The 12-minute animated short follows a lonely old sailor (voiced by Ian McShane) adrift at sea whose life is reinvigorated by a young girl he rescues after she falls from a passing ocean liner. It is the longest project by Google’s immersive storytelling-meets-tech division and is also the first short to feature dialogue.
“Age of Sail” had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival and had an Academy-qualifying run in Los Angeles earlier this year.
Now the film will be available in multiple formats. The theatrical version of “Age of Sail” is available on the Google Spotlight Stories YouTube Channel and the 360-degree mobile version is available via Google Play and iTunes. VR versions are available on Steam and Viveport.
“We were very careful in designing each version for each format,” explains Kahrs, who won the animated short Oscar for directing Disney’s 2012 “Paperman.” “The two main versions are the cinematic theatrical version and the VR version.”
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The VR process was completely new to Kahrs and he had to change how he was used to making a film. “When I conceive a story in animation, I think of it in terms of cuts and composition and framing of shots,” he says. “When you do VR, you really have to throw all of that away, painfully.” But he got one piece of advice that really served him well. “I was told to not storyboard it and just dive into the 3D layout process, which, I think, was excellent advice.”
It made all the difference, he says. “It’s what everyone deals with when they move from traditional cinema into VR. You have to let go of these things that you hold so dear as a filmmaker and wade into this new format.”
And regardless the format, sound is an important aspect of “Age of Sail.” Google Spotlight Stories executive producer Karen Dufilho says that headphones are a must for any viewing. “You’ve got to put on headphones to really get into the show,” she explains. “We spent a lot of time making the sound amazing.”
Google is always up for a technical challenge, and “Age of Sail” provided more than the usual amount. “We’re always interested in some sort of nut to crack, some sort of technology or, in the case of ‘Age of Sail’ everything,” Dufilho explains. “The look, the technology, the mass of it, the scope of it was all something to crack. ‘Can we be on the ocean in VR? Wow, that might be a bad idea.’ But we found that we could.”
The biggest challenges were the sound and the ocean. “It is the longest piece of film that we’ve made,” says Dufilho. “It’s also got dialogue, which is something new and something that had to get managed and thought through differently, especially when you’re in an immersive, theatrical space.” As for the ocean, that’s tricky enough in traditional films. “When you do that, when you want to put in a whole ocean and do it in real time, that generates a whole big, risky laundry list of things to do and get right,” she adds. “You want to make it feel right, even though you may be presenting it in somewhat of an illustrated, stylized way.”
In addition to McShane, “Age of Sail” features the voice of Cathy Ang. It was produced in collaboration with Chromosphere and Evil Eye Pictures. It was produced by David Eisenmann (“Pearl,” “Son of Jaguar”) and Gennie Rim (“Duet,” “June,” “Dear Basketball”), and executive produced by Dufilho and Google Spotlight Stories’ creative director Jan Pinkava.
“Age of Sail” is the 16th immersive short film released by Google Spotlight Stories.