ANNECY — Felix Massie’s “Rain or Shine,” which is co-produced by Google Spotlight Stories and London-based Nexus Productions, was presented by first time ever at this week’s Annecy Festival.
“Rain” is the eighth production from Google Spotlight Stories (GSS) a pioneering initiative from Google taking in software R&D, storytelling and filmmaking to present 360-degree worlds experienced via Google’s own Cardboard VR headset and HTC Vive.
Made in a naïf style, “Rain” turns on Ella, a little girl who lives in a beautiful London-looking square in a beautiful city where the sun is shining, the birds are singing and everybody is enjoying life on a splendid Summer day. She receives by ordinary mail a present of cool sun-glasses. But, lo and behold, when she puts them on, it begins to put cats and dogs, though just over where she is standing. She deals with this, not wanting to ruin the marvellous day for other people.
Viewers are able to move their smartphone or VR gadgets to explore the stories unfolding in the square. The phone sensors allow them to surf the scene one way or another, to frame it differently, and unlock mini-stories within the story.
The studio’s most interactive short so far, “Rain” will be YouTube-launched later this summer.
“Rachid El Guerrab —the technical project lead for Google Spotlight Stories– told us yesterday that ‘Rain’ is the most complex work of the series in terms of level of interactivity. I think audiences will instantaneously understand it, hoewever. This is real time, this is not a canned film that you’re looking around in 360,” “Rain” co-producer Christopher O’Reilly told Variety.
“This is a real time storytelling that is adapting to what you’ve seen and you haven’t seen with an intelligent response. To me it’s a little bit miraculous that Google achieved that via moving a phone,” he added.
O’Reilly and Massie participated in an Annecy Mifa’s Focus studio session entitled “Google Spotlight Stories – Once Upon a Time in 360” with behind-the-scenes explanations about three Spotlight VR productions, “Rain,” “Pearl” and Tim Ruffle’s “Special Delivery.”
Presented at the Tribeca Festival, “Pearl” is co-produced by Evil Eye Pictures and directed by Patrick Osborne (“Feast”). “Pearl” is a coming-of-age and road movie where all the action takes place in a car that ages with the protagonists.
Made in five different formats simultaneously, the third short in the presentation was Tim Ruffle’s “Special Delivery,” co-produced by Aardman Animations. “Delivery” follows the adventures of a humble caretaker, troubled by a rooftop stranger who has the odd habit of always leaving gifts behind.
Massie’s shorts include “In The Air Is Christopher Gray” and “The Surprise Demise of Francis Cooper’s Mother.” He’s also worked as an animator and designer for Arthur Cox and Aardman.
“It’s an interesting challenge. You can ask: ‘What’s the benefit of bringing VR to the stories? From the perspective of the filmmaker, it’s exciting to see how audiences discover little bits and pieces of the scene they’re watching that can develop in one or another sense,” Massie said.
O’Reilly underlined the sense of magic and spectacle of GSS. He is also confident about the format’s edutainment possibilities.
The Mifa VR conference strand took in demos of the films, made available for individual viewing, plus panels. Its first panel was moderated by Karen Dufilho, Google Spotlight Stories executive producer and Jan Pinkava, a creative director at Google/Pinkava Productions. One member of the audience asked what was the essential trait needed to work in VR. “Curiosity,” Dufilho replied.