×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Google Shows Off First Spotlight Story on HTC Vive at Tribeca (EXCLUSIVE)

Google is getting ready to take its Spotlight Stories to virtual reality headsets: The Spotlight Stories team, which is part of Google’s ATAP R&D unit, will show off a new animated short called “Pearl” on the HTC Vive virtual reality headset at the Tribeca film festival in New York this weekend.

Officially, Google is using the film festival for the theatrical premiere of “Pearl,” a sweet animated short from Patrick Osborne, the director of Disney’s Oscar-nominated short film “Feast.” But at the Tribeca Interactive Playground, Google will also show off more immersive versions for mobile phones, Google’s own Cardboard VR headset and the HTC Vive.

Earlier this week, Google gave Variety an exclusive first look at the different versions for each platform, and Osborne as well as ATAP’s Rachid El Guerrab and Karen Dufilho-Rosen talked about the challenges and opportunities of adapting the same short film for these four different platforms. “It was very eye-opening for us,” said El Guerrab about producing the Vive version.

“Pearl” is a kind of coming of age story about a girl growing up with her musician dad. The short film is set to the song “No Wrong Way Home,” which is at times performed by the protagonists, at times listened to on the radio, and even payed back on an old tape recorder. The whole film feels a bit like a road movie, with all the action happening in a car that ages with the protagonists.

Even as a theatrical version, “Pearl” is a very sweet story that’s smart about combining music with storytelling. But it gets even more interesting once it’s being watched in a more immersive fashion. Google will release a 360-video-version in the coming weeks on YouTube that will work just like previous Spotlight Stories: Users will be able to use their phone in a kind of magic-window mode, tilting and moving it to explore an invisible stage around them.

This will allow them to focus on the Dad as he drives his car, singing along to a song on the radio, and then pan to the back seat to look at his little daughter as she climbs all over the place. The Cardboard version, which Google will release soon as well, comes with a slightly different vantage point, more immersive and very up-and-close to characters in the car, but at times obstructing the view to the outside world.

The Vive version finally lets viewers experience the whole film as if they were a person sitting on the passenger seat, even giving them the option to stand up and look through the sunroof while the car is driving. “When you are in the Vive, it’s almost like a play that happens around you,” said Osborne.

Throughout the film, there are a handful of trigger points that allow users to influence the timing: The immersive versions of “Pearl” can last anywhere from 5:30 to 7 minutes, depending on how much time viewers spend looking at certain things. It’s not the first time the Spotlight Stories team has experimented with such trigger points, but this was clearly one of its most ambitious projects to date: “Pearl” was comprised of 38 shots, 26 sets and 17 characters.

Still, in the end, making all of this work as a 360-animation on a phone or even in the Vive wasn’t the hardest part, said Osborne. Most challenging was instead to go back and condense all of it to a cinematic version that doesn’t allow viewers to look around. “You question the camera choice more,” he said.

Dufilho-Rosen said that she has had the same experience as a viewer when switching back from a Spotlight Story to a regular piece of content, explaining that a kind of muscle memory kicks in, making her tilt her phone, only to find out that nothing happens. “It makes you want an endless canvas,” she said.

Google inherited the Spotlight Stories project from Motorola, where the mobile company’s R&D research lab had conceived it as a way to push the envelope of storytelling on mobile devices. Some previous Spotlight Stories included “Duet” from legendary Disney animator Glen Keane, “Help” from “Fast and Furious” director Justin Lin  and “Special Delivery” from the makers of Wallace and Gromit.

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

Initially, Google distributed Spotlight Stories through a dedicated Android app, but more recently, it started to upload the 360-videos directly to YouTube. Spotlight Stories haven’t been available on the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift to date, and in fact Google stopped short of announcing its plans for a Vive release of “Pearl.” However, El Guerrab said that the long-term goal is to enable both modes of viewing — headsets and mobile phones. “We’ve always been about this idea of immersive storytelling,” he said, adding that VR headsets would be a logical next step.

Speaking of taking next steps: Google’s ATAP unit was originally launched with the premise of incubating projects for two years, after which they would be spun out. Spotlight Stories has been with ATAP for three years and counting now — but that time may be over soon: “We are graduating,” said El Guerrab. “We are on the road to our next thing.” He didn’t want to reveal yet what that future may look like, but given Google’s growing interest in virtual reality, it’s not too hard to imagine that there is room for the project within YouTube or Google’s VR unit.

Popular on Variety

More Digital

  • Disney Kevin Mayer Recode Media

    Disney Streaming Boss Kevin Mayer: App Architecture to Blame for Disney Plus Stumbles

    No, it wasn’t Amazon’s fault that Disney Plus struggled following its launch last week: Disney direct-to-consumer chairman Kevin Mayer told the audience of Recode’s Code Media conference in Los Angeles Tuesday that there really wasn’t anyone to blame but Disney’s own technology. “It had we to do with the way we architected the app,” Mayer [...]

  • Disney-Plus-Logo

    Disney Plus Customer Service Still Experiencing 'High Volume' of Help Inquiries

    Disney Plus got off to a rocky start with widespread technical problems for the streaming service on launch day — and a week later, the company says it’s still seeing a high level of incoming calls from users who are having problems. Disney announced one day after the launch that more than 10 million people [...]

  • The Game Awards

    The Game Awards 2019 Nominees: 'Death Stranding,' 'Control' Lead the Field (Full List)

    The Game Awards 2019 unveiled nominations for this year’s event, led by Hideo Kojima’s epic “Death Stranding” with nine nods and Remedy/505 Games’ “Control” with eight nominations. This year’s Game of the Year nominees, in addition to “Control” and “Death Stranding,” are “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate,” “Resident Evil 2,” “Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice” and “The [...]

  • Roger Lynch Code Media

    Conde Nast CEO Roger Lynch: 'The Jury Is Out' on Apple News Plus

    Conde Nast CEO Roger Lynch told the audience of Recode’s Code Media conference that he hadn’t made up his mind yet about Apple’s news subscription service. “I think the jury is out,” Lynch said, adding that he had inherited Conde Nast’s deal with Apple from his predecessor. “I hope Apple News Plus is wildly successful,” [...]

  • Diego Winburn - Telemundo Snapchat

    Telemundo Launches First Snapchat Show, 'Diego Street Magic'

    NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises, looking to tap into Snapchat’s youth-skewing user base, launched its first exclusive show on Snapchat. Telemundo’s 10-episode “Diego Street Magic” features Mexican-American magician Diego Winburn performing magic tricks and illusions on the streets of New York City. After premiering Nov. 19, new episodes will be available Tuesdays and Thursdays through mid-December on [...]

  • Disney Plus user interface home screen

    Disney Plus Is Not Hampering Netflix Yet, Analysts Say -- But It's Only Been a Week

    One week after the launch of Disney Plus, Wall Street analysts are scouring tea leaves for signs of how the Mouse House’s streaming service is faring — and whether it’s taken a bite out of Netflix. Disney Plus’ launch in the first week had “little to no impact” on Netflix usage trends, which is “reassuring [...]

  • Ross Levinsohn

    Maven Media Bosses Stumble Explaining Their Plans for Sports Illustrated

    Ross Levinsohn’s reintroduction into the spotlight of the media world was off to a rocky start. Appearing at Recode’s Code Media conference Monday afternoon alongside his business partner James Heckman, Levinsohn was given a chance to address the elephant in the room right out of the gate, with journalist Peter Kafka bringing up allegations of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content