Disney Legend Glen Keane Sings Praises of Google’s Mobile Movie Experiments

Google Spotlight Stories Creators Panel
Photo: Janko Roettgers / Variety

Legendary Disney animator Glen Keane may be best known for classics like “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin” and “Pocahontas.” But at Google’s I/O developer conference in San Francisco Friday, Keane showed that he’s quite fascinated by new technologies, and the potential they have for storytelling.

Keane was invited to the conference because he collaborated with Google’s ATAP research unit on a spherical animated short film called “Duet” that is only available on mobile phones, where users can freely explore the story by moving the device around to pan across the animation.

Keane said that this technology brings the viewer much closer to the way he experiences his own work. “I don’t draw to do a drawing, I draw to step into an imaginary world,” Keane said during a panel, adding that he immerses himself so much into his work that he begins to talk to his characters. Only, in a traditional movie, some of that immersive quality gets lost. “When Ariel swims off the screen, she is not done. I just couldn’t show you any more of it,” Keane said.

However, he also argued that making more immersive experiences like the ones used for Google’s Spotlight stories puts a lot of pressure on filmmakers, who suddenly have to think beyond the border of every frame. “I could feel the smoke coming out of my ears,” while working on “Duet,” he said.

Keane took part in a panel with other directors involved in Google’s Spotlight stories, including Justin Lin, whose immersive action short “Help” was released by Google earlier this week. Also on the panel were Disney animator Patrick Osborne, whose work will be featured in one of Google’s next Spotlight Story, and Emmy award winner Shannon Tindle, whose upcoming Spotlight Story is going to be called “On Ice.”

They were joined by Google ATAP technical program lead Rachid El Guerrab, who said that all of these filmmakers are exploring uncharted territory with their creations. “We are creating a new way of talking about stories, and a new film language,” he said.