protagonists and at times listened to on the radio. The whole shot feels like a road movie, where the car ages with the protagonists.

Headsets immerse viewers in a world of 360 storytelling – and that is a never-seen-before reality. You can look anywhere you want or follow individual characters, it is possible to focus on the father while he is driving or pan to the back to his little daughter as she climes all over the backseat, and if you feel like standing up and looking through the sunroof or moving your chair – you are free to do it.

Remarkably , that no one film produced by Spotlight Stories team had featured cuts between shots. The thing is among VR storytellers cuts are considered to be hard for the audience to stomach. However, Osborne came up with the solution which was a perfect setting for designer’s challenges in VR – a car. You sit in a car as if you sit with a headset on and there is no great difference, if they pretend you have wings that surely would make totally another sensations.


That is what you’ve never seen before

Pearl. How Google Combined Mobile VR and Storytelling

Producer David Eisenmann says that in all their early stories viewers wold get a kind of disembodied-head experience, and that is what strange about VR.

«So one of the nice things about the car is it’s an aesthetic people are used to. You’re sitting in a stationary object, but beyond that, everything is moving and you’re expecting it to change».

For the first time it may seem that you were placed in a medium which you cannot explore at all but while you are replying it more and more you find a huge amount of astounding details which seemed non-existing before.

Filmmakers and engineers gave the viewer as much freedom as they could and even more. It feels like viewers are gaining the camera and now they are free to control how they see the character or on what they pay attention. This is what Osborn finds frustrating and calls a main problem in VR storytelling. There is no director who would choose all shots, zoom you out from a scene to establish a setting or move the camera to capture important tiny emotions.

«The single line thinking was, we’re making a movie but giving the camera to the audience,which doesn’t make sense at all! It’s a complete contradiction!» – emphasizes Jan Pinkava, creative director from Spotlight Stories.

On YouTube or Cardboard you will watch the story from the perspective of the car, so the will be a feeling as if you are floating above the center console. After the shot was ported to Vive the team realized that it felt a bit claustrophobic, then they replaced a character who sat in the passenger’s seat to give this place to the viewer. And each place you occupy provides you with different experiences: sit with the Dad and you will see and feel everything through his position as if it is you child growing up in the back. And just change you place – you are a naive child again controlled by neither car nor destiny.

Depending on how much time you will spend looking at certain things, the cartoon can last from 5:30 to 7 minutes. And consists of 38 shots, 26 sets and 17 characters.

For the medium it’s cuts and scenery are groundbreaking but «Pearl» may represent the entire future of virtual reality storytelling. After James Cameron’s Avatar there was no any doubt that directing in 3-D would become a trend and now Osborn thinks of virtual cameras to display his protagonists in VR according to the optimal impression.

And despite the fact that creators say they are glad for «Pearl”is not being cheesy, this sweet shot is indeed sappy and nostalgic enough to make a grown-up man soak one or two bitter tear.

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